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How to Choose the Right Insider Risk Management Tool Based on Key Features

July 9, 2024

Insider risk management

Protecting your company's sensitive data isn't just about installing firewalls and shielding your IT systems from external attacks. Risks can also come from within, and managing such risks can be more challenging than preventing a hacker from stealing your data.

But here’s the good news: insider risk management (IRM) software makes detecting and assessing risky activity a breeze. It combines insider threat detection tools with a wide range of features like advanced analytics for user activity monitoring. 

But how do you choose the right IRM software for your business? How do you balance unusual activity monitoring with privacy concerns? Let's break down the key features you should look for in an IRM solution to prevent everything from insider threats and malicious behavior to unintentional data losses.

Understanding IRM software

IRM software is your company's early warning system for potential data breaches. It's designed to prevent sensitive information, such as customer data, financial records, or trade secrets, from leaving your organization or being deleted.

It is important to note here that insider risks aren't always malicious. Sure, there might be a disgruntled employee or a malicious insider looking to cause harm, but more often, it's an honest mistake. Someone accidentally sends a file to the wrong person, or a well-meaning employee falls for a phishing scam

IRM software catches both intentional and unintentional data leaks, protecting you from the full spectrum of potential insider risks.

Businesses that benefit from IRM software

IRM software is a must-have for any company that handles sensitive data. According to IBM, data breaches cost companies an average of $4.45 million each, a number that has been on the rise.

 Graph depicting the total cost of a data breach between 2017 and 2023, with the highest average of $4.45 million on 2023.

Source: IBM

That said, data breaches are more consequential for some companies than others. Companies that benefit most from IRM software include:

  • Businesses in highly regulated industries: Businesses in highly regulated industries, like finance, healthcare, and government agencies, can significantly benefit from IRM software, as data breaches in these sectors can have severe legal and financial consequences.
  • Companies with valuable intellectual property: Tech companies, manufacturers, and anyone with trade secrets and intellectual property (IP) they need to safeguard can leverage IRM software to do so.
  • Businesses that prioritize data security: Organizations prioritizing the protection of customer data find IRM software to be a valuable tool.

But it's not just the industry. The size of your company matters, too. Large organizations, for example, will have a lot of customer data across various departments and might require an IRM solution with extensive user activity monitoring and data loss prevention features. Smaller businesses, on the other hand, might prioritize user-friendly interfaces and features focused on securing sensitive internal documents. 

As we explore the key features of IRM solutions, consider how each might apply to your organization's specific needs and scale

Features to look for in an IRM tool

IRM software isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It's about finding the tool that best suits your company's needs. To get you started, here are some essential features:

Ease of use

Let's face it: security teams are busy and would rather avoid wrestling with complicated software. Thus, a user-friendly interface with intuitive workflows is a must. The best IRM tools make it easy to set up policies, monitor activity, and investigate potential threats without needing any expertise in cybersecurity.

The tool should also provide clear, actionable insights that are easy for non-technical stakeholders to understand. After all, data security is everyone's responsibility.

Data monitoring capabilities

The core function of any IRM software is to keep a close watch on your data. That means tracking the following aspects:

  • File movements: IRM software should track who is accessing what files and when.
  • Sensitive information access: You should have granular control over the software's ability to monitor access to specific types of sensitive data, such as customer records, financial information, or IP.
  • Unusual data transfer activities: IRM software should monitor data transfer activity, such as file downloads, uploads, and email attachments.

Through active data monitoring, effective IRM solutions should be capable of identifying malicious activities in real time, weeding out risky user behavior while minimizing false positives.

Integration with existing systems

When selecting IRM software, it's crucial to consider how well it can integrate with your organization's current security infrastructure, such as security information and event management (SIEM) solutions, identity and access management (IAM) frameworks, HR databases, identity providers (IdP), and ticketing systems.

Screenshot of BetterCloud's integration center.

Source: BetterCloud

Better integration ensures enhanced intelligence sharing, contextual monitoring, and more accurate risk assessments, making the software not just a risk management tool but a part of a holistic data governance and security strategy.

