The Curse of the Black Adder
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
One Fine Fall Day
Aaron Scott watched with pride as his German shorthaired pointer Sadie bulled her way through the switchgrass. Sadie was six, an age when most hunting dogs started to show signs of aging. But Sadie was as heavy in the chest and shoulders as some males, and just as tough.
Then suddenly Sadie was on point, her stub of a tail twitching frenetically. Seconds later, the male bird exploded out of the brush. Aaron swung his grandfather’s over and under Remington up and dropped the bird cleanly. Aaron smiled. It didn’t get any better than this.
Then his phone rang. He had to get it. As the CFO for Pinecrest Food Markets, which had 44 stores in four states, it was part of his job to take calls, all calls.
“This is Aaron,” he said.
“Aaron, it’s Christine.” Christine was Aaron’s older sister and the CEO of the company. Aaron knew that tone in her voice. The news wasn’t good.
“We just got a letter from Spendex that they’ve been hit by malware. It looks like we may have lost credit card numbers for about 600,000 customers.”
Aaron paused and again looked at the scenery and savored the diminishing scent of spent gunpowder. He wished he could turn back the clock to one minute ago, but all that was gone.
“You there?” Christine said.
“I’m here,” Aaron said.
“Can you please get those dogs in the truck and get back to the office? We got work to do.”
Christine preferred jumping horses to bird-hunting. On a fox hunt, she could ride with anyone in the state.
Aaron loved his sister, but he also bore a scar over his right eyebrow where she’d clocked him with a rock when they were preteens.
“I’m comin’. Be there in 30,” Aaron said.
Pinecrest had been founded by Aaron’s grandfather William in an 800-square-foot shop in Johnstown, Pa. It had grown to where it had stores in eastern Ohio, its native western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the Maryland panhandle.
Aaron and Christine ran it now. The phrase “three generations — shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves,” was how old-timers described how quickly an inherited family business could fall apart. Aaron and Christine had vowed they would prove that old saying wrong.
Back at the office, Aaron read the letter from the credit card transaction processing vendor Spendex. Spendex was reporting that as many as 26 of its regional retail customers lost credit card numbers to The Black Adder, a malware that strips names, credit card numbers and expiration dates from the magnetic stripes of credit cards.
“Now what?” said Christine.
“Well, we’ve got to tell every affected customer what happened and we need to do it soon,” Aaron said.
“How much is that going to cost?” Christine said.
“Quite a bit, but we’ve got insurance for it,” Aaron said as calmly as he could as he looked down at his iPhone and started scrolling through his contacts.
Aaron was playing possum with his cool tone. He was the family peacekeeper and he knew that his role at times like these was to keep a lid on the much more volatile Christine.
Christine exhaled, and Aaron kept his eyes on his iPhone.
Part of the Pinecrest brand came from where it was based and who founded it.
Based as it was in a state that was home to almost a million military veterans, Pinecrest aligned itself with traditional values like patriotism, community, faith and family.
There was a picture of a local veteran who had given his life in armed conflict in every Pinecrest store.
So when it came to the data breach notification, Christine Scott — in what she felt was full alignment with the brand — didn’t shrink from responsibility.
In addition to letters and emails sent to Pinecrest’s 600,000 affected customers, Christine called local news stations to broadcast news of the breach and her promises to make good. She didn’t bother to ask Aaron whether he thought that was a good idea.
“Every one of our customers will be reimbursed for their time and trouble, including a year’s worth of multi-bureau credit monitoring services,” Christine said while the TV cameras recorded her.
“Well that’s what the policy says, doesn’t it?” Christine said when Aaron told her later that she probably shouldn’t have said that on television.
The very next day, a phone call from Pinecrest’s insurance broker was the second bad call Aaron got that month.
“Multi-bureau? No. The policy will cover services from a single credit monitoring bureau,” the broker, Robert Franz, told Aaron.
As Aaron spoke with Robert, he was multitasking and monitoring his emails. He saw an email marked “urgent” from Spendex. It was about the data breach.
