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Insider Threats: Allow Employees to Conceal Network Traffic?

You can lock every window and bolt every door to keep out intruders, but it won’t be of much use if the attacker is already inside; if the attacker is an insider. Most security reports and headlines highlight stories of organizations that are attacked by an external party, but incident statistics highlight a growing number of attacks from insiders and partners. These incidents are real, and threaten your most sensitive information. How do you know when an insider is exfiltrating data from your organization? Cisco Managed Threat Defense (MTD) monitors for advanced network security intrusions using expert staff and OpenSOC, which Pablo Salazar introduced last month. Our staff has a decade of experience investigating security attacks and resolving benign anomalies. In my twelve years as an InfoSec professional, I’ve seen cases where employees conceal their activity for a variety of reasons. In one particularly interesting incident, it was discovered an employee was encrypting and obfuscating outbound traffic from his laptop over a period of several weeks, using for-purchase VPN software called Private Internet Access.

Banner image for Private Internet Access, which was used by the employee on the corporate network.

Banner image for Private Internet Access, which was used by the employee on the corporate network.

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Sensitive Data Exfiltration and the Insider

The Insider Lifecycle

Traditional security is designed to keep outsiders from getting in. What happens when the enemy is an insider? A new paradigm must be explored, where the focus needs to shift inward and how data is going outbound.

Identifying anomalies in data exfiltration is critical to how to spot the insider. The insider has a typical lifecycle:

1. Identify places where sensitive data is store
2. Retrieve the data from the location
3. Move the data within the organization to prepare for exfiltration
4. Transfer the data outside the organization

Arguably, the weak points of this chain of events occur in steps 1, 2, and 4, where the insider must go through funnel points—near the data and at a public outbound connection.

Things to Look For

In almost all cases of data theft, the insider had access to the data, but in many cases, the insider’s role would have been suspect when considering the data they were accessing. Consequently, role should be examined for the end user in the context of data they are accessing.

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