Insider Data Breaches: Causes and Real-life Examples

Insider Data Breaches: Causes and Real-life Examples

Did you know that insider threats cause 60% of overall data breaches?

It’s true.

While malicious insiders seeking personal financial gain are the root cause for some of these, others stem from unintentional incidents or simply a lack of awareness.

Nonetheless, they are a serious threat to any organization.

In this article, we discuss the issue of data breaches caused by insider threats and provide you with some practical tips to help prevent these incidents.

But first, let’s reiterate…

Table of contents:

Internal Threats Cause the Majority of Data Breaches

The situation is really that bad.

As mentioned, the total number of data breaches caused by insiders amounts to about 60% of all cyber threats. And soon, I’ll show you some real-life examples of malicious insider threats.

But first, let’s look at the issue in a little more detail.

A data breach caused by an insider threat typically occurs when employees, contractors, or third-party business partners with legitimate access to an organization’s data misuse their access to steal, leak, or compromise sensitive information.

Note that I didn’t just say misuse. Although some data breaches happen due to deliberate or malicious activity by a disgruntled employee, there are also instances where an employee might unknowingly cause the data breach.

As a result, some insider attacks occur because a current employee deliberately steals and removes sensitive information from the company’s systems.

There are also instances where a person with malicious intent deliberately leaks information to third parties like the press or other hacking groups.

But sometimes, it’s simply human error that results in sensitive information being leaked to the public. These situations can be as simple as sending sensitive documentation to the wrong person or losing a company’s laptop that contains sensitive data.

There’s a fourth type of insider threat, however. It includes companies that neglect to protect their sensitive information with relevant safeguards. These companies openly ignore potential security risks. Others take their security restrictions too far, causing employees, not necessarily bad actors, to develop workarounds to allow them to access the data faster.

Unfortunately, either situation leaves the company’s data vulnerable to cybersecurity incidents.

Overall, all types of data breaches caused by insiders can have severe consequences. Companies with insider threats experience financial losses, reputational damage, and loss of customer trust.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. These incidents are becoming more and more common for organizations. For example, the number of such incidents has risen by 47 percent since 2018, while their cost has increased by 31 percent in the same time period.

Let’s look at some examples of those.

Tesla - Deliberate Insider Threat

In 2023, Tesla, the vehicle manufacturer, suffered a data breach that turned out to have been orchestrated by two former employees. These now external threat actors leaked sensitive personal data of 75,000 current and former employees, including their names, addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers, from the company’s systems to a foreign media outlet.

Twitter - Insider Threat Caused by Negligence

In 2020, Twitter suffered a massive data breach (which has become one of the most famous insider threat cases) when hackers gained access to 130 private and corporate accounts (including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates) and used those to promote a Bitcoin scam.

But at the heart of the attack was a simple oversight of the company’s security protocols. To orchestrate the attack, hackers targeted Twitter employees working from home. Disguising themselves as the company’s IT team, they tricked the employees into providing them with user credentials, and the rest is history.

Waymo - Data Breach as a Result of Employee Data Theft

Waymo’s data breach certainly makes an interesting story. It centers around the company’s lead engineer, who in 2016 left the company to form a competitive business. Several months later, Uber acquired his business. But as it later turned out, what Uber acquired was, in fact, trade secrets that the employee, Anthony Levandowski, actually stole from his former employer.

Incredible, right?

But here’s the thing: can you actually prevent an insider data breach? Is there anything you could do to mitigate such risk?

There is. In fact, there are several things you can do.

Let’s look at them now.

10 Tips to Prevent Data Breaches from Insider Threats

1. Use data breach monitoring software

The problem with data breaches is that they’re often impossible to detect right away. In fact, many companies learn about being victims of a data breach months or even years after the incident.

At the same time, detecting a breach right away means that you can take action to secure your data, and reduce the impact of the breach.

Software like Breachsense (disclaimer - this is our company) allows you to monitor for potential threats in real-time and detect data breaches the moment they happen.

This lets you revoke access, change passwords, and prevent cyber attacks before they happen.

Want to see Breachsense in action? Book a demo today.

2. Implement role-based access controls

Another method of preventing data breaches caused by insider threats is to limit access to sensitive data by granting permissions based on an employee’s job responsibilities.

This way, you can ensure that employees only have access to the information necessary for their role.

Naturally, this will not stop anyone with access to leak or steal the data. But it certainly limits the number of potential people who might get tempted to do so.

3. Conduct regular security training

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it truly is a powerful way to prevent insider threats, particularly those caused by negligence.

  • Provide ongoing security awareness training to educate employees about potential threats and best practices for maintaining data security.
  • Educate your employees on common ways hackers trick them into downloading malware
  • Train your staff on social engineering techniques designed to trick them into revealing sensitive information.
  • Teach employees to spot malicious emails and links in phishing attacks.
  • Help them understand how to keep their devices secure at all times.

4. Monitor user activity

Implement user behavior analytics and network anomaly detection along with other anomaly-based monitoring tools to detect suspicious activities and various types of insider threats. This is yet another method that could signal a potential data threat early and allow your company to take immediate action to mitigate the issue.

5. Establish a clear security policy

Develop and enforce security policies that outline employees' responsibilities for protecting sensitive data and the consequences of non-compliance.

6. Perform background checks

Conduct thorough background checks on potential employees, contractors, and third-party partners to identify any red flags or potential risks.

7. Implement data loss prevention (DLP) tools

Utilize DLP solutions to detect and prevent unauthorized data transfers, as well as ongoing dark web monitoring to ensure your data hasn’t leaked.

8. Encourage reporting of suspicious behavior

Create an anonymous reporting system that enables employees to report concerns or suspicious activities without fear of retaliation.

9. Conduct regular risk assessments

Periodically assess your organization’s security posture to identify potential vulnerabilities and areas for improvement.

10. Develop an incident response plan

Create a comprehensive incident response plan to ensure your organization is prepared to address insider threat data breaches quickly and effectively.


Data breaches caused by insider threats are a significant concern for organizations. Proactive measures go a long way in preventing these incidents and minimizing their potential impact.

By implementing access controls, monitoring the dark web, and providing regular security training, organizations can better protect their sensitive data and maintain customer trust.

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