“Hey Robert, can I call you back in a few minutes? I’ve got something hopping here,” Aaron said.
“Sure,“ Robert said, but in a tone that implied, “What could be more important than this?”
As it turned out, the email from Spendex was plenty important.
The notice from Spendex explained that although it was obligated to inform all of its customers that there had been a breach, in reality, only 14 of its 26 retail customers had been impacted. The clincher? Pinecrest wasn’t one of them.
Aaron pushed back from his desk and ran his hands through his hair.
“What the … ?” he said as loudly as he would say anything.
“What is it?” said Christine, popping her head into his office. She knew from the volume of Aaron’s voice that it was something big.
“We didn’t lose any data. We didn’t lose any data at all,” Aaron said.
“Great,” Christine said.
“No, not great,” Aaron said. “We just told about a million people that we did.”
“Now what do we do?” Christine asked.
Aaron felt that Christine had burned him before by going on television without seeking his counsel. That experience caused him to dig in his heels with Christine over what to do next.
“Slow down, just slow down,” Aaron said when the siblings met to go over strategy.
“I don’t know that we need to come out with an announcement just yet.”
Aaron’s reaction to his sister’s outspokenness had caused him to miscalculate. A full week went by until Pinecrest announced on its website and with another email blast that its customers had, after all, not been impacted by the Black Adder strike.
The company’s pause in making that announcement was as toxic as a rattlesnake bite.
The local media reacted negatively to the company’s week-long silence. News that the company sat on the knowledge that customers hadn’t lost data made the front pages of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat and the Wheeling News-Register.
For the first time in its history, Pinecrest was dealing with the full brunt of a hit to its reputation.
The traditional print media was one thing, and no small thing in the markets Pinecrest served. But online commentary, ungoverned by journalistic ethics, pulled no punches. Commentators ridiculed the company for banking on the military sacrifices of previous generations, when it “didn’t have the guts,” in one poster’s vernacular, to tell people the truth.
The company’s broker, Robert Franz, phoned Aaron with even more bad news.
“You’re not covered for any of your breach notification expenses, or for any credit monitoring services,” Robert told Aaron.
“Please tell me why,” Aaron said, keeping his voice low because he was just not in the mood for any spontaneous crisis communications with his older sister.
“Under your policy, you’re only covered for notification and credit monitoring if there was an actual breach,” Robert said.
“No breach, no coverage,” he said.
“So we’re out about a million dollars,” Aaron said flatly. In the regional grocery business, where margins could sometimes be measured in the low single digits, a million dollars was a very big hit.
“I’m afraid so,” Robert said.
Sales at Pinecrest Food Markets were down around 10 percent in all four states that it operated in.
“Might as well shop at Supermart,”a grizzled Korean War veteran told Channel 11 in Charles Town, West Virginia.
With the company down a million out of pocket and with revenue hamstrung, Christine Scott and the rest of the Pinecrest team had some very difficult and expensive decisions to make.
Should they sue Spendex for its shoddy forensics? And what coverage did they have for the costs of that?
Rumors began to circulate in several state capitals that class action lawsuits were being prepared on behalf of the tens of thousands of Pinecrest customers who felt they were caused needless expense and worry because of the bad information Pinecrest put out to begin with.
Grandstanding attorneys general were probably not far behind. Pinecrest was possibly facing legal action on several fronts and it was unclear whether it had the coverage to pay for its defense.
With the world seemingly against them, Christine and Aaron took a day in late November and went to their grandfather’s hunting cabin in Somerset County.
The grouse were out there, but the two of them just sat staring at the fire in the cabin’s stone fireplace, with Aaron’s two bird dogs stretched out in front of the fireplace.
Sadie looked up hopefully as Aaron got up to throw another log on the fire.
“No huntin’ today, Sadie girl. Daddy is not in the mood,” Aaron said as Christine nursed a bottle of local craft-distilled rye.
“May I have some of that, please?” Aaron asked.
“Get your own bottle,” said Christine.
