Insider Threat vs Outsider Threat: Which is Worse?

By   Mosopefoluwa Amao
Cybersecurity Analyst and Technical writer , Sheffield Hallam University | Jun 13, 2023 05:03 am PST

Today’s evolving interconnected digital world has created a diverse and intricate threat landscape for organizations. Within this landscape, insider and outsider threats have emerged as significant security risks organizations must address. While the debate regarding the severity of insider versus outsider threats persists, businesses increasingly recognize the potential dangers insiders pose to their data security. Historically, outsiders have been associated with high-profile data breaches attracting media attention. Consequently, organizations have focused on implementing conventional security measures to address outsider threats, given the substantial financial costs of such breaches, often reaching millions of dollars. However, relying solely on standardized security measures proves less effective in mitigating and detecting threats that originate from within an organization.

For many organizations, monitoring end-user access to sensitive information and the movement of this data is essential to their cybersecurity program.

When considering cybercrime, most individuals think of outsider threats. Insider threats, however, are equally as, if not more, worrisome. What distinguishes them and which do you think is worse? This blog compares the relative severity of these two types of threats, assessing their potential impact on organizational security.

Insider Threats

Insider threats are risks those granted access to a company’s systems, data, or physical location pose. These people might be workers, independent contractors, or anyone with special access. Insider threats can take many different shapes and be either purposeful or accidental.

  • Employees with malicious intent may purposefully damage systems, steal confidential information, or disrupt business operations to benefit themselves or the company.
  • Negligence: Workers who are sloppy or lack the necessary training may unintentionally compromise security or reveal confidential data.
  • Compromised Accounts: Attackers may use social engineering or vulnerability-based exploits to compromise an employee’s account to gain unauthorized access to systems.

Outsider Threats

On the other hand, outsider threats come from people or organizations not part of the organization’s trusted group. Hackers, cyberterrorists, or nation-state actors frequently pose these dangers by attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in the organization’s systems or networks. Outsider threats may include:

  • Malware, ransomware, phishing, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) assaults launched by external actors.
  • Social engineering: To gain unauthorized access or obtain sensitive information, attackers may manipulate employees using strategies like phishing, luring, or impersonation.
  • Supply Chain Attacks: Attempting to obtain unauthorized access to a company’s systems by exploiting flaws in suppliers or third-party vendors.

Outsider threats frequently seek to breach systems for monetary gain, espionage, or operation interruption. Although motivations differ from insider threats, the possible consequences could be as harmful.

Determining the Severity

It can be challenging to distinguish between insider and outsider threats because both constitute serious security risks to an organization. Each threat’s seriousness varies depending on several variables:

  • Insiders typically have greater access and privileges within an organization, making it simpler to wreak significant harm without being noticed. Without internal expertise, outsiders can deceive staff or exploit system flaws to acquire unauthorized access.
  • Intent and Motive: Insiders may be better aware of an organization’s vulnerabilities and important information because of their insider expertise and position. They might also act out of personal motivations, such as retaliation or monetary gain, which could make their activities more serious. However, outsiders frequently have the advantage of anonymity and can launch simultaneous targeted attacks on numerous organizations.
  • Insider attacks might be difficult to identify because they may work around or abuse current security measures. To reduce insider threats, however, organizations can put monitoring systems, access limits, and training initiatives in place. Although external threats are increasingly frequent and frequently identified by security systems, they still necessitate strong cybersecurity measures like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and routine security updates.

Mitigating Insider and Outsider Threats

Organizations should use a multi-layered security approach to combat risks from both insiders and outsiders:

  • Use strict access restrictions and the least privilege principle to restrict insider access to sensitive information and vital systems.
  • Monitor staff with access to privileged information constantly and conduct in-depth background checks.
  • Conduct frequent cybersecurity training and awareness campaigns to inform staff members of potential risks and recommended procedures.
  • To defend against outside threats, implement thorough cybersecurity measures, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, encryption, and robust authentication procedures.
  • To find and fix flaws, regularly patch, and update systems, conduct vulnerability analyses, and run penetration tests.


Threats from the inside and outside pose specific difficulties and negatively affect organizations. Although outsider attacks are more frequent and require strong cybersecurity measures to avoid and detect, insider threats may have a more significant potential for harm due to their trusted positions. To effectively protect against potential dangers, organizations should create comprehensive security plans that handle both types of threats. These strategies should combine preventive measures, employee education, and ongoing monitoring. Enterprises and organizations are legitimately in danger from internal and external attacks, but each poses distinct security challenges. Ultimately, the human costs of inside threats make it necessary for a company to take every precaution to identify potential danger actors and monitor their behaviour. However, the financial costs of outside threats might force a company to shut down.