An Inevitable Threat

Cyber: The New CAT

Cyber risk is a foundation-level exposure that should be viewed similar to a company’s property, liability or workers’ comp risks.
By: and | April 7, 2014 • 6 min read

Superstorm Sandy. The Joplin tornado. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami. California wildfires. 9/11. Catastrophes come in many forms. It is universally understood that despite our best efforts, disaster can strike due to forces beyond our control. Cyber threats are equally dangerous and diverse — and just as unstoppable.

Yet even as catastrophe risk management matures and scores of executives join the catastrophe conversation, the dragon known as cyber risk still sits in the middle of the board room, quietly smoldering.


In every industry and at every company size, cyber risk is a foundation-level exposure that every business must confront — one that must be viewed with the same gravity as a company’s property, liability or workers’ comp risks.

As recent as a decade ago, that might have been an overstatement. But not now. Technology and business are fundamentally linked. Computers and the Internet are the primary platform for communicating with customers and vendors, managing profits and expenses, paying employees, operating the machines that produce goods and provide services, and making sure that the end product gets into customers’ hands on schedule. Mobile technology and the Internet of Things are opening new channels, making technology a physical extension of ourselves, both personally and commercially.

“The entire economy is so reliant, in ways that we don’t even see, on technology and the storage, transmission and usage of data, both personal and for analytical purposes, that it’s fundamental to almost every sector,” said Oliver Brew, vice president for professional, privacy, and technology liability at LIU Liberty International Underwriters, the specialty line division of Liberty Mutual in New York.

Video: Computer security expert Mikko Hyppönen explains how he tracked down the creators of the first PC virus, which hit the net 25 years ago, and how to stop the new viruses of today.

That reliance is only going to grow. A January report by Forrester Research described software assets as more critical to business success than financial assets over the next 20 years.

“If you take a look at the public companies’ 10-Ks and publicly disclosed statements, what are they emphasizing that’s going to differentiate them from their competitors, increase sales, decrease costs and maximize efficiency? They focus on the use of technology and the use of information assets,” said Kevin Kalinich, global practice leader for cyber and network risk at Aon Risk Solutions.

With increased technology comes increased opportunity for attack. However, that reality didn’t get a lot of traction in the C-suite until the recent Target breach splashed it across world headlines. Even now, there are still some resting easy, confident that their IT teams have everything under control. Others assume cyber attacks are a threat largely confined to industries such as retail, health care and financial services — sectors with the most data to lose.


Small businesses, in particular, downplay the risk, said Jesse Bessler, an account executive at Lacher & Associates, of Souderton, Pa. “I think it’s that they just don’t understand the risk, and they think that [a cyber policy] is an add-on item they don’t need.”

Increased Sophistication

Security experts, however, are trying to break through the wall of denial. Cyber attacks, they argue, are akin to massive storms or similar to the focused destruction of a tornado — something you can prepare for, but not something you can prevent. Despite firewalls and antivirus programs, experts say, cyber punches will eventually land inside every company.

To grasp the magnitude of the threat, it’s important to recognize that the driving forces behind cyber crime are vast, varied and as uncontrollable as any atmospheric or geologic force. The threat is now ubiquitous, and experts agree that while making an effort to reduce the risk of a breach is important, it is no longer possible to completely prevent cyber attacks.

Kurtis Suhs Ironshore

Kurtis Suhs
Vice President

“It’s like two identical cars in a mall parking lot,” explained Kurtis Suhs, vice president and national technology and privacy product manager for Ironshore. “If one’s locked and one’s unlocked, the bad guy’s going to go to the unlocked car. But if the bad guy really wants to get into the locked car, he will — it’ll just take longer.”

And yet, organizations keep brushing off the threat. That may be because “cyber risk” has become synonymous with data theft. If an entity does not have a significant aggregation of customer financial data, executives assume they won’t be targeted. The reality is that the true exposure is no longer just about credit card or Social Security data. Hackers have expanded their target list, adopted a more patient approach and found deep-pocketed sponsors, whether private-sector or state-sponsored, security experts said.

