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Cyber Threat: Energy

An Electrifying Threat

The energy sector is a top target of cyber attackers. A successful attack is only a matter of “when.”
By: and | April 7, 2014 • 7 min read
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Energy and the natural resources industry face especially grim cyber threats.

“If there is a cyber attack, you can’t see or touch that attacker so your ability to quickly respond may or may not be successful,” said Norma Krayem, a senior policy adviser at the Patton Boggs law firm and co-chair of the firm’s homeland security, defense and technology transfer practice group.

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“I think the likelihood of such an attack absolutely exists,” she said. “I think the question becomes more about who, when and why.”

According to Symantec, a data security company, the energy sector “has become a major focus for targeted attacks and is now among the top five most targeted sectors worldwide.”

The threats may come from competitive spying, corporate espionage, cyber criminals, hacktivism, disgruntled employees and state-sponsored disruptions, it said.

A bad result doesn’t even necessarily have to begin with bad intent, said Cliff Lancaster, senior risk analyst at Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. (HSB).

At the Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio, for example, the network became infected with a worm that shut it down for five hours in 2003 because a software consultant had created a shortcut for his own convenience that bypassed the firewall, he said.

Possible Widespread Devastation

As security measures increase, employees and vendors may be ever more tempted to bypass procedures, just to more easily get their work done.

Between July 2012 and June 2013, 16 percent of all cyber attacks each day targeted companies in the energy sector, according to Symantec. Only the government or public sector had more targeted attacks.

And should the energy delivery system be disrupted, that threatens the country’s finance, transportation, health care, water supply and emergency services systems — all of which depend on reliable energy.

042014_05c_rigs_Krayem“You have this patchwork of systems that are being cobbled together, a lot of them are legacy systems, and they are not necessarily all at the same level of security.”

– Norma Krayem, senior policy adviser, Patton Boggs

Electric grid vulnerabilities that lead to power disruptions are estimated to cost the U.S. economy between $119 billion to $188 billion each year, according to a 2013 report on grid vulnerability by Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.

“Power disruptions today generally do not lead to insured losses,” said Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.

“However, it seems only a matter of time before a major cyber attack leads to the type of damage covered by standard property and liability policies,” he said.

“As we look at what hackers have been able to do in terms of infiltrating presumed secure systems — even entities like the Department of Defense — it seems there must be vulnerabilities in the systems associated with major infrastructure in this country, whether it’s electric, water, transportation or communications.”

Complex Risk Management

The degree to which computer technology and networking are integral to the energy sector in an operational sense makes it a particularly complex risk-management challenge, said John Kerns, executive managing director of Beecher Carlson Financial Services.

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“There was a question posed to us by a client earlier this year: What if there were a denial-of-service attack or virus that shut down the gas pipelines coming into Chicago in the middle of winter. Homes went cold and people went to the hospital or even died. There was no physical damage, but clearly there was a serious impact, and loss,” he said.

The challenges are not confined to traditional energy markets either, said Charles Long, vice president of renewable energy and green technology at William Gallagher Associates. “Many computers are covered under a basic commercial package, and wind farms have separate coverage. If there is a lightning strike, that is surely covered. If data just failed, that can be covered by E&O, but data corruption or a virus, that kind of thing is very much still under consideration.”

Fred Podolsky, executive vice president, executive risk, Alliant Insurance Services, said that “only a small fraction,” maybe 10 percent of U.S. based utility companies have bought cover, and most of the policies that have been purchased relate to data breach exposures.

Some companies, however, have “woken up and are looking for cover” to help them repair their power-generation network and computer systems should they be damaged, or to protect them from other service interruption or customer liability issues, he said.

But many utilities refuse to provide underwriters with sufficient information to get the coverage they need, he said.

The main reason? “It’s just a pure confidentiality concern. IT folks are just so fearful to release any information to anyone having to do with their security procedures, though pressure is building from risk management and others in the C-suite to address these exposures,” Podolsky said.

