Cyber Trolls Menace Reputation and Revenue
Cyber attacks aren’t always the immediately quantifiable attacks of old when hackers steal customer data, sites are harried by denial of service attacks and computer networks are compromised and hijacked.
A new breed of orchestrated campaigns dubbed “troll attacks” are now in the mix.
These attacks, which feature organized disinformation campaigns augmented by social media posts, create an atmosphere of chaos and economic disruption, and can have ripple effects on a company’s reputation and a downstream impact on revenue.
A recent New York Times story by Adrian Chen details one source for such attacks. A pro-Kremlin company called the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, faked a story on Sept. 11, 2014, about a chemical plant explosion in St. Mary Parish, La., which is a center for numerous chemical companies.
When word of the bogus disaster spread, there was extensive concern online, enflamed by fictional eyewitness accounts on Twitter about the plant explosion and fire.
“If the Russians want to convince the Western world that something dreadful has happened, they could pretty much hoodwink the world.” — Simon Milner, broker, Miller Insurance
According to a whitepaper published in May 2015 by Hays Cos., cyber attacks were once mostly about individuals stealing money or data but now some attacks are about “brand terrorism” that can create an environment of chaos and economic disruption.
“Our clients have seen various types of malicious or mischievous activity, although not to the extent described in the New York Times article,” said Dave Wasson, cyber liability practice leader for Hays Cos., based in Chicago.
“The Internet has provided incredible transparency for sharing information on an anonymous basis and that can often be viewed as one of the best attributes of the Internet. But that transparency cuts both ways in that the Internet provides an equal transparency for sharing misinformation.”
Simon Milner, a broker with Miller Insurance in London, began working in the cyber space nearly 20 years ago and says troll attacks have relatively low frequency but are potentially damaging “blunt instruments.”
Former Soviet Republics — Russia, Estonia, and Latvia — are behind many of these orchestrated efforts, as detailed in the New York Times investigation, he said.
“If the Russians want to convince the Western world that something dreadful has happened, they could pretty much hoodwink the world.”
“I don’t necessarily believe that reputation and revenue can be fully distinguished,” added Wasson.
“Consumers will choose companies they trust and part of that trust is the company’s security. The math underlying reputational harm is very difficult to measure.
“For public companies, we have stock prices, although that certainly doesn’t make valuation easy. It’s still more difficult to measure the financial impact of a diminished reputation for a privately held, nonprofit, or government entity.”
So what insurance solutions should risk managers look for? That depends on the potential exposure, according to James Murtaugh, managing director for BDO Consulting, based in New York City.
Coverage for any kind of cyber attack might fall under a wide variety of policies, including business interruption, GL, property, E&O, D&O and EPLI, depending on how the event affected the company’s revenue and reputation.
He noted that cyber-specific coverages have a shorter waiting period but the loss can be more substantial in a shorter period of time.
“With cyber attacks, the numbers could be too big, in the billions of exposure,” he said.
“Every cyber loss is a very complicated event.”
There are also challenges when trying to explain to the C-suite how troll attacks might impact a company financially, said Murtaugh, who specializes in calculating maximum foreseeable losses from business interruption claims, particularly related to supply chains.
“With cyber attacks, the numbers could be too big, in the billions of exposure.” — James Murtaugh, managing director, BDO Consulting
He advises risk managers to use enterprise risk management (ERM) language to treat reputation risk the same as any property peril, and to get away from the notion that this is all IT-related, because it is not.
“We’re seeing the turning point where people are still definitely uncomfortable about their exposure but understand they have to get more comfortable about it instead of keeping their heads in the sand,” said Michael Born, vice president of global technology and privacy practice for Lockton Cos., based in Kansas City, Mo.
“They need to get their arms around it, and have discussions about what are the exposures [and] what they can do about it. It’s becoming more of a discussion because of the [overall] discomfort about the topic of cyber risks.”
Whether such attacks could harm an individual company’s reputation enough to impact revenue is the open question.
For Born, naming the perils in a troll attack could consist of a media attack (either planted stories on real media or all-out fake media sites), bogus social media posts and fake websites.
“The [cyber] exposures that we’re talking about are changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with them even when you’re in the business 24/7,” said Born, who advises companies to look for consulting firms that provide constant vigilance over online reputation and business intelligence.
“For a company not in the business of cyber security, it’s very, very difficult to keep up with all that stuff.”
“In event that there was an attack by a Russian-backed troll organization,” Milner said, “our products would pay for a PR consultancy to rehab the image of the policyholder and should there be a significant BI loss, that would also be covered.”
Finally, how can risk managers protect against such attacks, aside from insurance?
