The cyber security threat to companies from their own employees is on the rise, according to new research.

Data security company Clearswift surveyed 600 senior business decision makers and 1,200 employees across the UK, US, Germany and Australia and found year-on-year cyber security incidents are also on the rise generally.

However, it said companies are able to spot suspicious activity significantly quicker than two years previously.

Inadvertent or malicious threats from employees make up 42 per cent of incidents, up from the 39 per cent in 2015.

When looking at the extended enterprise – employees, customers, suppliers, and ex-employees – this number reaches 74 per cent, compared to 26 per cent of attacks from parties unknown to the organisation. In 2015, 33 per cent of attacks were carried out by unknown parties, so this proportion is falling, which may seem surprising given the recent swathe of high profile attacks, such as WannaCry, which affected over 230,000 computers.

Large-scale external threats are more likely to encourage companies to add cyber security to the boardroom agenda, with 29 per cent of UK businesses doing so in recent months.

“As GDPR approaches, every department in a business will need to recognise the potential security dangers associated with the data they use,” said Dr Guy Bunker, SVP Products at Clearswift.

“Businesses may fall victim to the frenzy around high profile attacks and organisations may be quick to look at threats outside the business but, in reality, the danger exists closer to home.

“The blurring lines between personal and work-based technologies has led to an unabated rise in the insider threat.

“A reactive policy of blocking technologies may prove futile as users will inevitably find a work-around. Educating employees about how to safeguard critical information, motivating employees to care more about the ramifications of a breach, and increasing investment in Data Loss Prevention tools are the biggest priorities needed to minimise the risk of internal security breaches.

“Being a responsible data citizen will also require organisations to look at the way in which partners or suppliers hold and share information, as breaches within the extended enterprise could also lead to heavy fines for the originating business.”

Although internal threats pose the biggest threat to most organisations, employers believe that the majority (65 per cent) of incidents are accidental or inadvertent rather than deliberate in intent; this remains unchanged over the past three years and highlights a critical need for better security education within most organisations.

This is particularly relevant, as most businesses believe their critical data predominantly lies in non-technical departments, such as finance (55 per cent), HR (45 per cent) and legal or compliance (43 per cent).

More than half of organisations (52 per cent) say they are spotting an issue within an hour, compared to only a third (34 per cent) two years ago.