Insider Threat Detection White Paper


behavior profiling and anomaly isolation

PERSONAM has developed an advanced new technology that detects insider threats. We use the science of Machine Learning and Advanced Data Analytics to construct behavior profiles for the humans and machines on a computer network, and generate alerts when suspicious behavior is identified. The technology will detect an insider threat at the first sign of unusual behavior, even if the computer network itself is not the instrument of attack or exfiltration. The technology provides security where everyone is most vulnerable – inside.


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The adversary is using your workforce against you

Reluctant to monitor your employees? What about their accounts?

You’re one of the lucky ones. You’ve built an organization made entirely of people you trust and have come to rely on. Not many can make that claim, but you don’t have to worry about one of your own stealing from you. Installing a system to monitor your employees would be a betrayal of that trust, and it won’t be on your agenda anytime soon.

In reality, you’re not doing yourself or your employees any favors. You are, in fact, inviting disaster in.

A lot has been made about the insider threat over the last couple of years. There’s been a rise in malicious insider attacks of theft, fraud and IT sabotage, and the cost on average will be higher for an attack originating inside the perimeter. But that only tells part of the story, as we look at how outside attackers are able to breach our networks.

A quick analysis of the numbers behind the 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report shows that over 90% of all data breaches involved the use of valid network credentials. That’s right: your employee’s credentials are providing the keys to the kingdom, with or without their knowledge.


It’s asymmetric warfare, and your employees aren’t the ones heavily armed in this fight.


Whether the attack is coming from inside or out, valid credentials are still needed to VDBIRLaptopaccess your resources on the network. An insider doesn’t have to work very hard for them: they’re given their network account on their first day on the job. But if you think the outsider has to work much harder, think again. An experienced hacker has enormous resources at their disposal. The first option is to simply buy stolen credentials on the internet, as happened with the recent Anthem data breach. Then there’s the tried-and-true process of guessing simple or unchanged default passwords used by negligent employees, contractors and vendor systems, like the case at Advocate Health Care. Next are the many applications of social engineering (such as that used on Target), including sophisticated spear-phishing attacks and compromised personal devices like phones and tablets (i.e. BYOD) that your employees are connecting to the network. It’s asymmetric warfare, and your employees aren’t the ones heavily armed in this fight.

Nor is this likely to change with any amount of training and awareness. After years of coverage by the press on the dangers, employee click-rate on phishing attacks remains high, according to the 2015 Verizon DBIR: 23% of recipients now open phishing messages and 11% click on the attachments. And it only takes one to let the attackers in.

As the most prominent avenue used by attackers to enter your network, user accounts need to be continuously monitored for signs of suspicious behavior or misuse, even when the owner of the account is beyond reproach.

Personam ITD would have Saved Sony Millions

SONY, a global tech giant, was brought to kneel this past week by the Sony2most devastating type of cyber threat, an “inside job”. Losses weren’t only confined to a single division but rather affected nearly every operating unit of the global brand. Denied access to online systems, the worldwide workforce resorted to using pens, paper, landline telephones, and fax machines to perform essential duties. As reported by The Verge, the alleged culprits involved personnel with physical access to the computer network. More than a denial of service outage shrouded in a political statement, this was a heist of monstrous proportions, possibly perpetrated by North Korea in retaliation for the film “The Interview”. At least five unreleased movies from Sony Pictures were stolen and subsequently circulated freely to the public, with over 880,000 downloads in just a single day. The damage in terms of lost productivity and revenue is incalculable. Losses including those from high-profile feature films such as “Fury,” will be hundreds of millions of dollars against an already teetering balance sheet. This was the last thing Sony could afford yet the company employed no technology capable of detecting or repelling such an attack.

“At Personam, our Insider Threat Detector is the most advanced in the world.”

Sony isn’t alone, the vast majority of companies and government agencies are equally vulnerable from an inside job perpetrated by a rogue employee or person with inside access. The most advanced firewalls provide little protection against the enemy cloaked as a trusted insider with access. Defensive measures point outward, assuming attackers will assert their greatest effort against the strongest fortifications. However, attackers target the weakest layer of security, the trust place in employees with access to the network. Thieves, activists, and foreign spies spear phish credentials from top-level employees or outright recruit those individuals to their cause. The hactivist organization Anonymous, for example, deliberately inserts members into job interviews to plant those members in positions of trust.

Sony’s situation doesn’t need to be the new normal. The insider threat is preventable. Not through defending assets but instead employing behavior profiling. Improved hiring practices, background checks, two-factor authentication, advanced firewalls, and log-file analyzers are ineffective at detecting a committed insider. The only real way to defend against the insider threat is to deploy automated behavioral profiling that indiscriminately observes distinct features and employs a non-parametric alerting system, meaning it uses no “set rules” for an insider to discover or bypass. This technology is effective, maintains employee privacy, and is available today.

