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Seven (Science-Based) Commandments for Understanding and Countering Insider Threats

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Seven (Science-Based) Commandments for Understanding and Countering Insider Threats

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Abstract

Insider threats are a growing problem that undermine organizations and national security. Understanding and reduction of some types of insider threats has improved, but significant gaps, emerging risks, and untapped opportunities remain. The purpose of this article is to highlight the criticality of human factors and social science approaches to countering insider threats and to share seven useful sets of overarching insights, evidence, and recommendations gleaned from over 35 years of research. Although good policy and technological tools are necessary, they are not sufficient. Reliable technological safeguards are important, and software, hardware, and data science innovations should be vigorously pursued to help reduce insider threats. But because insider threats are instigated or facilitated by human behavior, technological developments must involve social scientists and subject matter experts. If enough individuals in an organization have sufficient knowledge, skill and, most important, personally-felt commitment to protect the safety, security, and well-being of their colleagues and organization, even limited insider threat policies will succeed. Without individuals’ sincere commitments, the most extensive insider threat policies will fail.

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... Such integration can be characterized as a "NET" approach to "Neutralizing Enterprise Threat." Several research-based insights from a companion article (Lang, 2022) suggest there needs to be more attention to the role that human factors play in addressing insider threats, especially for identifying and reducing risky behavior by non-malicious insiders. This requires organizations to also embrace the utility of the security net serving as a "safety net," i.e., to catch and (when possible) rehabilitate risky insiders who have "slipped" because of negligence or struggles with alcohol, drugs, untreated mental health problems, acute stres-sors, toxic supervisors, or harmful organizational cultures. ...
... Within organizations, this is best accomplished by a team that integrates knowledge and skills in "HR, security, clinical psychology (or behavioral analytics), and, preferably, an insider threat specialist." (Lang, 2022). As has been shown in similar areas, such as Threat Assessment and Management (T.A.M.), an integrated approach serves as both a security net and a safety net: "T.A.M. seems like an unusual type of [security] intervention, in that one of its most measurable consequences-increased support for [insiders] who need it-may be good in itself." ...
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This Perspectives article discusses the Defense Personnel and Security Research Center's (PERSEREC) applied research contributions, examples of available tools, as well as plans of The Threat Lab to help organizations, policy-makers and other stakeholders to better understand and neutralize insider threats. Many of PERSEREC’s most significant contributions have come from early identification and creative explorations of challenges and opportunities, including innovations in continuous evaluation and eAdjudication, social media risk assessment, and extremism issues. The Threat Lab – designed to draw on relevant social and behavioral science – aims to strengthen three critical nets for countering insider threats—the security net, safety net, and stakeholder net. Networking across counter-insider threat stakeholder communities will require concerted and strategic collaborations among individuals in government agencies, industry, and academe, especially those with expertise in social/behavioral science, security, HR, insider threat, program management, clinical techniques, education and training, policy-making, and leadership. Organizational and national security are at stake. Participation is key. Please accept the CITRAP journal, PERSEREC’s Threat Lab, and this article as invitations to share, learn, and get involved.
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