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.
An Act of Violence
Alex Block settled down on a sunny afternoon in May of 2015 at the counter of Presto, a regionally famous sandwich shop in Pittsburgh, and hungrily eyed the pastrami sandwich on his plate.
Thick slices of white Italian bread stuffed with French fries, coleslaw and sweet-spicy, aromatic meat shaved super-thin. This was not the time to second-guess on the calories. This moment called for just diving right in.
Block’s self-indulgence felt justified. Three years ago, he’d returned to this former mill town, his bank accounts bulging with cash from a 14-year career as a Wall Street investment banker.
What he did with about $4 million of that cash got tongues wagging. It even got him a headline on the front page of the local business paper.
Block invested in his grandfather’s former aluminum fabrication company in nearby Lawrenceville with the idea of bringing it back as an aluminum decking company, dubbed Sarachelle Decking, Inc. The first word of the company name was a combination of the names of Alex’s two daughters, Sara and Rochelle.
Some online commentators greeted the news with ridicule. Block’s business looked to some like a bone-headed move spurred by nostalgia.
“This ain’t the Steel City no more, buddy,” grumbled an out-of-work ironworker, commenting on the online news story about the launch of this small to mid-sized company. Many in the Pittsburgh manufacturing community thought that Block would never make it in manufacturing.
But Block was no bonehead. He put his Wharton MBA and his curiosity to good use, researching South American bauxite production to identify lesser known suppliers who would give him a price advantage over larger companies.
It was in Guyana that he found the bauxite producer that made the whole thing click for his company. He added to that advantage by lining up a local smelter that he found through his business school contacts.
Now, three years later, the glimmer of real gold was appearing. Just this spring, Force-Tek, one of the publicly traded railroad and highway infrastructure companies, picked up his product in a seven-figure contract. Who was laughing now?
What better way to toast his success than with a stuffed sandwich at Presto’s? That form of celebration was a personal tradition that dated back to his high school days when Alex’s father would proudly treat him when he won wrestling matches.
Block made short work of the French fry-stuffed pastrami sandwich. As he finished off his diet cream soda, his eyes settled on the television set above the lunch counter. A news report showed footage of Venezuelan troops pouring over the Guyanese border. A long-simmering border dispute was erupting into armed conflict.
The operation providing Block’s bauxite was located a mere 200 miles to the east of the Venezuelan border incursion. The image of the Venezuelan troops stopped Block cold.
In an instant Block’s mind ran through the possibilities.
The degree to which the bauxite plant itself was threatened was one area of concern. But Block’s Guyanese producer was also heavily dependent on labor from the neighboring country of Suriname.
Even if the bauxite plant wasn’t captured or otherwise affected, it could suffer business interruption if its labor supply was blocked.
“How long the dispute will last and to what degree it will embroil neighboring Suriname are unknowns,” said the British-accented broadcaster.
“But one thing is certain,” he continued. “Business and personal travel in this area of the world will be inadvisable for weeks, possibly months to come.”
“No kidding,” Block said out loud to himself, eliciting a sharp, critical glance from a co-ed sitting on the next stool, apparently peeved that Block had interrupted her concentration as she thumbed through her iPhone.
In one afternoon, Alex Block’s bright business prospects darkened considerably. The pastrami sandwich that he’d rationalized as an earned indulgence now sat heavy in his stomach.
The Venezuelan incursion accomplished just what Block feared it would do.
Officials in Suriname tightened down their borders, blocking the movement of workers into Guyana for three months.
A months-long military border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana claimed dozens of lives per week. The fighting never escalated to a country-wide engagement, but the damage to the sustainability of Sarachelle Decking was done. Block’s Guyanese bauxite producer was forced to cease production until the situation stabilized.
Block moved quickly to identify another bauxite producer but he was outflanked.
He was forced to compete with larger aluminum makers and fabricators for bauxite from their existing suppliers. The higher price from those bauxite producers erased a key business advantage.
In a meeting with his CFO, Block faced the music.