Sophisticated hackers are conducting long-term surveillance and probing for weaknesses they can exploit for financial gain, said David Remnitz, global and Americas leader of Ernst & Young’s forensic technology and discovery services business. “The end result here is the theft of highly valuable, internal information for significant financial gain,” he said.

While that could mean outright theft of trade secrets or confidential M&A data, it could also mean corporate sabotage, as in corrupting a decade of research and development results or putting competitors out of business. Imagine a market where most of the players used one primary vendor as a source for a key ingredient. An organization could contract with a lesser-used source for that ingredient, then disrupt the operations of the primary vendor via a denial-of-service attack or other type of malware, leaving the rest of the market scrambling for suppliers.

The potential for lost business and liability claims could be devastating for the affected companies. Even those with solid business continuity plans in place could still take heavy hits from the reputational fallout.


“A large company might be able to absorb that risk. A small company can’t,” said Elissa Doroff, a vice president and senior advisory specialist in Marsh’s network security and privacy practice in New York.

To date, breaches have largely been limited to individual companies, but the potential for larger events looms. One concern centers on cloud companies, which could host data for hundreds of businesses. A data breach or network interruption, or the physical destruction of a cloud-service data center could wreak larger havoc on the economy.

“That’s a potentially catastrophic loss,” said Doroff.

The sky’s the limit at this point. Criminals are capable of disrupting a multinational corporation, a transportation or logistics network, a health care system, an entire industry or even an entire region, creating havoc and leading to economic losses in the millions or billions — in many situations even putting lives at risk.

Keep in mind that those with ill intent don’t even need to have an IT background — the proliferation of hackers-for-hire means that anyone intent on doing damage can do so if their pockets are deep enough.

That said, it probably wouldn’t take a well-funded ring of genius-level hackers and a sophisticated attack plan to paralyze the average organization. Three years ago, the U.S. subsidiary of Shionogi, a Japanese pharmaceutical firm, suffered a devastating cyber attack that deleted the contents of 88 computer servers, crippling the company’s operations for several days, disabling its email, BlackBerry servers, order-tracking system, and financial management software. The attacker? A former mid-level employee, working from a public
Wi-Fi network at a nearby McDonalds, calmly sipping coffee while bringing Shionogi to its knees.

An Enterprise Approach

Even organizations that have never been affected by a catastrophe generally do not question the need for CAT planning. At the very least, most probably have a written evacuation plan in place and enough insurance to cover the potential physical damage of a storm. The smartest also address the whole picture from a supply chain and business continuity standpoint, and may have even considered questions about how to manage any reputational damage related to interruption of service to customers.

PwC’s report, Cyber Crisis Management: A Bold Approach to a Bold and Shadowy Nemesis, offers a new philosophy and approach to incidence response. This graphic shows the key elements of a structured cyber crisis response.

PwC’s report, Cyber Crisis Management: A Bold Approach to a Bold and Shadowy Nemesis, offers a new philosophy and approach to incidence response. This graphic shows the key elements of a structured cyber crisis response.

Cyber exposure should be approached in much the same way. It starts with engineering out the risk to whatever extent possible. If your roof is old, for instance, replacing it may be a way to ensure the building is more likely to stay intact if it’s battered by a storm. The cyber equivalent might be replacing old servers or upgrading any existing automated intrusion detection system. Security experts stress, however, that cyber risk is not an IT exposure, it’s an enterprisewide exposure. Therefore vulnerabilities need to be identified across an entire organization, with policies and procedures modified accordingly.

A comprehensive, enterprisewide disaster plan can also go a long way toward helping companies minimize the damage sustained in the event of a cyber attack. For every function of an organization, management needs to ask hard questions about how a cyber attack could disrupt that function, and what kind of back-up plan each department would need. Do you have a way to contact customers and suppliers if your email goes down? Do you have a crisis communication plan for alerting the public about how you’re handling the situation? Are your records backed up and accessible through a secure third-party?


Increasingly, organizations will rely on insurance to ensure their survival after a cyber event. In a February survey by BAE Systems, nearly 30 percent of companies said they expected the cost of a cyber attack to exceed $75 million. Another 20 percent expected the cost to fall between $15 million and $75 million.