A regional grocery chain gets into hot water after it loses customer financial data. Making matters worse is that the company does not have a good grasp on the language in its cyber coverage policy. The company also suffers reputational damage when it notifies customers based on bad information.
1. Know your partners: Pinecrest sees its problems go from bad to worse because the company it uses to process credit card transactions has shoddy forensics and reports data breaches for customers that in the end had no data breach.
2. Know your coverage: Pinecrest suffers needless losses because key executives don’t understand its insurance policy when it comes to services available under the coverage for data breach notification and credit monitoring.
3. Be as transparent as possible: When it comes to notifying customers of substantial issues that could impact their expenditures, getting out quickly with the best information is extremely important. Pinecrest actually has good news to report midway through this story, but sits on it due to internal friction. The good of the team must clearly win out here.
4. Create realistic expectations: Coverage existed for Pinecrest officials to put together a reasonable response when customer data was lost. But a key executive broadcast inflated statements about what Pinecrest would be able to do, creating equally inflated expectations.
5. Hold vendors accountable: Given the volatile expansion of cyber risk, it makes good sense to require vendors contractually to indemnify you if they lose your crucial customer data.
The issues covered in this scenario center around crisis management and insurance pitfalls associated with loss from a cyber breach. This follow-up webinar focused on specific loss trends and cyber exposures, as well as presented steps to take to strengthen your crisis risk management program.
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
The October 2015 cover of the trade publication Retailer’s World featured a picture of Paul Vitez, general counsel for cloud host Va-Voom!, which rewrote the book on online shopping, making a billionaire of its founder, Teddy Houck.
In glowing prose, the author of the Retailer’s World cover story related Vitez’ impressive academic record at Haverford College, his background in finance and his role in earning for Va-Voom! the nickname of “The Citadel” for its innovative, committed approach to cyber security.
Employing the “prison, not a castle” approach to cyber security, Vitez and Va-Voom! created “honey- pots” within the Va-Voom! system, decoys which looked like they contained important data but were not actually part of the internal network.
Moving much more swiftly than its competitors, Va-Voom! also spent millions to implement chip and pin credit card technology on its credit cards, a much more secure way to store sensitive financial and personal information than the traditional magnetic strip.
Again with an eye toward short-term investment in operations and a goal of long-term success, Vitez was given carte blanche by Teddy Houck and the Va-Voom! board of directors to spend top dollar for information technology talent that had honed their skills in the high-stakes environments of the CIA and the Department of Defense.
From an information technology policy perspective, Va-Voom! was a demanding place to work. Under Vitez’ direction, the use of data encryption was heavily enforced. It also had a strict company policy barring employees from connecting personal devices to any computer equipment owned by Va-Voom! or to its network.
In 2014 and 2015, one by one, major retailers — even banking institutions — were hit by cyber attacks that undermined the public’s faith in those companies, doing serious mid- to long-term damage to their reputations. Retailers that learned only too well the degree to which they were vulnerable to attack found in Va-Voom! a business partner they felt they could trust.
Rather than being dampened by cyber fears, the trend of cyber attacks in 2014 and early 2015 actually increased the number of retailers that wanted to do business with Va-Voom!
The company’s insurance program was something of an anomaly, considering its position in the industry. Starting with a substantial retention, Va-Voom! carried property and professional liability coverage for its employees.
The company considered but never purchased coverage that would substantially indemnify the hundreds of retailers and other service providers that used its services, were Va-Voom! to be the victim of a cyber-security incident. It carried third-party liability insurance, but not as much as you would think a company of its size would carry.
“Really?” Vitez memorably said during a meeting with Steve Francis, the company’s chief risk officer and company CFO Maribel Kelly, when the subject of cyber security indemnification was broached by Va-Voom!’s broker, himself no slouch when it came to these matters.
With an eye to the merciless whims of stock market investors, Vitez and Kelly sided against Steve Francis when he argued that the cost of the premium, though it would put a slight dent in the company’s bottom line on a quarterly basis, was well worth the expense.
