Knowing potential insider threat indicators are crucial in protecting your business from internal risks. As corporate digital infrastructure becomes more advanced and far-reaching, so too does an array of potential insider threats compromising the integrity and security of sensitive company data. While many such breaches come from external cyberattacks, they can also occur due to internal negligence and hostility, crippling a company from the inside out before it has time to adequately react. In this sense, the best defense against insider threats is preemptive action – namely, identifying and mitigating potential internal threat indicators in their infancy.

Below, we will outline a series of common indicators of insider threats, noting their various manifestations and effective ways to snuff them out before it’s too late.

Why It’s Important To Recognize Potential Insider Threat Indicators

Insider threats are among the most detrimental security risks for organizations, as they originate from those with direct access to confidential, guarded, and otherwise vulnerable data. While these threats are often the result of malicious intent – e.g., employee disgruntlement, authorization abuse, etc. – they can also stem from personnel mistakes. For instance, an employee may misplace a company device housing sensitive information or accidentally grant network access to a nefarious external entity.

Failure to intercept internal threats can be devastating, given that they occur directly at the heart of an organization’s protected assets and, like aggressive cancer, can spread quickly to other vital branches of digital architecture. Network administrators should remain vigilant in pinpointing crucial red flags for such threats, taking immediate action to ensure their employees and internal data remain safe.

Potential Insider Threat Indicators

Insider threats can take many forms, depending on the underlying motivation or oversight driving them. So, what are some potential insider threat indicators? These warning signs may include:

1. Unusual Access Patterns Commonly found in Potential Insider Threats

One potential insider threat indicator is when an employee exhibits unusual access patterns within a company’s digital environment; this may involve accessing sensitive data or systems outside of their normal job responsibilities or accessing data during odd hours or from unusual locations. Such behavior could compromise a company’s data security by providing unauthorized access to critical information, and it could indicate potential malicious intent, as the employee might be attempting to withdraw sensitive data or exploit vulnerabilities in the system for personal gain.

2. Excessive Data Downloads

Another insider threat indicator is when an employee downloads an unusually large amount of data within a short period – which may indicate that the individual is intentionally collecting sensitive information or intellectual property to misuse or sell to external parties. An excessive data download compromises a company’s digital infrastructure and data security, as it exposes valuable assets to unauthorized individuals, potentially leading to financial loss, reputational damage, or competitive disadvantage.

3. Frequent Unauthorized System Access Attempts

When an employee repeatedly attempts to access systems or files without proper authorization, it raises concerns about their intentions. These unauthorized access attempts can jeopardize company data by exposing vulnerabilities and weakening the overall security posture. The insider might be attempting to gain unauthorized access to confidential data, sabotage systems, or install malicious software that can cause widespread damage to the organization’s operations or sensitive information.

4. Suspicious Network Traffic from Potential Insider Threats

Unusual or suspicious network traffic from an employee’s workstation can serve as a significant insider threat indicator; this may include the transmission of large amounts of data to external destinations, communication with unauthorized or blocked IP addresses, or engagement in suspicious online activities. Suspicious network traffic may facilitate data exfiltration, enabling unauthorized access to the network or introducing malware or other malicious tools that can disrupt operations and data security.

5. Abnormal User Behavior from Potential Insider Threats

If an employee exhibits abnormal behavior, such as sudden changes in work patterns, increased secrecy, or a decline in work performance, it can be a red flag for insider threats. Such behavior may indicate that the employee is engaged in unauthorized activities, such as unauthorized access to sensitive information, data manipulation, or sharing confidential data with external entities. Abnormal user behavior can undermine the integrity and confidentiality of data, potentially leading to financial losses, legal issues, and reputational damage.

Abnormal email behavior can also signal a potential threat; this may include an employee sending large volumes of emails with attachments – particularly if they involve sensitive or confidential information. Such behavior can increase the risk of data leakage or unauthorized disclosure. The employee may be attempting to exfiltrate valuable data or share it with unauthorized parties, potentially leading to financial losses, reputational damage, and regulatory non-compliance.