Many IRM solutions offer robust tools to detect and manage potential insider threats but fall short when integrating with existing business IT infrastructures. Thus, organizations utilizing business intelligence tools should also consider alternatives that offer enhanced security features and better integration capabilities. 

Data loss prevention (DLP)

DLP is a critical component of any IRM strategy. It's designed to protect sensitive information from being accidentally or intentionally leaked from your organization.

Ideally, IRM software should include DLP capabilities, which allow you to set up policies that define the types of sensitive data and ways to handle them.

DLP policies can identify and block suspicious activities, such as:

  • Unauthorized data transfers: This includes sending sensitive data to unauthorized recipients or copying it to external storage devices.
  • Data exfiltration attempts: Attempts to upload data to cloud storage services or send it through unapproved channels, such as personal email accounts, would fall under this.
  • Unauthorized printing of sensitive documents: Such documents can include those with confidential information that employees shouldn’t print.

Another significant part of DLP is managing the risk of intentional or accidental deletion of sensitive data. Consequently, the chosen IRM software should be able to integrate with existing or future data backup strategies.

For example, incorporating AWS backup strategies as part of DLP can enhance your overall security architecture. AWS provides tools and services that support backup solutions, ensuring data integrity and availability even during a breach or data loss.

Source: Amazon

When integrated with DLP policies, AWS backups can add a layer of security by ensuring that all sensitive data backed up is also subjected to DLP controls, thereby aligning backup strategies with insider risk management objectives.

IRM is particularly crucial in financial services due to the high volume of sensitive data handled. This is especially true for organizations serving high-net-worth individuals, where the stakes of data breaches are significantly higher.

For instance, the Capital One data breach, where a misconfigured AWS database was exploited, led to a massive data leak. This incident highlights the importance of robust IRM tools to prevent such breaches, emphasizing the need for comprehensive DLP capabilities in any financial institution’s IRM strategy.

Compliance management

Compliance with industry regulations and data protection laws like GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS is a top priority for many organizations, especially those in healthcare and finance, as well as government organizations.

IRM software should include the following features to help you stay on top of compliance requirements:

  • User access tracking: The software should generate reports showing who has accessed what data and when. These reports help prove compliance with requirements during audits.
  • Security policy enforcement: To maintain compliance, organizations must enforce strict security policies. IRM software should facilitate the implementation of these policies, including least privilege access policies, password complexity requirements, and data encryption.
  • Conducting regular audits: IRM software should automate regular security audits to help you identify and address compliance gaps.

Graphic presentation of features of Microsoft Purview.

Source: Microsoft

Staying compliant is an ongoing process, and IRM solutions can provide the tools and insights you need to ensure your organization meets its obligations.

User behavior analytics (UBA)

Detecting potential insider threats requires a nuanced approach beyond traditional security monitoring. For this purpose, user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) tools have emerged as a valuable addition to the IRM toolkit. These solutions use advanced behavioral analytics, machine learning (ML) techniques, and artificial intelligence (AI) to establish baselines of normal user and system behavior within an organization's network.

By analyzing activity logs and data flows, UEBA tools can detect anomalies that deviate from the established norms, flagging suspicious actions and risky behavior such as unauthorized data access, policy violations, or account misuse.

Risk scoring and profiling

Not all potential risks are equal. Some are more serious than others. 

Risk scoring and profiling help you prioritize your response to potential insider threats by assigning a risk level to each user based on various factors. These factors include:

  • Data sensitivity: The software evaluates the sensitivity of data a user can access. For example, access to customer financial information would be considered a higher risk than access to public marketing materials. 
  • User details: The software also considers user-specific details, such as job role, department, and tenure. For instance, a new employee with privileged user credentials may have a higher risk score than a long-term employee with a proven track record.
  • Watchlist membership: A user on a watchlist, such as a list of recently terminated employees, may also be considered a higher risk.
  • Risk groups: The software categorizes privileged users into risk groups based on their profile and behavior. Grouping users with similar risk profiles can help streamline the monitoring process.