While protecting the actual control systems of energy companies is a high priority that is audited by the federal government, the smart grid — that measures and creates a more efficient distribution of electricity based on use — is  vulnerable, said HSB’s Lancaster.

If false data were injected into that system, it could potentially cause turbine generators to speed up when they shouldn’t. “If you can get it spinning at the wrong speed,” he said, “it can just shake itself to death.”

Once a turbine or transformer is damaged, there is a limited amount of replacement equipment.

And once a turbine or transformer is damaged, there is a limited amount of replacement equipment, he said. “If you are able to damage many pieces of equipment at once, it would take a lot of time to fix it because you have to build and rebuild lots of equipment,” Lancaster said.

Krayem said the connectivity of entities that distribute electric power, for example, means there could be “cascading failures” throughout the country.

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“You have this patchwork of systems that are being cobbled together, a lot of them are legacy systems, and they are not necessarily all at the same level of security,” she said.

According to KPMG, which cited data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the “constant barrage of cyber attacks” on water and energy companies “usually take the form of cyber espionage or denial-of-service attacks against industrial-control systems.”

Inadequate Security Controls

The consultancy also noted that a survey by The Centre for Strategic and International Studies in 2010, found that critical infrastructure, including power grids, industrial control networks and oil refineries “are not adequately prepared to defend themselves.”

Video: Dissecting Stuxnet

The most famous of all attacks on an energy system occurred in Iran when unknown forces — believed to be the United States and Israel — created the Stuxnet worm, specially designed to target Iran’s specific industrial control system and reprogram it so that the nuclear centrifuges spun out of control and damaged themselves while the displays indicated normal functioning.

Most notably, Stuxnet spread using a USB drive, infecting networks that were unreachable by the Internet.

Another disturbing attack occurred in 2012, when a cyber attack hit Saudi Aramco, one of the largest oil producers in the world. The disruption, which continued for two weeks, disabled more than 30,000 of the company’s workstations.

The virus, later named “Shamoon,” was the first significant cyber attack on a commercial target to cause real damage. It is also the most destructive attack the private sector has experienced to date, said Malcolm Marshall, global leader for information protection at KPMG, based in London.

Marshall said that “one senior oil-industry executive to whom I spoke shortly after the Shamoon incident told me, ‘Well, there goes our worst-case scenario.’ ”

That same month, Rasgas, in Qatar, was hit by the same virus and forced to bring its entire network off line.

In 2011, hackers were able to install malware and “evidence of a sophisticated threat actor” was found in the U.S. energy sector, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

An Active Market

Marshall noted that, in the aggregate, the global oil and gas industry “is effectively self-insured, but cyber security is an active and growing commercial market, especially in the U.S. It seems likely that will become an economic necessity.”

Kerns at Beecher Carlson said, “We are seeing multiple policies responding to these threats. Those include dedicated cyber policies, D&O coverage, and in the energy sector, even general liability policies are responding.”

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That said, he added that “the insurance market is looking aggressively at cyber risk, and is putting on new exemptions, restrictions, and limits. The gray areas are still some GL, bodily injury, and third-party injury. Mostly, we are seeing GL carriers not willing to pick up many risks. That leaves owners and brokers to see what the cyber market is willing to do.
“There is capacity to address business interruption, but we are having to press on bodily injury and property damage as they relate to cyber,” he said.

                                                                                                                    

Complete coverage on the inevitable cyber threat:

Risk managers are waking up to the reality that the cyber risk landscape has changed.

Cyber: The New CAT. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Cyber risk is a foundation-level exposure that must be viewed with the same gravity as a company’s property, liability or workers’ comp risks.

042014_02c_hospital_thumbnailCritical Condition. The proliferation of medical devices creates a host of scary risks for the beleaguered health care industry.

042014_03c_cars_thumbnailDisabled Autos. It’s alarmingly easy for a hacker to take control of a driverless vehicle, tampering with braking systems or scrambling the GPS.

Alaska Plane CrashUnmanned Risk. The dark side of remote-controlled drones, which have already been hacked — by students.

