Examples of Data Breaches Due to Insider Threats

Examples of Data Breaches Due to Insider Threats

Insider threats and Data breaches

A data breach occurs when sensitive or confidential information is accessed, disclosed, stolen, or manipulated without authorization. Such breaches can lead to financial loss, reputational damage, legal ramifications, and compromised customer trust. Insider threats are one of the leading causes of data breaches; an estimated 60% of all data breaches are a result of insider threats, either maliciously or inadvertently.

Real-Life incidents of Data Breaches Caused by Insider Threats

Edward Snowden and the NSA (2013):

Overview: Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), leaked classified documents, bringing to light the existence of extensive global surveillance programs operated by the agency.

Why it happened: Snowden had authorized access to highly sensitive information as part of his job, which he believed was being used to infringe upon individuals’ privacy rights. Motivated by a desire to expose what he perceived as government wrongdoing, Snowden made the conscious decision to leak classified documents to the media.

Consequences: Snowden’s actions triggered a global debate on privacy, surveillance, and government overreach. The breach led to increased public scrutiny and criticism of the NSA’s activities, both domestically and internationally. Snowden faced legal consequences, including charges of espionage, and sought asylum in Russia.

Galen Marsh and Morgan Stanley (2015):

Overview: Galen Marsh, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley, exploited his authorized access to the firm’s wealth management system to access and steal personal information from approximately 350,000 clients.

Why it happened: Marsh misused his legitimate access to client records for personal gain. He accessed the sensitive information with the intention of using it to enhance his professional standing at another firm. His actions highlighted the risks associated with insider abuse for personal financial gain within the financial industry.

Consequences: Marsh’s actions severely impacted Morgan Stanley’s reputation and eroded client trust. The breach led to regulatory scrutiny, and Morgan Stanley faced financial penalties. Marsh himself faced legal consequences, including termination of employment and a permanent ban from the securities industry.

Engineering Insiders and Uber (2016):

Overview: Two individuals within Uber’s engineering team, leveraging their authorized access, accessed and stole user data from the company’s systems. They exploited a misconfigured web application firewall to gain unauthorized access.

Why it happened: The insiders identified a vulnerability in the security infrastructure, taking advantage of their legitimate access to the data. They intentionally bypassed security controls and extracted user data, subsequently using it for unauthorized purposes. The breach highlighted the importance of strong security measures, vulnerability management, and monitoring to prevent insider abuse.

Consequences: The data breach affected approximately 57 million Uber customers and drivers worldwide. The incident had significant repercussions for Uber, including reputational damage, legal investigations, regulatory fines, and criticism for its handling of the breach.

Martin Tripp and Tesla (2018):

Overview: An employee named Martin Tripp, who had authorized access to Tesla’s systems, accessed and leaked sensitive trade secrets and manufacturing information from the company.

Why it happened: Tripp misused his authorized access to steal and leak proprietary information due to personal grievances with Tesla. His actions highlighted the potential damage that an insider can inflict on a company by compromising trade secrets and intellectual property.

Consequences: Tesla filed a lawsuit against Tripp, alleging intellectual property theft. The breach resulted in reputational damage for Tesla, as well as potential financial harm due to the exposure of sensitive information. The incident underscored the need for robust insider threat prevention measures within the manufacturing sector.

Paige Thompson and Capital One (2019):

Overview: Paige Thompson, a former employee of a cloud computing company providing services to Capital One, exploited a misconfigured web application firewall to gain unauthorized access to customer data stored on Capital One’s systems.

Why it happened: Thompson identified and exploited a vulnerability in the security infrastructure, using her authorized access as a former employee of a service provider to gain unauthorized entry into Capital One’s systems. The breach highlighted the potential risks associated with insider threats originating from third-party service providers.

Consequences: The breach exposed the personal information of over 100 million Capital One customers, resulting in reputational damage, regulatory investigations, and significant financial costs for Capital One. The incident emphasized the need for robust security controls and risk assessment when engaging third-party service providers.

These case studies highlight the potential impact and consequences of insider threats within organizations. To mitigate this, companies need to implement proper security measures, access controls, and monitoring systems to mitigate the risks associated with insider threats and protect sensitive data. Notably, by using software that allows cybersecurity teams to discover and detect not just individual instances of real-time sensitive data exposure within applications, but the end user activity leading up to these incidents.


To avoid or mitigate insider threats leading to data breaches, the following measures could have been implemented:

  • Enhanced access controls and monitoring to limit privileged access and detect suspicious activities.
  • Comprehensive employee training and awareness programs on data security and insider threat risks.
  • Implementation of separation of duties to prevent single individuals from having unrestricted access and control.
  • Encryption and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) measures to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access and exfiltration.
  • Deployment of insider threat detection systems, such as User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA), to identify anomalous activities.
  • Regular security audits and vulnerability assessments to identify and address security weaknesses.
  • Establishment of strong policies and procedures regarding data handling, access control, and incident response.
  • Robust vendor and third-party risk management programs to assess and mitigate risks associated with service providers.


Insider threats pose a significant risk to organizations, with potential consequences ranging from financial loss and operational disruption to reputational damage and legal penalties. By understanding the different types of insider threats and the various ways data breaches can occur, organizations can take proactive measures to mitigate these risks. Implementing robust security measures, access controls, employee training programs, and monitoring systems can help safeguard sensitive data and minimize the impact of insider threats.


I'm a technology content writer with a solid track record, boasting over five years of experience in the dynamic field of content marketing. Over the course of my career, I've collaborated with a diverse array of companies, producing a wide spectrum of articles that span industries, ranging from news pieces to technical deep dives.