“There’s an expectation that this could have an extremely material effect on business performance, and that’s a risk they look to hedge,” said Paul Henninger, global product director for BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, a business unit of BAE Systems.

Taking a realistic approach to cyber attacks could improve underwriting of the risk, he said. Just as carriers evaluate whether clients are prepared for a CAT-5 hurricane, knowing some damage is likely, they could determine whether clients are ready for a cyber storm.

“You can’t make it go away, but you can minimize the impact on the bottom line and customers and reputation,” he said.

Complete coverage on the inevitable cyber threat:

Risk managers are waking up to the reality that the cyber risk landscape has changed. Every sector must prepare to withstand the storm.

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.

dv738024An Electrifying Threat. There is a very real possibility hackers could devastate the nation’s power grids — for a potentially extended period of time.

Related articles:

Heading Off ‘Cybergeddon’. Experts say resistance is futile, but resilience is paramount.

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]
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Risk Insider: Bob Morrell

Risk Technology: Risk Managers Lead from Within

By: | April 22, 2014 • 2 min read
Bob Morrell is CEO and Co-Founder of Riskonnect. He oversees the strategic vision and strategy of Riskonnect, a provider of risk management technology. Bob hones his competitive skills practicing mixed martial arts, along with his family. Bob can be reached at [email protected]

This year marks my twentieth in the risk management field.  Now I would never call myself a risk manager.  Far from it: I’m a computer geek, and proud of it.  Today we refer to the Internet, Cloud, Mobile and Big Data, but I’ve been working with technology my entire life.  So much has changed in those twenty years.  Networking computers together was rudimentary and extremely limited when I started.  Now everything, and everyone, is interconnected, and that has changed everything.

That interconnectivity has allowed organizations to move away from the isolated, siloed processes of the past, and produced dramatic changes in the way we conduct our business and our lives. I’ve watched risk management evolve from a department called upon primarily when things go wrong, to a pervasive philosophy for running a successful business.  Fewer and fewer risk managers I speak to work in isolation, reacting to claims as they come in.  Rather they are a collaborative lynchpin to manage risk.  They don’t wait for bad things to happen.  They proactively put safety programs in place, analyze loss data and make their organizations more risk-aware.  They know an enormous amount about the inner workings of their organization, its suppliers, distributors, vendors and team members.  This is a fundamental transition from a middle management, administrative function, to an executive level function that is key to the organization’s success.

But risk managers are increasingly finding that email and spreadsheets are clumsy, inefficient, and ultimately create obstacles to managing risk throughout their company.  With the speed and global reach of business, when even ‘local’ businesses rely on a far-flung supply chain, yesterday’s technology introduces risk, inefficiencies and increased levels of error. Today’s business demands technology that facilitates decisions for tomorrow’s business challenges. Organizations need a platform – a platform that provides secure, efficient and consistent methods of communicating risk-related events and data.  Fortunately this need comes at a time when we have a convergence of technologies that can make this vision a reality.

 This is a fundamental transition from a middle management, administrative function, to an executive level function that is key to the organization’s success.

Just imagine running your business on technology of twenty years ago.  Sending paper memos (when CC referred to a literal ‘carbon copy’), using a phone tethered to your desk, taking delivery of policy documents in hard copy – oh wait, they still do that.  Would that put your business at a competitive disadvantage?  Of course it would – and risk management would suffer too.

Risk management no longer has to take a back seat to other parts of the organization. Quite the opposite. By leveraging commercial cloud platforms, the pervasiveness of the Internet and the interconnectivity of everyone and everything, the risk management team can be the most modern, forward-looking part of the company. Risk management has become the bellwether of change – actually bearing the standard for technology-enabled collaboration and productivity across the organization. Imagine that.

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Sponsored Content by Nationwide

Hot Hacks That Leave You Cold

Cyber risk managers look at the latest in breaches and the future of cyber liability.
By: | October 3, 2016 • 5 min read

Nationwide_SponsoredContent_1016Thousands of dollars lost at the blink of an eye, and systems shut down for weeks. It might sound like something out of a movie, but it’s becoming more and more of a reality thanks to modern hackers. As technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so do the occurrence of cyber breaches.

