Insider threats hard to detect

Recent findings that insiders constitute the primary threat to enterprise security are being challenged by experts who insist the greater threat to security remains external.

Only 38 per cent of respondents to the latest computer crime survey sponsored by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the San Francisco-based Computer Security Institute said they detected insider attacks during the preceding 12 months. That’s down from 49 per cent reported a year ago and 71 per cent reported in 2000.

Moreover, two federal CIOs, speaking at a recent conference sponsored by the Tiverton, R.I.-based National High Performance Computing and Communications Council, said their agency statistics show that external threats far outweigh internal threats to their IT infrastructures.

“Our biggest threat is external,” said U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration CIO Lee Holcomb, acknowledging that the agency recently had 250 systems compromised externally in a matter of three weeks because of vulnerabilities that had gone unpatched.

Insider activity is “much less severe than external” attempts to breach security, agreed Laura Callahan, CIO at the U.S. Department of Labor. She added that since Sept. 11, the agency has made a concerted effort to create what she called an internal “neighborhood watch” to ferret out suspicious activity.

But the insider threat has become more cunning and sophisticated, said Robert Wright, a computer security expert at the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center. “Insiders are not just employees anymore,” Wright said, adding that “new technology makes insiders more dangerous than ever.”

According to Wright, the most effective insiders are often “keyholders” — those who have access to internal systems based on contract or partnership arrangements with an organization.

More important, the technology that malicious insiders now have at their disposal may make them harder to detect and more efficient, said Wright. New IT tools that can be employed to steal corporate data include key-chain-size hard drives, steganography (concealing data within a digital image) and wireless technology, said Wright.

Others agree that the internal threat warrants continued emphasis.

“I don’t believe that many corporations know that the majority of attacks occur behind the firewall,” said Mike Hager, vice-president of network security and disaster recovery at OppenheimerFunds Distributor Inc. in New York. “And most still believe the firewall will stop them.”

Steven Aftergood, a defense and intelligence analyst at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, is also skeptical about the comments of the U.S. Department of Labor and NASA CIOs.

“I would respond with two words: Robert Hanssen,” Aftergood said, referring to the arrest last year of the career FBI agent who is now considered to be the most damaging mole in the history of the intelligence community.

“The record seems clear,” said Aftergood. “The most devastating threats to computer security have come from individuals who were deemed trusted insiders.”

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Featured Articles

Empowering the hybrid workforce: how technology can build a better employee experience

Across the country, employees from organizations of all sizes expect flexibility...

What’s behind the best customer experience: How to make it real for your business

The best customer experience – the kind that builds businesses and...

Overcoming the obstacles to optimized operations

Network-driven optimization is a top priority for many Canadian business leaders...

Thriving amid Canada’s tech talent shortage

With today’s tight labour market, rising customer demands, fast-evolving cyber threats...

Staying protected and compliant in an evolving IT landscape

Canadian businesses have changed remarkably and quickly over the last few...

Related Tech News

Tech Jobs

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.

Tech Companies Hiring Right Now