“Nobody manages this risk better than we do,” Vitez said, crossing his arms across his chest.
“We can and do own this risk,” he said.
Steve Francis looked at Vitez across the table but didn’t say what he was thinking. What he was thinking was, “You just bit off way more than you can chew, Mr. Haverford.”
Just before midnight on Nov. 30, 2015, the Monday after Thanksgiving, known in retailing as Cyber Monday, a highly sophisticated and well-coordinated cyber-attack began, erasing Va-Voom!’s considerable credibility in a matter of minutes.
Here’s how it unfolded.
At five minutes to midnight, the websites of 10 of the largest retailers that sold on the Va-Voom! site went down. The retailers were so in the dark about what had happened to them that it took hours to put together that the source of the attack was coming from within Va-Voom!’s vaunted information technology system.
Precisely at midnight, unidentified hackers used the stolen e-mail addresses of the 10 retailers’ customers to send Trojan Horses to the personal computers of millions of online shoppers.
The customers didn’t need to click on the e-mails or download attachments to empower the Trojan Horses. After a mere half hour in their inboxes, the e-mails activated a cyber-locking mechanism that shut the users out of their own computers. The only visible content on their screen was the logo of the retailer whose customer information was stolen.
Angry consumers, shut out of their personal computers, pick up their handheld devices to vent their frustration in instant messages and Tweets aimed at the retailers whose logos were frozen on their now-useless computer screens.
Several of the affected companies went public within hours with their conviction that the Trojan Horses that caused so much havoc emanated from the Va-Voom! network.
“Are you seeing this?” said David Cohen, the equally miffed general counsel for one of the retailers, on a phone call with his law school buddy Paul Vitez, as they tried to sort out the hell that had broken loose.
“Yes I’m seeing it,” said Vitez.
Vitez, normally a man of action, but temporarily flummoxed, became as passive as any teenager with a handheld device in their hand as he sat, scrolling through the Tweets and Facebook posts that were savaging the retailers and Va-Voom!
“What are you doing?” Cohen said impatiently when Vitez fell silent.
“Are you playing with your iPhone? We have a serious situation here, Paul!” Cohen said.
“I’m not playing with my iPhone!” Vitez shouted back before putting down his mobile device and trying to regain control of his emotions.
“I know we have a problem David, I know we do,” Vitez said.
But all Vitez could do beyond that was run his hands through his hair, temporarily at a loss as to exactly what to do next.
On the afternoon of December 1, the New York Times published an online story, featuring quotes attributed to Wall Street analysts from the technology and retail sectors, estimating that damage to home computers and lost online retail sales from the coordinated and ongoing cyber attack could potentially exceed $1 billion.
Black Monday and Beyond
In the aftermath of what history and newspaper editors and writers would record as “Black Monday,” Vitez and the rest of the Va-Voom! team tried to take stock of their losses and rally themselves into a recovery. They had a very hard and very expensive road ahead of them.
Paul Vitez had used the millions accorded to him to create Va-Voom’s “prison, not a castle” approach to cyber defense and he had employed that money in an admirable and innovative fashion.
But it was in a meeting with chief risk officer Steve Francis, CFO Marabel Kelly and Va-Voom!’s technology and general liability broker Brandon Fikes that Paul Vitez came to a better, albeit painful understanding about the best allocation of capital in the quest to manage risk.
The most immediate pain that Va-Voom! was feeling were notices from five attorneys general that investigations into the Black Monday breach were underway.
‘Well, the good news is that your regulatory defense is covered, as is your first party business interruption,” Fikes said.
“Great,” Vitez said. “What else?”
Steve Francis glanced at Vitez out of one corner of his eye. He felt the pain of the losses to the company as badly as anyone, but he couldn’t help but take a bit of perverse pleasure in the discomfort of Vitez, whose arrogance, in Francis’ estimation, was going to have significant consequences, consequences that could be measured in millions of dollars.
“The rest is somewhat of a mixed bag, unfortunately,” Fikes said.