At Personam, our Insider Threat Detector is the most advanced in the world. Our latest appliances are non-intrusive and easily inserted into local networks. These systems have caught insiders engaged in illegal or prohibited behaviors in 100% of their installations, a testament to how common insider threats truly are. Our detectors are so sensitive that the faintest threats are detected yet well-behaved enough to produce few false-positives.

If Sony had used Personam’s Insider Threat Detector, their current breach could have been prevented. For less than the cost of one hour of outage, Sony could have protected their entire company for years. The current best practices are ineffective at catching real insider threats and give a false sense of security. Companies and government agencies must acknowledge the damage insiders can bring and immediately prioritize non-parametric behavioral monitoring technologies that preserve the privacy of each employee’s digital activities while detecting malicious intent.

Insider Threat Detection – Solution Brief

Our Solution

Personam’s advanced insider threat detection technology is a powerful and cost effective solution for identifying malicious activity on your network. In a world where insider attacks are growing more frequent, bolder, and more successful, insider threat monitoring and detection must be part of a comprehensive security plan. Personam’s solution provides a continuous defensive posture internally, complementing the perimeter defenses.


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Personam’s 2015 predictions

Personam, Inc Predicts Top 4 Insider Threat Concerns for 2015

McLean, VA: Personam Inc., a leader in insider threat protection technology based on patent-pending machine learning and behavior profiling techniques today revealed Insider Threat Predictions for 2015. The predictions are based on insights gained from the Personam Insider Threat Lab team that monitors and responds to insider threat incidents for enterprise customers.

“Insider threat is traditionally thought to be a malicious employee with access to critical data and systems as part of their work, but a major shift is occurring as a result of huge data breaches like the one Target suffered, where compromised credentials of a supplier were used as the attack vector”, said Personam’s CEO, Chris Kauffman. “While the Snowden incident was caused by deliberate action, often times an insider threat is a result of accidental exposure or simple employee misuse, where phishing attacks successfully deliver malware onto the network.”

Personam’s 2015 predictions:

1. Significant rise in phishing scams    

While armies of bots continue to blindly attack layered perimeters with exploits against specific technical vulnerabilities, this method of attack will not produce the most costly headlines in 2015. Despite the seemingly endless array of zero-day vulnerabilities, modern enterprises are heavily defended from external threats.

Cybercriminals and syndicates have learned that phishing scams is an effective way to harvest legitimate credentials that not only allows them inside the perimeter, but also gives them a disguise as a legitimate user. In just one test of business users, more than 80% of participants were unable to detect phishing email. With the success rate of these types of techniques, there will be a significant rise in the sophistication and volume of phishing and spear phishing attacks.

2. Major data breaches by non-hackers   

Forget cybercriminal professionals and eastern European hacker syndicates, the real story is that people with little or no advanced technical skill will perpetrate some of the biggest data breaches in 2015. In a recent case that came to light at Amtrak, a secretary to a Train and Engine crew sold passenger data for over twenty years, receiving a total of $854,460 over that time. The point is that the person accused was simply doing their job which provided them with plenty of opportunity to secure data and data assets.

There are many motivations for someone on the inside to deliberately steal sensitive data from disgruntled employee (or former employee) to financial greed to social and political activism. And the reality is that a majority of companies won’t even know about it until it is too late, just like Amtrak. What we saw in 2014 is just the tip of the iceberg. With the combination of ample opportunity along with the right incentive, there will be many more of these cases in 2015.

3. More security budgets include insider threat  

In 2015, insider threat will begin to show up as a separate budget line item and priority for cyber security. In part this stems from numerous front page examples of data breaches resulting from compromised accounts that led to outside access. Target was still fresh on the minds of business executives, with over 40 million credit and debit card numbers stolen, when the biggest insider threat story of the year broke – the Sony breach.

In contrast to outsider attacks on networks, insider threats are under reported. The damage and negative impact caused by insider incidents is more often not reported because of concerns about negative publicity. But with even a few number of big incidents making it into public media like Target, it is causing corporate directors and officers to rethink priorities as they will be held accountable for such incidents. As more insider threat incidents hit the news, and damages continues to grow despite increased spending for external threat protection, corporate directors and officers will seek niche technologies that address the potential for and risk of data breaches.

4. Government agencies will still be stuck in planning mode 

In November 2012, President Obama issued a memorandum on the “National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards.” Since then, executive branch departments have focused on defining policies and standards, relying on existing background checks and workforce self-reporting, and doing little to actually implement new programs or deploy effective technology for continuous monitoring and threat detection.

Government agencies will likely continue to struggle with budgets and numerous technical evaluation programs. Commercial markets will drive most insider threat capabilities and innovation.

About Personam

Personam is the leading innovator using advanced analytics and machine learning to detect insider threat attacks in-progress. Personam’s appliance provides passive network monitoring without the dependence of endpoint software agents or pre-defined event input data. Often installed and operational in less than an hour, Personam continuously monitors the behavior patterns of the users and devices on the network. The moment a threat is detected, analysts in Personam’s monitoring center are notified and aid the client with incident response. Personam’s headquarters and research labs are located in McLean, VA. More information can be found at