Identifying and Validating Observable Measures of Psychological Financial Strain (not Debt)
Financial debt is commonly used to identify insider threat risk. However, there are many cases of insiders with little or no debt and insider threat case data shows that some insiders became threats to resolve miniscule amounts of debt ($1,000). There are counterexamples of people with high debt not becoming insider threats. The difference in examples is called “psychological financial strain”. Psychological financial strain describes and captures how people feel about their financial circumstances and includes characteristics such as financial stress, financial satisfaction, financial anxiety, financial attitudes, financial coping, and self-efficacy and perceived control. MITRE’s Insider Threat researchers propose that psychological financial strain is a stronger characteristic for malicious insider risk than financial debt or material financial strain, and researched to examine this more thoroughly. The researchers conducted an environmental scan of over 700 research papers, engaged with 27 personnel vetting and insider threat practitioners, and conducted an experimental validation study on selected psychological financial strain characteristics. Within one year, the researchers proposed a new definition for “Financial Considerations”, identified and prioritized 111 characteristics of psychological financial strain for insider risk, translated those characteristics into hypothesized observables, and validated eight characteristics and observables. The validation study asked 323 employees at a Washington D.C.-based organization to complete a questionnaire about their financial experiences, perceptions, attitudes, and circumstances. They then analyzed how the employees’ answers related to (1) their finance-related website activity, and (2) feedback from interviews with family, close friends, and managers. The technical report outlines the validation study design, findings, and recommendations for practice and future research.