Insider Threats: Motivations


Conducting an insider attack is risky and
in many cases highly dangerous, so what would make an individual decide to commit such an
act? Motivations for conducting an insider attack
are highly diverse, but can be distilled into 4 basic categories forming the acronym MICE:
Money: Ideology
Coercion Ego
An insider may seek monetary payment if they face a large debt, or simply have expensive
taste. Many have betrayed their organization or country for personal financial gain.
Ideology as a motivation can take various forms. One is political in nature, such as
pro-communist or anarchist sympathies. In 2002 Ana Montes, an analyst with the Defense
Intelligence Agency, was found guilty of spying for the Cuban government. She was recruited
by the Cubans as a result of her disagreement with U.S. policies toward Latin American and
motivated by political ideology. Ideology can also take the form of fanatical
convictions, such as extreme religious or anti-establishment beliefs, or the idea that
their actions are somehow helping people or an oppressed portion of the population.
Coercion, commonly used as Blackmail, is the forced participation of an insider in an attack
against their will. They may not always be aware of their participation, making them
an unwitting, passive insider. Coercion has already been examined with the Northern Bank
case. Ego encompasses both personal and psychological
motivations. Personal motivations, including anger/revenge, self-image, problems at work
or home, or divided loyalties, are highly diverse and wildly unpredictable. Psychological
motivations, including mental instability or sociopathic behavior, including finding
adventure/thrill in malicious acts, can in some cases be detected by pre-employment testing
and evaluations, however this is not fool proof and many cases are not detected.
As seen in many cases, there is usually more than one underlying motivation behind a malicious
act. John Walker, a U.S. Navy Warrant Officer,
was found guilty in 1985 of passing 1 million classified messages to the Soviet Union over
a 17 year period. Johnny was known to have a major ego, driving him to take risks in
life to prove his superior abilities. A sociopath, he also took joy in engaging in dangerous
acts, committing his first crime as a young boy and never looking back. Walker was also
paid large sums of cash, which he initially used to pay down debts, but eventually used
to supplement his insatiable spending habits. He embodies the Money and Ego prongs of MICE.
These dual drivers make the detection of insiders that much more complex, as no two insider
motivations are the same. Some insiders carefully plan out their intentions
and deliberately take steps to put themselves in the best position to carry out these attacks,
as seen with the Walker case. However, not all individuals fall into the role of malicious
insider through long term scheming. A major life change, such as a divorce, unexpected
debt, or the loss of a job, may trigger an insider to commit an attack on a whim.
When an insider’s opportunities and their motivations align, the environment for an
insider attempt is created. Due to the expansive nature of motivations
behind insider attacks, combined with the multitude of insiders in sensitive positions,
it is difficult to prescribe a formula to identify and stop all insider threats before
they occur. However, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the ability of insiders
to commit these attacks and mitigate the damage they are capable of inflicting.

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