By assigning risk scores, you can focus on the users who pose the greatest threat to your organization and better use your IRM resources.

Role-based access control (RBAC)

RBAC is a security model that allows you to restrict user access to sensitive data based on their role or job description. By assigning roles and granting permissions accordingly, you ensure that all data is strictly need-to-know, reducing the risk of accidental or intentional data leaks.

For example, you might give marketing team members access to customer contact information but not financial data. In contrast, finance team members would have access to financial data but not customer contact information.

Real-time incident response and reporting

You must act fast when a security incident is detected. Real-time incident response and reporting capabilities are vital to minimizing damage. The ideal IRM software will offer the following:

  • Customizable alerts: You should be able to set alerts that notify you immediately when a potential threat is detected.
  • Automated incident response: When a threat is detected, the software should automatically initiate response actions, such as locking down a user's account or blocking their access to sensitive data.
  • Detailed incident reports: The software must have the capability to generate comprehensive incident reports, including the threat's time, location, nature, and the actions taken to mitigate it.

By streamlining the incident response process, you can contain the threat and prevent it from escalating into a full-blown data breach, strengthening your security posture.

Forensic investigation capabilities

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, insider threat incidents can happen.  That's where forensic investigation capabilities come in. Your IRM software should be able to:

  • Create detailed audit trails: The software should record all user activity, including file access, data transfers, and system changes. This will allow you to reconstruct events and identify the source of a security incident.
  • Provide tools for in-depth investigation: The software should offer tools for conducting in-depth investigations, such as the ability to search and filter audit logs, correlate events from different systems, and generate reports.
  • Aid in legal proceedings: If an incident leads to legal action, the software should enable you with the evidence you need to support your case.

Think of it like a black box for your data environment. When something goes wrong, you can use the software to rewind the tape and figure out exactly what happened.

Scalability and flexibility

Your IRM software needs to keep up as your business grows and your data environment becomes more complex. Scalability is key. You want a tool that can handle increasing volumes of data and support a growing number of users without slowing down or crashing.

Flexibility is essential, too. Your IRM software should adapt to your changing needs and integrate with your existing IT infrastructure and future compliance requirements. It should also offer flexible deployment options, such as on-premises, cloud-based, or hybrid, to align with your security policies and budget.

How to determine and prioritize your IRM needs

Now that you know what features to look for, how do you decide which ones are most important for your business? It all starts with a thorough assessment of your current risk profile.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What types of sensitive data do we handle?
  • How well are we protected against negligent, malicious, and compromised insider threats?
  • What are the most likely insider risks we face and their potential impact?
  • How does our workforce connect to our network and devices?

Answering these questions can help you identify your organization's potential insider risks and prioritize the features that will help you mitigate those risks.

IRM in action: addressing potential risk scenarios

Let's look at some common scenarios where IRM programs can save the day.

Data theft by exiting employees

Employees leaving a company can pose a significant risk, especially if they have access to critical systems. They may be tempted to take company, customer, or user data with them for personal gain or to harm the company.

IRM software can help you detect and prevent this type of insider threat incident. Its user behavior analytics can identify any unusual behavior that might indicate malicious employee activity, such as sudden large data downloads or accessing sensitive files outside normal working hours. The software then flags these activities, allowing security teams to investigate and respond promptly. 

Breach of sensitive and confidential information

An employee might deliberately share confidential data with a competitor or accidentally send an email containing sensitive information to the wrong person.

Unlike insider threat management (ITM) tools that focus on detecting malicious intent and threats, IRM solutions identify and prevent both intentional and unintentional leaks. Advanced analytics monitor a wide range of unusual activities, such as unauthorized data transfers, unusual patterns of data access, and more.

These key features differentiate IRM solutions from insider threat management tools. They help detect and address unusual activities early on and prevent them from escalating, provided the right insider risk policies are in place.

