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Jun 15, 2023

The Case for Monitoring For Internal Threats


So much of what goes into cybersecurity relates to identifying and mitigating external threats. Everything from firewalls to edge protection services focus on threat actors from the outside trying to make their way in. But what about internal threats? They are just as real. They can be just as damaging. Monitoring for potential internal threats should never be a question.

Internal threats are nothing new. They existed long before the public internet, cloud computing, virtual environments, etc. Organizations have long had to keep an eye out for bad actors within their midst, bad actors looking to steal trade secrets, commit fraud, and so forth.

The substantial difference today is that internal threats also exist in the digital space. That makes them more dangerous. Security teams need to be cognizant of the fact that some of the people given access to a system could use their access for nefarious purposes.

Plenty of Guests at the Party

Hillstone Networks takes internal threats seriously. We sometimes like to illustrate the reality of internal threats by comparing them to guests at a dinner party. The larger the guest list, the more likely that someone on that list does not have your best interest at heart. There may be more than one guest with less-than-honorable intentions. Are you prepared for the possibilities?

In a modern cloud environment, the guest list can be pretty extensive. There are plenty of guests in attendance. They include system administrators, executives, staff members, and even vendors (and their employees). Every single one needs to be viewed as a potential threat.

An internal threat could be anything from an act of negligence to a malicious attack. The people behind such threats can literally be anyone with access to the system. From administrators to contractors and business partners, access is all it takes to invite a potential threat.

Threat Detection Is Key

Mitigating internal threats is not rocket science. Threat detection is the key. Unfortunately, so many traditional security tools are very good at identifying external threats but fall short when it comes to the internal. Therefore, organizations need tools capable of identifying and tracking:

  • system anomalies
  • abnormal data transfers
  • excessive file access
  • irregular login behaviors
  • changes in user habits.

It is unwise to assume that all system activity by authorized users is harmless. By definition, insider threats are posed by users who are otherwise trusted. They have access to systems and files. They have authority to access sensitive data. Monitoring what they do with their access and authority is crucial to threat detection.

Access Control Is the Starting Point

The starting point for mitigating internal threats is access control. Organizations should develop and enforce sound policies that restrict access to data based on verifiable need. In order to do that, organizations need to know their people inside and out.

With policies in place and an adequate knowledge of users, Hillstone Networks recommends deploying zero trust network access (ZTNA). A ZTNA policy recognizes that every user on the system does not need access to every layer of the hierarchy or every bit of data. Users are given access based on need, and only when they prove identity and authorization. When combined with multi-factor authentication (MFA) a ZTNA strategy is awfully difficult to beat.

Internal threats are real. They create special problems in modern cloud environments where so much sensitive data is stored. If your organization doesn’t take internal threats seriously, things need to change. Otherwise, you could find yourself contacting Hillstone Networks after something has gone terribly wrong. Don’t wait too long, contact Hillstone before that happens