Insider Threats: Still a Useful Mechanism for Bad Actors

January 27, 2022

I read “Ransomware Gangs Increase Efforts to Enlist Insiders for Attacks.” I am not down with the notion of “increase efforts.” Identifying individuals who will provide user names, passwords, or facile fingers to slip a malware loaded USB key into a computer connected to an organization’s network has been a go-to method for a long, long time.

The write up states:

The survey was conducted by Hitachi ID, which performed a similar study in November 2021. Compared to the previous survey, there has been a 17% rise in the number of employees offered money to aid in ransomware attacks against their employer. Most specifically, 65% of the survey respondents say that they or their employees were approached between December 7, 2021, and January 4, 2022, to help hackers establish initial access.

The factoid in the magic-with-statistics write up is that a lot of individuals report brushes with the insider ploy. What’s important to remember, an insider can come from several different pools of people:

  1. There are disaffected employees who can be identified and then interviewed for a bogus news service or for a consulting job. A skilled contact working with an annoyed employee  can often extract what might be termed a mother lode of useful information, including details about security, access, and other disaffected employees who want to put it to the “man” or “woman” who ruined a perfectly good morning of reading online news.
  2. Clueless former employees who respond to a LinkedIn-type job posting or an engaging individual in what sure looks like a chance encounter. Some individuals need or love money, and the engaging individual can buy or solicit security information from the CFE (clueless former employee).
  3. Happy current employees who find themselves confronted with a person who has information about a past indiscretion memorialized on Instagram, Meta, or TikTok. Maybe the current happy employee has forgotten text and images sent to an individual with some interesting preferences or behaviors. Blackmail? Well, more like leveraging TikTok-type data to identify and screen potential targets.
  4. Contractors — those faceless, often nameless — individuals who have to eat in their cube, not the two-star real employee cafeteria. Contractors can be hired and one can interact with these professionals. It is possible that these individuals can provide the keys to the kingdom so to speak without knowing the treasures unlocked with what seems to be casual conversation.
  5. Children of employees can be asked to give mom or dad a USB. The unwitting employee slams the key into the slot unaware that it has been weaponized. Who asks kids? A skilled operative can present herself as a colleague at the front door, explain this was your mom or dad’s memory stick, and ask the young person to hand it over to the parent. (If this method works, bingo. If it fails, another approach can be made. Wearing Covid masks and dressing in normcore gray with a worn ball cap can help too.)

Why am I identifying pools of insiders? Most of the cyber security firms do not have systems which cover these points of insider vulnerability. Do some of the firms purport to have these bases covered?

Of course.

That’s the point. The customer won’t know until it is too late. Predictive analytics and cyber threat intelligence struggle in certain situations. Insiders is one such example.

Stephen E Arnold, January 27, 2022


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