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at afreedman@lrp.com.
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Reducing Cat Risks

Wind Turbines Slow Down Hurricane Winds

Hurricane winds are dissipated by offshore wind farms.
By: | March 6, 2014 • 3 min read
Topics: Catastrophe | Energy
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Off the New York coastline would be a perfect place for an array of wind turbines, according to a Stanford professor. It would not only offer clean energy to the Big Apple but it would protect it the next time a Superstorm Sandy comes calling.

“If you have a large enough array of wind turbines, you can prevent the wind speeds [of a hurricane] from ever getting up to the destructive wind speeds,” said Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

Computer models demonstrated that offshore wind turbines reduce peak wind speeds in hurricanes by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79 percent, said Jacobson, who worked on the study with University of Delaware researchers Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton.

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“The additional benefits are there is zero cost unlike seawalls, which would cost about $30 billion,” he said, noting that the wind turbines “generate electricity so they pay for themselves.”

The researchers studied three hurricanes, Sandy and Isaac, which struck New York and New Orleans, respectively, in 2012; and Katrina, which slammed into New Orleans in 2005. Generally, 70 percent of damage is caused by storm surge, with wind causing the remaining 30 percent, he said.

That’s why onshore wind farms would not be as effective, he said. While they would reduce the wind speed, they wouldn’t impact storm surge.

In 2013, one of the “most inactive” Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, insured losses totaled $920 million, according to Guy Carpenter, which relied on information from the Mexican Association of Insurance Institutions. The most noteworthy events were Hurricane Ingrid in the Atlantic and Tropical Storm Manuel in the Pacific, which displaced thousands as they caused excessive rainfall, flooding and mudslides.

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According to the Insurance Information Institute, Katrina was the costliest hurricane in insurance history, at $48.7 billion, followed by Andrew in 1992 at $25.6 billion and Sandy at $18.8 billion. Economic losses, of course, were much higher.

Wind turbines, which can withstand speeds of up to 112 mph, dissipate the hurricane winds from the outside-in, according to Jacobson’s study. First, they slow down the outer rotation winds, which feeds back to decrease wave height. That reduces the movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, and increases the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.

The benefit would occur whether the turbines were immediately upstream of a city, or along an expanse of coastline. It could take anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of wind turbines off the coast to offer sufficient hurricane protection.

At present, there are no wind farms off the U.S. coastline, although 18 have been proposed for off the East Coast. Proposals have also been made for off the West Coast and the Great Lakes. There are 25 operational wind farms off the coast of Europe.

“Overall,” Jacobson and his colleagues concluded in the study, “we find here that large arrays of electricity-generating offshore wind turbines may diminish hurricane risk cost-effectively while reducing air pollution and global warming, and providing local or regionally sourced energy supply.”

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at afreedman@lrp.com.
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Sponsored: Aspen Insurance

Minimize the Risks of Client Lawsuits

Approach client communications as if you were writing directly to a future jury. If a client ever sues, it could save the day.
By: | April 7, 2014 • 4 min read
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When a top litigator prepares a case for a trial, part of the process is mapping out a clear, written story to put in front of a jury. Professionals looking to avoid or minimize the impact of client lawsuits would be smart to follow that lead, according to Christopher Piety, underwriting counsel, Professional Lines Risk Management, Aspen Insurance.

“Just like when a talented lawyer faces a jury, the better prepared you are, the stronger your case will be and the more likely you will prevail,” Piety said. “That means being very clear when writing an email or a letter to a client. Approach these communications as if you were writing directly to a future jury.”

Piety explained that in the wake of several recent sizeable professional liability claims, lawyers and other professionals (i.e., accountants, architects and engineers) must deliver clear, concise written communications, to create a record of what happened along the way. “On some of the larger claims that I’ve been involved in, whether it is with lawyers, accountants, architects or engineers, it really boils down to managing client expectations. And to do that requires effective written documentation,” he said.

For example, Piety said that in a recent professional liability claim, a lawyer did nothing wrong other than failing to put into writing advice that the circumstances of the client’s case changed, which typically translates to an added risk that the desired outcome may not be achieved.

