Understanding insider threat: A framework for characterising attacks

Nurse, Jason RC; Buckley, Oliver; Legg, Philip A; Goldsmith, Michael; Creese, Sadie; Wright, Gordon R. T. and Whitty, Monica. 2014. 'Understanding insider threat: A framework for characterising attacks'. In: 2014 IEEE Security and Privacy Workshops. San Jose, CA, United States 17-18 May 2014. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

The threat that insiders pose to businesses, institutions and governmental organisations continues to be of serious concern. Recent industry surveys and academic literature provide unequivocal evidence to support the significance of this threat and its prevalence. Despite this, however, there is still no unifying framework to fully characterise insider attacks and to facilitate an understanding of the problem, its many components and how they all fit together. In this paper, we focus on this challenge and put forward a grounded framework for understanding and reflecting on the threat that insiders pose. Specifically, we propose a novel conceptualisation that is heavily grounded in insider threat case studies, existing literature and relevant psychological theory. The framework identifies several key elements within the problem space, concentrating not only on noteworthy events and indicators – technical and behavioural – of potential attacks, but also on attackers (e.g., the motivation behind malicious threats and the human factors related to unintentional ones), and on the range of attacks being witnessed. The real value of our framework is in its emphasis on bringing together and defining clearly the various aspects of insider threat, all based on real world cases and pertinent literature. This can therefore act as a platform for general understanding of the threat, and also for reflection, modelling past attacks and looking for useful patterns.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Identification Number (DOI):



insider threat, threat framework, technical and psychological indicators, attack chain, case studies

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



20 November 2014Published Online
27 February 2014Accepted

Event Location:

San Jose, CA, United States

Date range:

17-18 May 2014

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

31 Jan 2017 17:27

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2021 23:33



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