Cyber: The New CAT
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
Critical Condition. The proliferation of medical devices creates a host of scary risks for the beleaguered health care industry.
Disabled Autos. It’s alarmingly easy for a hacker to take control of a driverless vehicle, tampering with braking systems or scrambling the GPS.
Unmanned Risk. The dark side of remote-controlled drones, which have already been hacked — by students.
An Electrifying Threat. There is a very real possibility hackers could devastate the nation’s power grids — for a potentially extended period of time.
Heading Off ‘Cybergeddon’. Experts say resistance is futile, but resilience is paramount.
Risk Technology: Risk Managers Lead from Within
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.
Beware of Medical Hyper-Inflation!
Historically, medical inflation rates nationwide have been fairly consistent. However, data is now showing that medical inflation is not a “one size fits all” phenomenon, with hyperinflation spikes occurring in some locations…but not others.
This geographical conundrum means hyperinflation can occur as narrowly as two hospitals having dramatically different charges on the same street in Anytown, USA. So, uncovering these anomalies is akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“In recent years, workers’ compensation saw claim frequency decline, while severity rates went up. This basically means that increased job safety has offset increased medical costs,” explained Jason Beans, CEO of Rising Medical Solutions, a national medical cost management firm. “So, whenever a client’s average cost-per-claim went up, it was almost always caused by catastrophic, outlier-type claims.”
But beginning in 2013 and extending into 2014, Beans said, things changed. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my 20-plus years in this industry.”
“Our analytics made it very clear that small pockets around the country are experiencing what could only be described as medical cost hyperinflation. The big spikes in some clients’ claim costs were driven by a broader rise in medical costs, rather than catastrophic claims or severity issues.”
– Jason Beans, CEO, Rising Medical Solutions
Data dive uncovers surprising findings
On a national level, most experts describe medical costs increasing at a moderate annual rate. But, as often is the case, sometimes a macro perspective glosses over a very different situation at a more micro level.
“Our analytics made it very clear that small pockets around the country are experiencing what could only be described as medical cost hyperinflation,” explained Beans. “The big spikes in some clients’ claim costs were driven by a broader rise in medical costs, rather than catastrophic claims or severity issues.”
This conclusion is supported by several key data patterns:
- Geographic dependency: While many payers operate at the national level, only relatively small, geographically clustered claims showed steep cost increases.
- Median cost per claim: The median cost per claim, not just the average, increased greatly within these geographic clusters.
- Hospital associated care: Some clusters saw a large increase in the rates and/or the number of services provided by hospital systems, including their broad array of affiliate locations.
- Provider rates: Other clusters saw the same hospital/non-hospital based treatment ratios as prior years, but there was a material rate increase for all provider types across the board.
- Utilization increases: Some clusters also experienced a larger number of services being performed per claim.
One of the most severe examples of hyperinflation came from a large Florida metropolitan area which experienced a combined 47 percent workers’ compensation healthcare inflation rate. Not only was there a dramatic increase in the charge per hospital bill, but utilization was also way up and there was a shift to more services being performed in a costlier hospital system setting.
“The growth of costs in this Florida market stood in stark contrast to neighboring areas where most of our clients’ claim costs were coming down or at least had flat-lined,” Beans said.
An Arizona metropolitan area, on the other hand, experienced a different root cause for their hyperinflation. Regardless of provider type, rates have significantly increased over the past year. For example, one hospital system showed dramatic increases in both charge master rates and utilization. “Even with aggressive discounting, the projected customer impact in 2014 will be an increase of $773,850 from this provider alone,” said Beans.
ACA: Unintended consequences?
So what is going on? According to Beans, a potential driver of these cost spikes could be unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
First, the ACA may be a contributing factor in recent provider consolidation. While healthcare industry consolidation is not new, the ACA can prompt increased merger and acquisition efforts as hospitals seek to improve financials and healthcare delivery by forming Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). ACOs, the theory goes, can take better advantage of value-based fee arrangements in existing and new markets.
“As hospital systems grow by acquisition, more patients are being brought under hospital pricing structures – which are significantly more expensive than similar services at smaller facilities such as independent ambulatory surgery centers and doctors’ offices,” Beans said.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that post-consolidation healthcare systems have become more efficient, only more expensive. For example, a recent PwC study reported that hospital IT infrastructure consolidation alone is projected to add 2 percent to hospital costs in 2015.
Another potential ACA consequence is group health insurers may have less incentive to keep medical costs down. An ACA provision requires that 85% of premium in the large group market must be spent on medical care and provider incentive programs, leaving 15% of premium to be allocated towards administration, sales and subsequent profits. “Fifteen percent of $5000 in medical charges is a lot less than 15% of $10,000,” said Beans. “This really limits a group health carrier’s incentive to lower medical costs.”
How do increased group health rates relate to workers’ comp? In some markets, a group health carrier may use its group health rates for their work comp network so any rate increase impacts both business types.
In the end, medical inflation is inconsistent at best, with varying levels driven by differing factors in different locations – a true “needle in the haystack” challenge.
What to do?
Managing these emerging cost threats, whether you have the capabilities internally or utilize a partner, means having the tools to pinpoint hyperinflation and make adjustments. Beans said potential solutions for payers include:
- Using data analytics: Data availability is at an all-time high. Utilizing analytical tools to spot problem areas is critical for executing cost saving strategies quickly.
- Moving services out of hospital systems: Programs that direct care away from the hospital setting can substantially reduce costs. For example, Rising’s surgical care program utilizes ambulatory service centers to provide predictable, bundled case rates to payers.
- Negotiating with providers: Working directly with providers to negotiate bill reductions and prompt payment arrangements is effective in some markets.
- Underwriting with a micro-focus: For carriers, it is vital that underwriters identify where these pockets of hyperinflation are so they can adjust rates to keep pace with inflation.
“This trend needs to be closely watched,” Beans said. “In the meantime, we will continue to use data to help payers of medical services be smarter shoppers.”