Wasson advises high-profile companies — those that are involved in critical infrastructure or have controversial political, religious or ideological stances or activities — to plan for malicious troll attacks as they would for any business continuity, disaster recovery or incident response.
“It doesn’t currently seem that an entity can materially change their exposure to this risk, so the two main things an entity can do are prepare their response plan and, onerous as it may be, treat all information assets as mission-critical,” he said.
“There are certain tools a company can use to check if they are being mentioned on the dark web, but it’s not a given that dark web chatter will precede such an event.”
Risk Managers Rank Global Risks
Damage to brand and reputation is the No. 1 risk facing companies today, according to Aon’s 2015 Global Risk Management Survey.
“There’s a lot behind that which is driving that [ranking],” said Theresa Bourdon, group managing director, Aon Global Risk Consulting.
One of those factors is cyber risk, which for the first time in the survey’s history, since 2007, jumped into the top 10 risks, coming in at No. 9. It had been 18 in the last survey, which is taken every two years.
“If you talk to our clients, that’s no surprise,” she said. “The frequency is very low for these cyber events but it is obviously increasing.”
And, just as obviously, there is a correlation between cyber events and brand. Just look at Target, which is still struggling to regain its footing after the personal information of about 110 million of its customers was stolen in 2013.
According to U.S. Reputation Leaders Network, Target’s reputation saw its biggest drop after the cyber attack – and it was the largest drop of any U.S. company from 2013 to 2014, according to an article in “The Street.”
The remaining top 10 risks are: economic slowdown/slow recovery; regulatory/legislative changes; increasing competition; failure to attract or retain key talent; failure to innovate/meet customer needs; business interruption; third party liability; and property damage.
Other key movement in the rankings were the inclusion of property damage, which moved up to No. 10, from 17 in 2013; and third party liability, which had been 13 but moved up to 8.
One risk that dropped off as a top 10 risk was commodity price risk. It had been 8 in 2013, and moved down to 11 in the 2015 survey.
Bourdon said that one risk that remains top of mind for risk managers is regulatory and legislative issues. “It’s consistently a top 3 risk,” she said, noting that it was projected to remain so when risk managers were asked to project their top risks three years from now.
“Organizations are really challenged to respond to the pace at which regulations are coming,” she said. “There is a strong need for governance and a compliance framework.”
That risk, also, she said, relates to the reputational and brand damage that a company can suffer.
As for cyber, one surprising finding of the study — which surveyed 1,400 risk decision-makers in 28 industry sectors in 60 countries — was that 82 percent of the respondents said their companies were ready for a cyber attack, Bourdon said.
At the same time, 58 percent of the respondents said their companies have not done an internal assessment of their cyber risk exposure.
“Realistically speaking, this is relatively new territory that everybody is trying to get their arms around, organizations, insurance companies and those of us who are risk advisers,” she said.
“The goal for the industry as you look at these risks today and in the future is, how are we going to innovate and support these risks.”
Cyber, in particular, needs solutions, she said. “There is not enough insurance out there for the demand.”
Risk managers understand they need more data and analytics to “help them navigate this world” of increasingly complex risks, she said.
More risk managers, Bourdon said, are looking at their organizations holistically and not just focusing on insurance purchasing.
“It’s a much bigger and challenging role than it ever used to be and if you are using the same tools and techniques you were using 10 years ago, then you are not leading your organization down the right path.”
Detention Risks Grow for Traveling Employees
It used to be that most kidnapping events were driven by economic motives. The bad guys kidnapped corporate employees and then demanded a ransom.
These situations are always very dangerous and serious. But the bad guys’ profit motive helps ensure the safety of their hostages in order to collect a ransom.
Recently, an even more dangerous trend has emerged. Governments, insurgents and terrorist organizations are abducting employees not to make money, but to gain notoriety or for political reasons.
Without a ransom demand, an involuntarily confined person is referred to as ‘detained.’ Each detention event requires a specialized approach to try and negotiate the safe return of the hostage, depending on the ideology or motivation of the abductors.
And the risk is not just faced by global corporations but by companies of all sizes.
“The world is changing. We see many more occasions where governments are getting involved in detentions and insurgent/terrorist groups are growing in size and scope. It’s the right time for a discussion about detention risks.”
— Tom Dunlap, Assistant Vice President, Liberty International Underwriters (LIU)
“Practically any company with employees traveling abroad or operations overseas can be a target for a detention risk,” said Tom Dunlap, assistant vice president at Liberty International Underwriters (LIU). “Whether you are setting up a foreign operation, sourcing raw materials or equipment overseas, or trying to establish an overseas sales contract, people are traveling everywhere today for so many reasons.”
