Critical Read

Understanding insider threats

insider threat

What: A Preliminary Examination of Insider Threat Programs in the U.S. Private Sector, from the Intelligence and National Security Alliance

Why: The intelligence community has been exploring ways to reduce access to sensitive information, even since before Edward Snowden dished on the National Security Agency's secret surveillance and cryptography programs to reporters. A presidential memorandum from November 2012 tasked government agencies with implementing minimum standards for threat detection, including audits of user activity on government networks, background checks and other personnel security evaluations for government employees and contractors, as well as having threat monitors trained in counterintelligence and security.

"Now there's been a lot of focus on insider threat detection, which we were into, but probably not with the emphasis and energy we are now," said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who is charged with co-chairing the administration's Insider Threat Task Force.

The contracting community is taking a look at its own policies. The Intelligence and National Security Alliance released a well-timed initial look at insider threat policies at its first-ever Intelligence Community Summit on Sept. 12. The report looks at how companies are identifying fraud, intellectual property theft, IT sabotage and espionage.

Private-sector threat detection programs are typically focused on monitoring computer network activity, not probing the lives of the people behind that activity. An effective program "must identify psychosocial events – anomalous, suspicious, or concerning nontechnical behaviors," according to the report. Threat detection programs should be integrated among company departments, including legal, human resources, security and executive management.

Companies that answered INSA's survey were deliberately vague on some of the details of their threat mitigation programs to avoid insulting their employees, attracting attention from regulators and giving a competitive advantage to business rivals. The report found that more longstanding, formal insider threat detection programs include identifying "at risk" employees through behavioral observation or from reports to human resources from colleagues. Only one organization of the 13 surveyed had a threat-prevention strategy. This relied on technical deterrents, such as multiple layers of security to control access to networks, bans on printing or downloading email, and not adopting a bring-your-own-device policy.

Verbatim: "Insider threat mitigation should be integrated into an enterprise risk management process. This process should identify critical assets, including systems, services, programs, and information that, if compromised, would cause harm to the organization, people, national security, or others."

Read the full report: Click here.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image: looking for code.

    How DOD embraced bug bounties -- and how your agency can, too

    Hack the Pentagon proved to Defense Department officials that outside hackers can be assets, not adversaries.

  • Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

    Why PPD-41 is evolutionary, not revolutionary

    Government cybersecurity officials say the presidential policy directive codifies cyber incident response protocols but doesn't radically change what's been in practice in recent years.

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group