“Go on,” said Vitez who shot Francis a quick sharp look, causing Francis to turn away quickly, lest his inner thoughts become outwardly visible.
“You had some third party liability coverage, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to cover the losses of your business partners, not to mention the shoppers whose personal computers were damaged by this event,” Fikes said.
“How much …” Vitez managed to get out before Steve Francis stepped in.
“We could have multiples of millions in exposure here, Paul,” Francis said.
Vitez shot Francis another look but Francis diplomatically kept his mouth shut.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to the bottom of where this attack came from and who launched it,” said the CFO, Marabel Kelly.
“What’s your advice, Brandon, about spending money on forensics?” she asked.
“I think you spend it for a couple of reasons,” Fikes said.
“One, the cost is covered by insurance. But that’s not the best reason. The best reason is that you can use forensics to learn from the event and hopefully prevent anything else as bad as this going forward,” he said.
“All right,” Kelly said. “What else?”
“There’s reputation,” Steve Francis offered.
“Some say you can put a price on it, some say you can’t,” said Fikes.
“But one thing is for sure,” he said. “You had no coverage in place for that in any event.”
There was a pause, as the significance of that statement sunk in. In the extended, painfully awkward silence, Marabel Kelly shuffled the paperwork in front of her and shifted in her seat, visibly perturbed.
Within two weeks of that difficult conversation, the pain intensified for Paul Vitez and Va-Voom! Class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of the millions of home-computer owners who alleged pain and suffering in connection with the hassle of credit card replacement and property loss from their now-useless computers.
The 10 retailers affected, now known colloquially and to their ongoing irritation as the Black Monday Ten, also filed suit.
With Va-Voom!’s uninsured losses building from the millions to the tens of millions, Paul Vitez, once a magazine cover boy, resigned his position.
Risk & Insurance® partnered with XL Group to produce this scenario. Below are XL Group’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These “Lessons Learned” are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.
1. Have a crisis management response plan in place – The consequences of a cyber-attack are too expensive and too damaging for companies not to have a clear idea how they are going to respond in the event their services, or the services of their business partners are interrupted.
2. Understand your risk profile – Different companies have different cyber-risk profiles depending on their industry. Understanding your cyber-risk profile and working in conjunction with an agent and underwriter to map out the best coverage is a crucial step in avoiding being underinsured or paying too much for coverage you don’t need.
3. You are next – The realm of cyber-security and cyber-attacks is one area where an “it can’t happen here” mentality could be catastrophic. The chilling fact of the matter is that the most well-financed companies with the most sophisticated cyber defenses are vulnerable.
4. Get help – Whether it be through your insurance coverage or some other funding mechanism, find and connect with the consultants you need to help you understand the threat and how you can protect yourself. This risk environment is changing day by day and no one can afford to be content with the status quo.
5. Enforce your IT policies – Having sensible IT policies in place to minimize the potential for an attack is not enough. Companies must be proactive in seeing that employees take seriously company rules and standards on data encryption, and the use of personal devices in the workplace or in connection with company networks.
Additional Partner Resources
John Coletti, Underwriting Manager of Cyber Liability, discusses cyber coverage options.
A Modern Claims Philosophy: Proactive and Integrated
According to some experts, “The best claim is the one that never happens.”
But is that even remotely realistic?
Experienced risk professionals know that in the real world, claims and losses are inevitable. After all, it’s called Risk Management, not Risk Avoidance.
And while no one likes losses, there are rich lessons to be gleaned from the claims management process. Through careful tracking and analysis of losses, risk professionals spot gaps in their risk control programs and identify new or emerging risks.
Aspen Insurance embraces this philosophy by viewing the data and expertise of their claims operation as a valuable asset. Unlike more traditional carriers, Aspen Insurance integrates their claims professionals into all of their client work – from the initial risk assessment and underwriting process through ongoing risk management consulting and loss control.
This proactive and integrated approach results in meaningful reductions to the frequency and severity of client losses. But when the inevitable does happen, Aspen Insurance claims professionals utilize their established understanding of client risks and operations to produce some truly amazing solutions.