SponsoredContent_Aspen“When you write an email or letter, it’s critical to include specifics. It will go a long way to avoid potential trouble, especially if the situation ends up in court,” Piety said. “A good defense is a strong offense.”
– Christopher Piety, underwriting counsel, Professional Lines Risk Management, Aspen Insurance

“The attorney didn’t spell out in writing that the evidence no longer supported the client’s seven-figure expected outcome,” Piety said. The client eventually dropped the case and then sued the lawyer for malpractice, claiming that the attorney’s failures cost them a positive result. Without written documentation advising the client about the risks, the attorney could not prove the client had been advised.

Screen for Bad Apples

“Professionals need the courage to ‘fire’ a potential problem client should any serious red flags emerge,” Piety said. “Not every piece of business is a good one.” Along those lines, he offered a few bits of advice to avoid potential problems when choosing clients:

  • Obvious Red Flag: A potential client that “burned through” multiple professional services firms. Worse, have they sued any of them?
  • Reputation Check: After completing a credit check and/or litigation search, research the potential client’s reputation in the local business community.
  • Financial Stability: Check to see if the client is financially sound.  Sometimes, problem clients manage to transfer their financial problems to their professionals in the form of unpaid fees and/or malpractice claims.
  • Available Staff: Make sure your firm is prepared and staffed to properly do the work requested.

Clarity is Critical

“When you write an email or letter, it’s critical to include specifics. It will go a long way to avoid potential trouble, especially if the situation ends up in court,” Piety said. “A good defense is a strong offense.”

SponsoredContent_Aspen

Professionals need to carefully detail the scope of work when starting a new project or case, particularly if the client is also new. From a risk management perspective, it’s most critical to completely outline limitations and risks.

In addition, specific risks to various types of professionals may include:

  • Law Firms: Never offer guarantees for specific results, and understand that silence can be interpreted by a jury as agreeing with a client’s unrealistic expectations.
  • Architects and Engineers: Specify what you will and will not be responsible for. Never agree to indemnify anyone outside the firm.
  • Accountants: Advise clients and others using your work that attest engagements only provide limited assurance of no material misstatement in the financials, but do not guarantee the absence of fraud or financial problems with the attest client’s business.

Communicate Frequently

“Throughout the entire business relationship, it’s a good idea to document any ongoing changed circumstances, no matter how seemingly small, and advise clients of any new related risks and/or performance limitations,” Piety said. He outlined these examples:

  • Accountants: Quickly advise clients in writing when the client’s own poor record-keeping is causing the audit work to be more expensive and/or creating risk of material misstatement requiring additional client action.
  • Lawyers: Advise clients in writing when discovering evidence that may potentially change the value of the case.
  • Architects and Engineers: Communicate in writing when change orders on a project require expensive design changes that may negatively impact the overall project budget.

“Just like when a talented lawyer faces a jury, the better prepared you are, the stronger your case will be and the more likely you will prevail. That means being very clear when writing an email or a letter to a client. Approach these communications as if you were writing directly to a future jury.”

Act Promptly

Piety said the failure to act quickly often causes confusion, which can in turn lead to unnecessary and unforeseen problems. To stop that from occurring, he offered these insights:

  • Communicate immediately, via writing, any emerging issues that affect a client’s expectations and your ability to meet them.
  • Clients who fail to pay in a timely manner or seem unhappy early on in the relationship probably have an issue that should be addressed immediately.

In the end, only by having a clear written record of what actually occurred can professionals ensure they will reduce, or even prevent, the threat of a claim. Do not give your future opponent an opportunity to fill in the gaps with their own version of reality designed to sway a jury against you.

“Always focus on the fundamentals because fundamentals are what will really help a defense,” Piety concluded. “In so many cases, written communication will prove to be the critical factor between winning and losing.”

This article was produced by Aspen Insurance and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.


Aspen Insurance is a business segment of Aspen Insurance Holdings Limited. It provides insurance for property, casualty, marine, energy and transportation, financial and professional lines, and programs business.
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