Insider vs. Outsider Threats: Which Is Worse?


Every company today has to think about cyber attacks. Businesses of any size can be a target, and data breaches can come from anywhere, even from employees. Reliable cybersecurity strategies should address both insider and outsider threats.

When most people think of cybercrime, they likely think of outside threats, also called external threats. However, insider threats are also, if not more, worrying. What’s the difference between the two and what’s worse?

What are insider threats?

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Insider threats are exactly what they sound like: threats that come from within an organization.

In most cases, insider threats are random, such as when an employee uses a weak password, which could allow a hacker to compromise their account and access sensitive company data. However, you can also be deliberate, like a disgruntled worker revenging trade secrets. These attacks cost an average of $ 11.45 million and have tripled since 2016.

What are outside threats?

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In contrast, outside (or external) threats come from outside gamers. They likely have no personal connection with their goals, but rather pursue what could bring them the most money. These are the most famous examples of cybercrime.

External threats are rarely random. Most cyber criminals are clever and carefully choose a target that has a high chance of success or a large payday.


Financial motivation can be the main driver behind external threats, but they can also arise for other reasons. “Hacktivists” can attack a company to prove something, and government-sponsored, politically driven cybercrime becomes a reality.

Insider and outsider threats can overlap. Outside actors often take advantage of insiders’ mistakes, so an inside threat is often the first part of an outside attack. An example of this is phishing, in which cyber criminals trick people into disclosing information or installing malware.

This overlap between external and internal threats is very common. Phishing accounts for a large proportion of data breaches each year, more than any other type of attack.

What kind of threat is worse and why?

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Both insider and outsider threats are widespread and can do a lot of damage, but which is worse?

In a presentation on human IT threats, Jenny Radcliffe, a seasoned social engineer, emphasized that digital countermeasures make no sense if insider vulnerabilities are overlooked.

Similarly, 63 percent of companies say that insider threats pose the greatest risk. This is because insiders already have access to sensitive data and a slip-up could uncover them, regardless of what other protective measures a company has.

Most data breaches result from employee mistakes, and while external threats are still widespread, many cybercriminals rely on insiders for mistakes such as using weak passwords or falling for phishing attempts.

Of course, insider threats can be less of a concern for organizations with in-depth security training or limited employee access. Sophisticated outside threats pose a greater risk to these businesses. However, in most cases, inside threats are worse.

Businesses need to be safe from all threats

Businesses today are exposed to threats from multiple sources, both inside and outside the company. Security therefore means taking internal and external cyber risks into account.

While both are of concern, insider threats are often the greatest threat. Knowing this, organizations can take steps to minimize damage and stay safe.

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