Saturday , 25 January 2020

Insider Threats: An Essay Contest

By War Room, U.S. Army War College

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, in cooperation with War Room, the online journal of the U.S. Army War College, is pleased to announce an essay contest to generate new ideas and elevate thinking about insider threats and how we respond to and counter the threat.

U.S. Army graphic

Insider incidents such as the Washington Navy Yard shooting or the Manning/Wikileaks case affect both public and private organizations and cause immense damage, including loss of life, weakened national security, the compromise of sensitive or classified information, acts of workplace violence, damage to an organization’s reputation and morale, and billions of dollars lost to trade secret theft, fraud or sabotage.

As government and private organizations come to understand the extent, nature and full context of insider threats, organizations are thinking about how to mitigate the problem. Organizations may rely on thorough screening of new hires, behavioral awareness and reporting, threat assessment and management, and fully integrated organization responses. But the array of insider threats seems to grow, and these countermeasures are stressed to keep pace. How to better identify and address these gaps is a priority if organizations are to effectively avert or mitigate insider threats.


Essays must relate to the broad topic: Insider threat, counter insider threat and U.S. security. The topic is broad and may include (but is not limited to):

  • Threats from an insider
  • The balance between monitoring user activity and protecting privacy and civil liberties
  • Individual/personal trust
  • Organizational trust
  • Responding to or mitigating damage from an insider threat or attack
  • Critical thinking related to insider threats or responding to them
  • A secure society

We offer some additional topics and questions to plant seeds for thought and discussion:

  1. Privacy and security: Many argue that keeping a close eye on the workforce is required for safety and security, but as organizations employ monitoring technologies (e.g. facial recognition, cameras in public, big data, cyber monitoring), a question arises over the balance of privacy and security. Where is the balance moving given technology, culture and expectations about security and privacy?
  2. Trust: The insider threat is rooted in trust, trusted access and harm from trusted access. Does a perception of increased insider threats mean the trust between employee and employer has changed? What are the implications of changing values and ideas about trust?
  3. Limits to information sharing/mitigation: Employees (“insiders”) are often affiliated with other organizations such as universities or nonprofit groups. To properly build a behavioral/risk profile of an individual, integrating these affiliations is optimal. Yet organizations may be hesitant or legally prevented from sharing such information. How should organizations manage the problem of information sharing when trying to mitigate insider threats?
  4. Workforce reporting: Indicators of an insider threat are often first detected by others in the workforce or organization. In hindsight, unmitigated events reveal there were often indicators that were ignored. But workplace cultures of cooperation, not wanting to be a snitch, or not wanting to get involved can inhibit reporting. How can organizations and employees change workplace cultures so detecting and reporting possible insider threats becomes the norm?
  5. Evolution of the threat: The term “insider threat” has evolved over time, as have the capabilities to detect and mitigate the threat. An insider threat was once thought of as a spy pursued by counterintelligence elements, but now the term is applied more broadly. How might the term and the technologies available to mitigate the threats evolve in the future?
  6. Organizations: How do contextual factors such as organizational climate and culture exacerbate or mitigate insider threats?
  7. Insider threat management: How should security problems resulting from insiders’ unintentional and nonmalicious actions be prevented or managed?
  8. Assessment: Given the difficulty of assessing success by the number of events (i.e., insider problems) that do not occur, what are creative ways of systematically assessing the effectiveness of insider threat policies, programs and/or tools?
U.S. Air Force photo


  1. Essays will be accepted from any person (student, faculty, military, professional, citizen, U.S. or international).
  2. Up to two people may coauthor an essay entry.
  3. Participants may submit only one entry to the competition.
  4. Your essay must be original and unpublished, nor subject to publication elsewhere.

Use the War Room submission guide or email your entry to with the subject line “Insider Threat Essay Contest.” Once submitted, no edits, corrections or changes are allowed.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE:  Essays will be accepted until 11:59 PM EST on Dec. 15, 2019.

SELECTION PROCESS: The War Room Editorial Team will review submissions for adherence to requirements and provide an initial ranking based on how well and creatively it addresses the topic of the contest, its ability to provoke further thought and conversation, and its suitability for publication in War Room (i.e.- style, sources, accessibility, etc.). Selected essays will then be evaluated by Defense Department subject matter experts using the following questions:

  • Does the essay clearly define a problem and present a solution?
  • Does the essay show thoughtful analysis?
  • Does the essay inject new provocative thinking or address areas where there needs to be more discussion?
  • Does the essay demonstrate a unique approach or improve current initiatives?
  • Does the essay take lessons from history and apply them to today’s challenges?
  • Does the essay propose a project or concept that could realistically be applied to DOD, the U.S. government or the general populace?
  • Does the essay demonstrate knowledge of relevant existing publications, reviews and best practices?
  • Is the essay logically organized, well written and persuasive?

OUSDI and the editor-in-chief of War Room will make the final judgment for the contest.

The winning essay will be published in War Room. The top three will be published by the Defense Personnel and Security Research Center’s Threat Lab.

This article was initially posted on War Room, the online journal of the U.S. Army War College.

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