“I worked at several of the most well known and respected insurance companies in my many years as a claims executive. But few of them utilize an approach that is as innovative as Aspen Insurance,” said Stephen Perrella, senior vice president, casualty claims, at Aspen Insurance.
“We do a lot of trending and data analysis to provide as much information as possible to our clients. Our analytics can help clients improve upon their own risk management procedures.”
— Stephen Perrella, Senior Vice President, Casualty Claims, Aspen Insurance
Utilizing claims expertise to improve underwriting
Acting as adviser and advocate, Aspen integrates the entire process under a coverage coordinator who ensures that the underwriters, claims and insureds agree on consistent, clear definitions and protocols. With claims professionals involved in the initial account review and the development of form language, Aspen’s underwriters have a full sense of risks so they can provide more specific and meaningful coverage, and identify risks and exclusions that the underwriter might not consider during a routine underwriting process.
“Most insurers don’t ever want to talk about claims and underwriting in the same sentence,” said Perrella. “That archaic view can potentially hurt the insurance company as well as their business partners.”
Aspen Insurance considered a company working on a large bridge refurbishment project on the West Coast as a potential insured, posing the array of generally anticipated construction-related risks. During underwriting, its claims managers discovered there was a large oil storage facility underneath the bridge. If a worker didn’t properly tether his or her tools, or a piece of steel fell onto a tank and fractured it, the consequences would be severe. Shutting down a widely used waterway channel for an oil cleanup would be devastating. The business interruption claims alone would be astronomical.
“We narrowed the opportunity for possible claims that the underwriter was unaware existed at the outset,” said Perrella.
Risk management improved
Claims professionals help Aspen Insurance’s clients with their risk management programs. When data analysis reveals high numbers of claims in a particular area, Aspen readily shares that information with the client. The Aspen team then works with the client to determine if there are better ways to handle certain processes.
“We do a lot of trending and data analysis to provide as much information as possible to our clients,” said Perrella. “Our analytics can help clients improve upon their own risk management procedures.”
For a large restaurant-and-entertainment group with locations in New York and Las Vegas, Aspen’s consultative approach has been critical. After meeting with risk managers and using analytics to study trends in the client’s portfolio, Aspen learned that the sheer size and volume of customers at each location led to disparate profiles of patron injuries.
Specifically, the organization had a high number of glass-related incidents across its multiple venues. So Aspen’s claims and underwriting professionals helped the organization implement new reporting protocols and risk-prevention strategies that led to a significant drop in glass-related claims over the following two years. Where one location would experience a disproportionate level of security assault or slip & fall claims, the possible genesis for those claims was discussed with the insured and corrective steps explored in response. Aspen’s proactive management of the account and working relationship with its principals led the organization to make changes that not only lowered the company’s exposures, but also kept patrons safer.
World-class claims management
Despite expert planning and careful prevention, losses and claims are inevitable. With Aspen’s claims department involved from the earliest stages of risk assessment, the department has developed world-class claims-processing capability.
“When a claim does arrive, everyone knows exactly how to operate,” said Perrella. “By understanding the perspectives of both the underwriters and the actuaries, our claims folks have grown to be better business people.
“We have dramatically reduced the potential for any problematic communication breakdown between our claims team, broker and the client,” said Perrella.
A fire ripped through an office building rendering it unusable by its seven tenants. An investigation revealed that an employee of the client intentionally set the fire. The client had not purchased business interruption insurance, and instead only had coverage for the physical damage to the building.
The Aspen claims team researched a way to assist the client in filing a third-party claim through secondary insurance that covered the business interruption portion of the loss. The attention, knowledge and creativity of the claims team saved the client from possible insurmountable losses.
Modernize your carrier relationship
Aspen Insurance’s claims philosophy is a great example of how this carrier’s innovative perspective is redefining the underwriter-client relationship. Learn more about how Aspen Insurance can benefit your risk management program at http://www.aspen.co/insurance/.
Stephen Perrella, Senior Vice President, Casualty, can be reached at Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.