Emerging Threats Driven By New Groups Using New Tools
Many of the groups who pose the most dangerous detention threats are well versed in how to use the Internet and social media for PR, recruiting and communication. ISIS, for example, generates worldwide publicity with their gruesome videos that are distributed through multiple electronic channels.
Bad guys leverage their digital skills to identify companies and their employees who conduct business overseas. Corporate websites and personal social media often provide enough information to target employees who are working abroad.
And if executives are too well protected to abduct, these tools can also be used to identify and target family members who may be less well protected.
The explosion of new groups who pose the most dangerous risks are generally classified into three categories:
Insurgents – Detentions by these groups are most often intended to keep a government or humanitarian group from delivering services or aid to certain populations, usually in a specific territory, for political reasons. They also take hostages to make a political statement and, on occasion, will ask for a ransom.
In other cases, insurgent groups detain aid workers in order to provide the aid themselves (to win over locals to their cause). They also attempt prisoner swaps by offering to trade their hostages for prisoners held by the government.
The most dangerous groups include FARC (Colombia), ISIS (Syria and Iraq), Boko Haram (Nigeria), Taliban (Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Al Shabab (Somalia).
Governments – Often use detention as a way to hide illegal or suspect activities. In Iran, an American woman was working with Iranian professors to organize a cultural exchange program for Iranian students. Without notice, she was arrested and accused of subversion to overthrow the government. In a separate incident, a journalist was thrown in jail for not presenting proper credentials when he entered the country.
“Government allegations against detainees vary but in most cases are unfounded or untrue,” said Dunlap. “Often these detentions are attempts to prevent the monitoring of elections or conducting inspections.”
Even local city and town governments present an increased detention risk. In one recent case, a local manager of a foreign company was arrested in order to try and force a favorable settlement in a commercial dispute.
Ideology-driven terrorists – Extremist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS are grabbing most of today’s headlines with their public displays of ultra-violence and unwillingness to compromise. The threat from these groups is particularly dangerous because their motives are based on pure ideology and, at the same time, they seek media exposure as a recruiting tool.
These groups don’t care who they abduct — journalist, aid worker, student or private employee – they just need hostages.
“The main idea here is to shock people and show how governments and businesses are powerless to protect their citizens and employees,” observed Dunlap.
Mitigating the Risks
Even if no ransom demands are made, an LIU kidnap and ransom policy will deliver benefits to employers and their employees encountering a detention scenario.
For instance, the policy provides a hostage’s family with salary continuation for the duration of their captivity. For a family who’s already dealing with the terror of abduction, ensuring financial stability is an important benefit.
In addition, coverage provides for security for the family if they, too, may be at risk. It also pays for travel and accommodations if the family, employees or consultants need to travel to the detention location. Then there are potential medical and psychological care costs for the employee when they are released as well as litigation defense costs for the company.
LIU coverage also includes expert consultant and response services from red24, a leading global crisis management assistance firm. Even without a ransom negotiation to manage, the services of expert consultants are vital.
“We have witnessed a marked increase in wrongful detentions involving the business traveler. In some regions of the world wrongful detentions are referred to as “business kidnappings.” The victim is often held against their will because of a business dispute. Assisting a client who falls victim to such a scheme requires an experienced crisis management consultant,” said Jack Cloonan, head of special risks for red24.
Without coverage, the fees for experienced consultants can run as high as $3,000 per day.
Given the growing threat, it is more important than ever to be well versed about the country your company is working in. Threats vary by region and country. For example, in some locales safety dictates to always call for a cab instead of hailing one off the street. And in other countries it is never safe to use public transportation.
LIU’s coverage includes thorough pre-travel services, which are free of charge. As part of that effort, LIU makes its crisis consultants available to collaborate with insureds on potential exposures ahead of time.
Every insured employee traveling or working overseas can access vital information from the red24 website. The site contains information on individual countries or regions and what a traveler needs to know in terms of security/safety threats, documents to help avoid detention, and even medical information about risks such as pandemics, etc.
“Anyone who is a risk manager, security director, CFO or an HR leader has to think about the detention issue when they are about to send people abroad or establish operations overseas,” Dunlap said. “The world is changing. We see many more occasions where governments are getting involved in detentions and insurgent/terrorist groups are growing in size and scope. It’s the right time for a discussion about detention risks.”
For more information about the benefits LIU kidnap and ransom policies offer, please visit the website or contact your broker.
Liberty International Underwriters is the marketing name for the broker-distributed specialty lines business operations of Liberty Mutual Insurance. Certain coverage may be provided by a surplus lines insurer. Surplus lines insurers do not generally participate in state guaranty funds and insureds are therefore not protected by such funds. This literature is a summary only and does not include all terms, conditions, or exclusions of the coverage described. Please refer to the actual policy issued for complete details of coverage and exclusions.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.