“The more we rely on technology, the more everything becomes interconnected,” said Jackie Lee, associate vice president, Cyber Liability at Nationwide. “We are in an age where our car is a giant computer, and we can turn on our air conditioners with our phones. Everyone holds data. It’s everywhere.”

Phishing Out Fraud

According to Lee, phishing is on the rise as one of the most common forms of cyber attacks. What used to be easy to identify as fraudulent has become harder to distinguish. Gone are the days of the emails from the Nigerian prince, which have been replaced with much more sophisticated—and tricky—techniques that could extort millions.

“A typical phishing email is much more legitimate and plausible,” Lee said. “It could be an email appearing to be from human resources at annual benefits enrollment or it could be a seemingly authentic message from the CFO asking to release an invoice.”

According to Lee, the root of phishing is behavior and analytics. “Hackers can pick out so much from a person’s behavior, whether it’s a key word in an engagement survey or certain times when they are logging onto VPN.”

On the flip side, behavior also helps determine the best course of action to prevent phishing.

“When we send an exercise email to test how associates respond to phishing, we monitor who has clicked the first round, then a second round,” she said. “We look at repeat offenders and also determine if there is one exercise that is more susceptible. Once we understand that, we can take the right steps to make sure employees are trained to be more aware and recognize a potentially fraudulent email.”

Lee stressed that phishing can affect employees at all levels.

“When the exercise is sent out, we find that 20 percent of the opens are from employees at the executive level,” she said. “It’s just as important they are taking the right steps to ensure they are practicing what they are preaching.”

Locking Down Ransomware

Nationwide_SponsoredContent_1016Another hot hacking ploy is ransomware, a type of property-related cyber attack that prevents or limits users from accessing their system unless a ransom is paid. The average ransom request for a business is around $10,000. According to the FBI, there were 2,400 ransomware complaints in 2015, resulting in total estimated losses of more than $24 million. These threats are expected to increase by 300% this year alone.

“These events are happening, and businesses aren’t reporting them,” Lee said.

In the last five years, government entities saw the largest amount of ransomware attacks. Lee added that another popular target is hospitals.

After a recent cyber attack, a hospital in Los Angeles was without its crucial computer programs until it paid the hackers $17,000 to restore its systems.

Lee said there is beginning to be more industry-wide awareness around ransomware, and many healthcare organizations are starting to buy cyber insurance and are taking steps to safeguard their electronic files.

“A hospital holds an enormous amount of data, but there is so much more at stake than just the computer systems,” Lee said. “All their medical systems are technology-based. To lose those would be catastrophic.”

And though not all situations are life-or-death, Lee does emphasize that any kind of property loss could be crippling. “On a granular scale, you look at everything from your car to your security system. All data storage points could be controlled and compromised at some point.”

The Future of Cyber Liability

According to Lee, the Cyber product, which is still in its infancy, is poised to affect every line of business. She foresees underwriting offering more expertise in crime and becoming more segmented into areas of engineering, property, and automotive to address ongoing growing concerns.”

“Cyber coverage will become more than a one-dimensional product,” she said. “I see a large gap in coverage. Consistency is evolving, and as technology evolves, we are beginning to touch other lines. It’s no longer about if a breach will happen. It’s when.”

About Nationwide’s Cyber Solutions

Nationwide’s cyber liability coverage includes a service-based solution that helps mitigate losses. Whether it’s loss prevention resources, breach response and remediation expertise, or an experienced claim team, Nationwide’s comprehensive package of services will complement and enhance an organization’s cyber risk profile.

Nationwide currently offers up to $15 million in limits for Network Security, Data Privacy, Technology E&O, and First Party Business Interruption.

Products underwritten by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and Affiliated Companies. Not all Nationwide affiliated companies are mutual companies, and not all Nationwide members are insured by a mutual company. Subject to underwriting guidelines, review, and approval. Products and discounts not available to all persons in all states. Home Office: One Nationwide Plaza, Columbus, OH. Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle, and other marks displayed on this page are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, unless otherwise disclosed. © 2016 Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.



This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Nationwide. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s.
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