6. Unauthorized Device Usage by Potential Insider Threats

When an employee uses unauthorized devices, such as external storage devices or personal smartphones, to access or transfer company data, it poses a significant insider threat; this can result in the unauthorized duplication or removal of sensitive information, increasing the risk of data breaches or intellectual property theft.

When an employee with elevated privileges abuses their access rights by engaging in unauthorized activities, it presents a significant insider threat. This activity can involve accessing and manipulating data beyond employees’ responsibilities, modifying system configurations without proper authorization, or tampering with audit logs to conceal their actions. Privilege abuse ultimately undermines the principle of least privilege, creating avenues for unauthorized access and increasing the likelihood of data breaches or unauthorized system modifications.

7. Violation of Security Policies by Insider Threats

An insider threat indicator is when an employee consistently violates security policies, such as sharing login credentials, bypassing security controls, or disregarding data classification guidelines. These actions weaken a company’s digital integrity and data security by creating vulnerabilities that can be exploited by both insiders and external malicious actors. Violating security policies compromises the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data, making it easier for unauthorized individuals to access critical information and compromising the overall security posture of the organization.

8. Financial Distress in Potential Insider Threats

Employees experiencing significant financial distress may be more susceptible to engaging in malicious activities for personal gain; they may be motivated to sell sensitive company data, engage in fraud or embezzlement, or conspire with external threat actors. This insider threat can quickly expose valuable information to unauthorized individuals, creating financial losses, reputational damage, and instances of regulatory non-compliance.

9. Lack of Awareness or Training in Insider Threats

Insider threats can also arise from unintentional actions by employees who lack awareness or proper training on data security practices. They may inadvertently fall victim to phishing scams, click on malicious links, or mishandle sensitive information. Lack of awareness, in this sense, can create opportunities for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities, penetrate systems, and gain unauthorized access to critical data.

10. Employee Disgruntlement in Potential Insider Threats

When an employee becomes disgruntled, either due to work-related issues or personal grievances, they may pose an increased insider threat risk. Disgruntled employees may intentionally misuse their access privileges to cause disruptions, delete data, or compromise systems as revenge. Such action can cause operational disruptions, data loss, and reputational harm – while also potentially impacting employee morale and overall organizational productivity.

11. Social Engineering Vulnerabilities

Employees who exhibit susceptibility to social engineering tactics, such as phishing or impersonation attempts, pose a potential insider threat. If an employee falls victim to these tactics, they may unwittingly disclose sensitive information, share login credentials, or inadvertently install malware on company systems. Social engineering vulnerabilities can facilitate unauthorized access to sensitive data and bolster further targeted attacks on the organization.

12. Data Hoarding

Insider threat indicators may be evident when an employee engages in excessive data hoarding, accumulating and retaining more data than necessary for their job role. Data hoarding compromises a company’s digital infrastructure and data security by increasing the risk of unauthorized access or accidental data exposure. It also hampers data governance efforts, making it challenging to maintain accurate data inventories, perform effective access control, and properly classify and protect sensitive information.

13. Sudden Network or System Performance Issues

Sudden and unexplained network or system performance issues can be an insider threat indicator. If an employee has intentionally introduced malware, malicious scripts, or unauthorized system modifications, it can result in disruptions to network connectivity, system availability, or decreased overall performance. These issues may impede business operations, potentially causing financial losses, and exposing vulnerabilities that can be exploited by external threat actors.


These potential insider threat indicators represent the variety of ways internal threats can quickly blossom. Network administrators can reduce the likelihood of these crises by remaining aware of such warning signs and versed in how to address them quickly and efficiently.

If you feel that your organization is susceptible to internal threats, be sure to make the aforementioned insider threat indicators a regular point of emphasis in corporate training and culture. We are proud to partner with Analyst1 to combat and reduce insider threats. Visit this page for more information. Contact our team for questions!