COVID-19 has created unprecedented and sometimes extremely challenging problems for government agencies and defense industrial base companies, especially when it comes to financial distress that their cleared populations may encounter. For this reason, factors that may correlate with insider threats from within federal, state and local government agencies appear to be on the rise.
Insider threat situations can stem from personal and financial stressors, of course, but also employee negligence, mental health issues or substance abuse, and other concerning behaviors. Financial triggers are one way to determine potential financial stressors and can be leveraged to augment existing insider threat programs.
Despite overall improvements to regular background checks through continuous evaluation or continuous vetting programs, many security organizations—for the most part—pull credit reports only on an annual basis, which doesn’t provide a true continuous perspective. Financial triggers programs, on the other hand, are a true continuous monitoring activity that enable data furnishers to conduct first-level risk analysis.
To implement or augment an existing insider threat program, most agencies and defense companies alike have adopted a framework addressing three broad areas: processes in the organization that help detect suspicious behaviors; internal information that helps identify suspect use of internal data and resources; and external information to help discover at-risk individuals. A robust financial triggers program is implemented in the third area.
Major lending institutions use financial triggers programs to determine if their customers are behaving in a way that might unnecessarily introduce undesired financial risks. Similarly, insider threat programs could use financial triggers to determine if their employees are behaving in a way that might unnecessarily introduce undesired security risks. Both government and commercial lending institutions use periodic consumer reports to develop greater risks insights, but many major lending institutions take the extra step of enrolling their customer base in a financial triggers program. In addition to providing a true continuous monitoring capability, a robust financial triggers program also includes a trended credit records analysis captured from the previous 30-month period.
Some progressive defense companies have implemented a financial triggers program as part of their employee wellness activity. This allows them to discover potential problems before they occur and puts them in a position to help their employees via focused financial counseling or even low-cost loans until their financial crisis is resolved. Financial triggers might also help security and human resource leaders understand financial hardships that could lead to desperate self-harm actions well beyond insider threat concerns.
With COVID-19 creating unique concerns, now may be the time to utilize new risk discovery techniques. In a recent TransUnion analysis of financial stressors for a population of U.S. armed services employees using the CreditVision® Financial Security Score, it was found that about 23% of employees were at high risk of financial distress. It’s likely this trend will continue as employees react to unanticipated financial hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
By taking a proactive stance and implementing the key steps noted above, government agencies can attain significant benefits, namely to reduce costs and protect their reputation through the use of continuous external data sources; protect the organization and its employees by identifying those at risk; and lastly, building a trusted workforce through improved risk assessments with a better understanding of employee financial well-being over time.
Bryan Denson is a senior director with TransUnion Public Sector.