Outsider Threat: Are They the Biggest Cybersecurity Threat?

Outsider Threat: Are They the Biggest Cybersecurity Threat?

 By Charles Joseph | Cybersecurity Advocate
 Last update: November 25, 2023

An outsider threat refers to potentially malicious activities carried out by individuals who are not part of an organization. These are usually hackers who exploit security weaknesses from the external environment to gain unauthorized access to systems and data.

Are Outsider Threats the Most Significant?

While outsider threats such as hackers, cybercriminals, and nation-state attackers often grab headlines for their high-profile breaches, they are not necessarily the biggest cybersecurity threat. Many studies show that insider threats, whether malicious or unintentional, pose an equally, if not more significant, risk to organizations.

The reason is that insiders, like employees or contractors, have legitimate access to systems, making their actions harder to detect. They are often familiar with the organization’s security measures, making them potentially more damaging.

Furthermore, a significant percentage of cybersecurity incidents are due to human error, often from these insiders. However, it’s essential not to discount the severity of outsider threats, and a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy should address both.

Outsider Threat Examples

1. International Hacker Attack

An outsider threat could come in the form of a global cyber attacker. This individual doesn’t belong to the attacked organization and likely resides in another country. Using their advanced hacking skills, they look for vulnerabilities in the system of the target company.

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Once they find a weak spot, they exploit it to break into the organization’s system. This unwelcome visitor then steals sensitive customer data, such as credit card information, addresses, or other personal details. This type of unauthorized activity can cause significant harm to businesses, including financial loss, reputational damage, and loss of customer trust.

2. Corporate Espionage

An outsider threat can also be in the form of an employee from a rival company. This person might use their technical skills or inside information about the industry to breach another company’s security systems, particularly if they’re less secure or left vulnerable.

The main aim of this type of outsider threat is to seize valuable company information. This distressing incident can prove harmful, as it may leak vital financial details or trade secrets. Consequently, it provides a competitive advantage to the rival company. Businesses affected by such an event may subsequently encounter significant losses and a tarnished reputation in the market.

3. Phishing Expedition

An example of an outsider threat scenario involves a generic cybercriminal engaging in a phishing expedition. This person generally has no connection to the victim but utilizes deceptive tactics to capture sensitive data. They might craft a convincing phishing email disguised as a legitimate company communication, which is then disseminated to unsuspecting employees of the target company.

These phishing emails often trick employees into revealing their login credentials or other valuable information. Once the cybercriminal obtains this information, it’s used to gain unauthorized access to the company’s systems or data. The consequences can range from unauthorized data manipulation to stealing proprietary information, leading to potential financial and operational disruptions.


An outsider threat is a significant issue for organizations, as it exposes them to a host of potential cyber vulnerabilities. With the examples of international hacker attacks, corporate espionage, and phishing expeditions, it’s clear that organizations must adopt robust cybersecurity measures to defend against these external threats.

Key Takeaways

  • Outsider threats are malicious activities carried out by individuals not affiliated with the organization.
  • Examples of outsider threats include international hacker attacks, corporate espionage, and phishing expeditions.
  • Outsider threats can result in significant harm to an organization, including financial losses, reputational damage, and loss of customer trust.
  • Technical solutions and employee education are vital for preventing outsider threats.
  • The risk of outsider threats underscores the need for robust cybersecurity measures.

Related Questions

1. What’s the difference between an outsider threat and an insider threat?

An outsider threat comes from individuals outside the organization trying to exploit vulnerabilities in the system, while an insider threat involves individuals within the organization, like employees, contractors, or partners, who misuse their privileges to cause harm intentionally or unintentionally.

2. How can outsider threats be prevented?

Outsider threats can be mitigated through multifaceted strategies, like implementing robust security measures, regularly updating and patching systems, employing intrusion detection tools, and educating employees about potential threats.

3. What can organizations do when they experience an outsider threat?

Organizations should have incident response plans ready to deploy when outsider threats occur. This can involve investigating the breach, containing the threat, eradicating the cause, and implementing measures to prevent future occurrences.

4. What is a prominent example of an outsider threat?

One prominent example of an outsider threat is the 2014 Sony Pictures hack, when an international hacker group leaked confidential data from Sony’s network, leading to immense financial loss and reputational damage.

5. Are small businesses at risk of outsider threats?

Yes, small businesses can also be attractive targets for outsider threats. These attackers often perceive small businesses as easier targets due to less stringent security measures in place compared to larger organizations.

"Amateurs hack systems, professionals hack people."
-- Bruce Schneier, a renown computer security professional