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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

Understanding and Mitigating Insider Threats


In the complex world of security, insider threats pose a unique challenge. They represent a convergence of economic rationality, psychological behavior, and practical security concerns. Let's dive into understanding and mitigating these threats from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

Insider threats often manifest due to a failure to understand economic incentives and disincentives within an organisation. Although contentious, all human beings have motivating triggers for criminality. From an economic standpoint, these threats can be viewed through the lens of cost-benefit analysis, where individuals weigh the benefits of malicious actions against potential costs.

Addressing insider threats requires efficient allocation of resources, a fundamental economic principle. Security resources must be strategically deployed to areas of greatest risk, which often involves predictive risk assessment. The cost of security cannot outweigh the benefit.

Understanding the psychological makeup of potential insider threats is critical. This involves delving into the motivations, pressures, and rationalisations that drive individuals to become threats to their own organisations. Analyzing behaviour patterns can help identify potential threats. This includes observing changes in behaviour, relationships, and interactions within the workplace. This task is known as profiling, and it gets a bad wrap, however, it is a requirement of all security personnel.

A classic example of insider threats is corporate espionage, where employees leak sensitive information for personal gain. The economic rationale here is clear: the individual perceives the benefit of their actions as outweighing the risks. Another effective tool of recrimination is sabotage by disgruntled employees, which is another form of insider threat. Here, psychological factors like workplace dissatisfaction play a significant role.

Teaching students to look for the red flags. This training can include scenarios where employees exhibit behavioural red flags indicating a potential insider threat. The focus is on identifying and responding to these indicators effectively. Trainees face ethical dilemmas where they must choose between loyalty to a colleague and organisational security. These scenarios test their ability to prioritise the greater good.

However, security personnel are private industry individuals; there is no benefit to "just following orders", They can and will be held accountable for their actions. Their employers and other staff can also be held vicariously liable for their actions. If an employer asks a security officer to break the law or act in a way that causes foreseeable physical harm to another, they are obligated to refuse, and their duty of care must ultimately be to protect their own credibility over the wishes or mandates of their employer. The protections afforded many taxpayer-funded organisations to not cover private security personnel.

Mitigating insider threats requires a blend of economic understanding, psychological insight, and security acumen. Recognising the signs and understanding the underlying motivations are key to preventing these threats. The responsibility lies not just in vigilance but also in creating an environment where the incentives for such actions are minimised. This often entails uncomfortable conversations with clients for their benefit. These conversations can be carried out by your security supervisors.

From the author.


The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.

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