The Insider Threat: What CIOs Need To Know

by drjim on October 12, 2009

CIOs Know That Insiders Represent The Biggest Threat   (c) - 2004

CIOs Know That Insiders Represent The Biggest Threat (c) - 2004

When you think about someone trying to make off with your company’s private data, what comes to mind? Some wily Russian hacker who sneaks into your company’s network through the backdoor? Perhaps you need to update your thinking. A recent report from Cisco revealed that the real threat is coming from insiders. What’s a CIO to do?

Identifying The Threat

By now all CIOs realize that their corporate networks and data are under almost constant assault. However, most of the steps that CIOs have taken to secure their networks have been designed to defend themselves against the attacker who comes from the outside.

Information that was revealed in the Cisco report included that workers are sharing corporate information with outsiders for a variety of reasons. These include sharing data simply in order to get an outsider’s opinion on something, to show off work that they’ve done to others, etc.

On top of the active taking of corporate data, Cisco’s report revealed that some 66% of those who responded admitted to engaging in activities that would allow someone else to access corporate data (things like not logging off and then leaving their computers on at work overnight!)

Data Loss Prevention

If a CIO ever wants to get to sleep again, something has to be done to solve the data loss threat that insiders pose to the firm. There is no magic bullet, but one approach to dealing with this problem is to deploy a data loss prevention (DLP) suite of tools.

In true “big brother” fashion, a DLP suite generally consists of a network scanner coupled with multiple tools that allow an IT department to collect information on what data is being used and by whom.

Before moving forward with implementing a DLP solution, CIOs need to take the time to prepare to use this new set of tools. The steps involved include:

  • Secure The Important Stuff: before you go worrying about trying to secure how data is used throughout the enterprise, first identify the most important data and ensure that it is locked down.
  • Close Your (Network) Doors: before you can worry about insiders doing you harm, you need to make sure that outsiders can’t get in. This requires analyzing both your network ports and the protocols that the company’s network is using to make sure that they are secure.
  • Create A Baseline: in order to detect when the wrong things are being done, you need some way to detect them. Creating baselines such as point-in-time content signatures for sensitive data stores is a first step in doing this.
  • Start Inspecting Traffic: the way that you can prevent information from going to internal sources that don’t have a need to know is by installing automated network traffic inspectors. Setting parameters so that notifications of data breeches are flagged will do a great deal to prevent data loss by internal threats.

Final Thoughts

The value that a CIO brings to a firm is that he / she is able to harness IT resources in order to help the company succeed. As part of this task, the CIO is also responsible to make sure that sensitive corporate data remains secure from both external and internal threats.

CIOs that learn how to deploy DLP solutions in order to protect against the data loss threat from insiders will be better at finding ways to apply IT to enable the rest of the company to grow quicker, move faster, and do more.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Since most firms have no idea about what to do with their corporate research facilities, responsibility for the labs often falls under the control of the CIO (because most firms don’t know what to do with IT either). Great. So what’s a CIO to do when he/she is responsible for a corporate R&D lab?

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