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Understanding factors that influence unintentional insider threat: a framework to counteract unintentional risks

Khan, Neeshe; Houghton, Robert; Sharples, Sarah


Neeshe Khan


The exploitation of so-called insiders is increasingly recognised as a common vector for cyberattacks. Emerging work in this area has considered the phenomenon from various perspectives including the technological, the psychological and the sociotechnical. We extend this work by specifically examining unintentional forms of insider threat and report the outcomes of a series of detailed Critical Decision Method (CDM) led interviews with those who have experienced various forms of unwitting cybersecurity breaches. We also articulate factors likely to contribute firmly in the context of everyday work-as-done. CDM’s probing questions were used to elicit expert knowledge around how decision making occurred prior, during and post an unintentional cyber breach whilst participants were engaged in the delivery of cognitive tasks. Through the application of grounded theory to data, emerging results included themes of decision making, task factors, accidents and organisational factors. These results are utilised to inform an Epidemiological Triangle to represent the dynamic relationship between three vectors of exploit, user and the work environment that can in turn affect the resilience of cyber defences. We conclude by presenting a simple framework, which for the purposes of this work is a set of recommendations applicable in specific scenarios to reduce negative impact for understanding unintentional insider threats. We also suggest practical means to counteract such threats rooted in the lived experience of those who have fallen prey to them.


Khan, N., Houghton, R., & Sharples, S. (2022). Understanding factors that influence unintentional insider threat: a framework to counteract unintentional risks. Cognition, Technology and Work, 24, 393-421.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 2, 2021
Online Publication Date Oct 28, 2021
Publication Date 2022-08
Deposit Date Oct 21, 2021
Publicly Available Date Oct 28, 2021
Journal Cognition, Technology and Work
Electronic ISSN 1435-5566
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Pages 393-421
Keywords Computer Science Applications; Human-Computer Interaction; Philosophy
Public URL
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