Potential Risks That Insider Threats Pose to PII  | Spector

Potential Risks That Insider Threats Pose to PII 

Cyber Security

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Personally Identifiable Information (PII) refers to any information maintained by an agency that can be used to identify or trace a specific individual. In other words, it includes data points such as social security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, biometric data, tax identification number, race, religion, location data and other information that can be used to deanonymise anonymous data.

If your organisation handles Personally Identifiable Information, you must take steps to secure your customer data. Not only is it essential from a compliance standpoint, but with security breaches on the rise, you have to make sure customer PII is not being compromised. Risk-Based Security revealed that by the end of 2020, a total of 36 billion records had been exposed and compromised. Of such data breaches, 60% are caused by insider threats or security threats originating from within an organisation. To make things worse, reports indicate that the number of insider incidents has increased by 47% over the last two years.

Related Article: Protecting your Business-Critical Data from Human Threat

Let’s deep dive into the potential risks that insider threats pose to Personal Identifiable Information, especially for healthcare and financial institutions, and how you can protect your organisation against such threats.

Potential Risks

An insider threat is a security risk that originates from within your organisation and is usually someone with authorised access misusing data (intentionally or unintentionally) to harm your company or your customers. The culprit could be any individual who has authorised access to confidential and sensitive company information, right from your present or former employees to consultants, partners or contractors.  

If you don’t secure your employee or customer PII, you leave yourself vulnerable to data breaches. Insider-led data breaches are widespread and can happen in multiple ways – from a negligent employee inadvertently downloading malicious malware to a disgruntled contractor selling customer data on the Dark Web to make money.  

Read: Your Biggest Cyber Security Risk: Your Employees

Insider-led data breaches are hard to detect because the threat actors have legitimate access and are probably familiar with your cybersecurity defence tools as well. It is much easier for them to circumvent your defences, access sensitive customer data and expose it. 

As a healthcare or financial institution, if your customer personal identifiable data is exposed, it can cause a great deal of trouble to both your company and your customers. Let’sLet’s look at some of the potential risks: 

Risks to Your Company

Reputational damage

According to a study by Ponemon, 44% of companies believe it takes anywhere from 10 months to over two years to restore a company’s reputation after a breach. This is bound to be worse for healthcare or finance institutions since the data collected is extremely personal and sensitive. Even if you respond promptly and adequately to your customers regarding a data breach, it could still result in a PR disaster and a decline in the customer base. 

Financial loss

The average cost of a data breach in the U.S. is $8.19 million. Some of the consequential costs that companies find themselves paying include compensation to affected customers, fines and penalties for non-compliance with regulations such as GDPR, expenses for forensic investigations and more. On top of that, the valuation of your company could tumble as well. 

Ransomware costs

A malicious insider who gains access to your data systems can steal sensitive customer PII from your network. Once your systems are hacked, the cybercriminal can block access to your data and then threaten to sell the information on the Dark Web if you don’t pay the ransom. Malicious insiders could be current or former employees or an outsider who uses or manipulates an unsuspecting employee to get past your security perimeter. Learn more about Ransomware and its risks.

Operational standstill

Data breaches have the potential to paralyse your business operations. You will have to conduct a detailed investigation to determine what data has been compromised and the cause behind the breach. In case data has been lost, you will have to take steps to recover it. Furthermore, you may be faced with expensive lawsuits and settlements. Unless you have substantial emergency resources, you will have to halt your business operations temporarily.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Risks to Your Customers

Identity theft

Cybercriminals may acquire sensitive customer data and use it to their advantage. For instance, they could use your customers’ credit card numbers, social security numbers, health plan beneficiary numbers or biometric identifiers to impersonate them to commit fraud or gain financial benefits. Learn more about Identity Theft.

Social engineering attacks

Data breaches could uncover your customers’ PII, especially sensitive data, such as name, address, contact details, date of birth and so on, that could end up on the Dark Web. Cybercriminals might use this data to launch social engineering attacks on your customers. The attackers may then psychologically manipulate or trick customers into sharing their confidential details. Learn how to avoid Phishing attacks.

Blackmail campaigns

Data breaches could result in sensitive medical information, such as psychotherapy reports or blood test reports, being leaked online. Cybercriminals could then use this type of information to run blackmail campaigns against your customers.

How to Secure Personally Identifiable Information

With the insider threat landscape constantly evolving, businesses need to step up and secure PII and other sensitive data more effectively. By failing to do so, you could end up putting the future of your customers, employees and company in grave danger. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Use behavioural analytics to set up unique behavioural profiles for all insiders and detect insiders accessing data not associated with their job functions.
  • Implement access and permission controls to review, revise and restrict unnecessary user access privileges, permissions and rights. 
  • Review the PII data you have already collected, where it is stored and who has access to it, and then securely delete what is not necessary for the business to operate. 
  • Set up an acceptable PII usage policy that defines how PII data should be classified, stored, accessed and protected. 
  • Make sure your PII policy is compliant with different privacy and data regulations that apply to your business.  
  • Upgrade your storage holdings to ensure the data lives in a SOC2-protected data centre.
  • Cut down on inadvertent insiders by implementing mandatory cybersecurity and data security training programs. 
  • Make use of software that will help you protect PII, such as third-party risk management solutions, data loss prevention tools, Dark Web monitoring applications and secure documentation solutions, among others.

Taking adequate measures to secure personally identifiable information can significantly strengthen your cybersecurity posture against insider threats.

Protecting your customers’ PII is a challenging task, but one that has to be taken seriously. If you’re looking for expert assistance to take this weight from your shoulders, look no further. Get in touch today to speak to one of our specialists and learn how we operate. We’ll be happy to offer a tailored solution to handle your cyber security, compliance and technology development.


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