Insider threat from third-party vendors and contractors

Insider threats can even come from outside your organization. Third-party vendors and contractors often have access to your sensitive data and systems as part of their work. Unfortunately, this access can be misused, either intentionally or unintentionally, leading to data breaches.

IRM software can help mitigate this risk by implementing strict access control and monitoring the activity of external parties, just like it does for employees. 

Creating a streamlined workflow for improved IRM

Having the right software is only half the battle. To truly manage insider risk, you need to establish a streamlined workflow. Here’s how you can do that:

Step 1: Put insider risk policies in place

Your organizational security stance on IRM starts with having the right policies.

  • Create a policy: Most IRM software offers pre-built templates for common scenarios, such as data exfiltration or unauthorized access, to facilitate the drafting of policies. Draft one and give it a clear and concise name reflecting its purpose.
  • Scope your policy: Decide whether the policy applies to everyone in your organization, specific groups, or users based on their endpoint devices, location, etc.

Graphic representation of modules for protecting endpoints.

Source: Coro

  • Prioritize content: If your policy covers multiple types of content, prioritize them based on their sensitivity.

Step 2: Create alerts

Set up alerts to receive real-time warnings when something is wrong.

  • Utilize rule-based incident flagging: Set up rules that automatically flag suspicious activity based on specific criteria, like downloading a large amount of data outside normal working hours.
  • Use predefined or custom alert templates: Most insider threat management solutions provide templates for quickly setting up basic alerts. Some also let you create custom alerts based on specific activity parameters, such as process names, web addresses, unauthorized software use, etc.

Step 3: Triage when alerts occur

When an incident occurs and you get an alert, it's time to act. Here’s what you should do.

  • Review, evaluate, and triage: Your security team needs to review the information provided and decide how to proceed. They can choose to open a new case, assign the incident to an existing one, or dismiss it as a false positive.
  • Use alert filters: Filtering by status, severity, or time detected lets you prioritize your response and focus on the most critical threats.

Step 4: Investigate every incident

Every security policy violation matters. Make sure to always take these steps when a violation occurs.

  • Gather evidence: Use critical features in your IRM, such as forensic investigation tools, to gather evidence about the incident.
  • Identify suspicious behavior: Use advanced analytics to find behavior patterns that indicate an insider threat.
  • Document your findings: Create a detailed report of your investigation, including the timeline of events, the evidence you collected, and your conclusions.

Step 5: Take appropriate action

Once you have confirmed the incident and identified the source of the threat, take appropriate action to mitigate it. This might involve deactivating a user's account, blocking access to sensitive data, or notifying law enforcement. You should also:

  • Communicate with stakeholders: Inform senior management, IT staff, and legal counsel about the incident. Keeping stakeholders informed is critical in these situations.
  • Update your policies and procedures: Use the takeaways from previous policy violations to update your IRM policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Establishing a streamlined workflow will allow you to detect, investigate, and respond to potential threats more efficiently.

Choose the right IRM software for you

Protecting your organization from insider threats takes more than just good software. It is about fostering a security-conscious culture and having clear incident response plans in place. 

Follow the tips outlined above to choose the best IRM software for your company. You'll be glad you did!

Secure your data and protect your business by implementing these data security best practices today. Stay ahead of potential threats!

Edited by Supanna Das

Insider threat management software Shield your data from within!

Easily detect, prevent, and respond to potential internal security threats with insider threat management (ITM) software.

Insider threat management software Shield your data from within!

Easily detect, prevent, and respond to potential internal security threats with insider threat management (ITM) software.

How to Choose the Right Insider Risk Management Tool Based on Key Features Discover how internal risk management works and the key features to choose the right insider risk management tool, a must-have for businesses of all sizes.
Ethan Keller Ethan Keller is an experienced financial strategist at Dominion. He’s passionate about safeguarding assets and maximizing wealth for high-net-worth individuals. Using an evidence-based approach with a special focus on risk management, Ethan excels at crafting personalized financial solutions that protect and grow wealth effectively.

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