“We’ve got margin erosion here that worries me greatly,” said the CFO, Kristian Moorehead.
The company was meeting its production obligations to Force-Tek and other key customers, but it was looking at an operating loss within one more quarter if it couldn’t cut costs.
Even with a full order book, Block did what he felt he had to do and laid off a shift. Maybe the layoff was too much too soon, an over-reaction, but Block was Wall Street trained. You didn’t wait, you acted.
The news sent ripples through the Pittsburgh manufacturing community and was gleefully picked up on by Block’s competitors.
“They’re not going to be around long,” was what a salesmen for one of the company’s competitors told a customer in the Midwest, where Sarachelle Decking did most of its business.
“Why do you say that?” said the customer.
“For one, they source from Guyana, which is under attack from Venezuela if you haven’t noticed,” the salesman said.
“Secondly, they’ve only been in business four years and they just laid off an entire shift last month,” the salesman said.
“I think you better ask yourself what it’s going to do to your business if you buy from them and they go under,” he added.
“I guess I’ll have to take that under advisement,” the customer said.
Alex Block was not an insurance naïf. His due diligence work as an investment banker gave him more than a passing acquaintance with products such as property insurance, D&O insurance, workers’ compensation, environmental insurance and other coverages.
As he scrambled to save his company and the prolonged Guyana-Venezuela strife played out, Block and his CFO examined their coverages to see if they could find relief.
They did not find relief. What they found were gaps, not only in their coverage but in their risk management strategy.
Back to the Drawing Board
As an event beyond his control, Alex Block couldn’t help but think that the conflict in South America that deprived him of a key supplier should have been compensable from an insurance standpoint.
After all, wasn’t it comparable to a storm or flood knocking out his factory for a few weeks or even longer? The answer was that it was, and it wasn’t.
Supply-chain insurance that would have provided a payout on the clear supply-chain disruption that Sarachelle Decking suffered wasn’t in place.
On the risk mitigation end, Block was so enamored of the business advantage his Guyanese bauxite supplier gave him that he didn’t look at the flip side. He failed to imagine what losing it would do to him and failed to arrange for back-up low-cost suppliers.
Over drinks with a pal from his Wharton days, Block got the lowdown on what he should have known and done going in.
“I mean the supply chain cover is something you arguably might not have been able to get to begin with,” his friend said between sips of his vodka martini.
“It’s not like there’s that much coverage out there and with your limits the carriers that handle that might have passed on you,” he said.
“But the supply chain analysis, you should have done and could have done,” he said. “It would have pointed out that your strength and your weakness were both coming from the same supplier,” he said.
“And a contingency plan?” his friend said.
“If I’d known …” Alex began.
“If you’d known. But good to have in any event,” his friend said.
With no end to the South American conflict in sight, Sarachelle Decking was locked into a bauxite price that gradually undermined its ability to compete.
The company was able to function for a full two years beyond the day that Block first axed one of the production shifts.
But in 2017, the day came when Alex Block’s dream of resurrecting his grandfather’s company came to an end. The same reporter that wrote a front page business journal story on him in 2012 visited him to write the epitaph on Sarachelle Decking.
In the five years he’d been in Pittsburgh, Alex Block had gotten used to the feel of a smaller town. His New York days seemed like a distant memory. This was his hometown after all.
But something told him he’d be back in that rat race before long.
Risk & Insurance partnered with the Society of Actuaries (SOA) to produce this scenario. Below are perspectives from an actuary on ways to prevent losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.
1. Analyze and prioritize risks: All business prospects need to be analyzed for potential pitfalls, as the business owner in the scenario did not prepare for unexpected events, such as labor shortages from regional instability or the unavailability of a critical supply point that impacted his entire supply chain.
The 2014 Emerging Risks Survey from the Joint Risk Management Section, of which the SOA is a sponsor, identifies emerging risks ranging from environmental to geopolitical. Key geopolitical risks can include:
- Interstate and civil wars
- Failed and failing states
- Regional instability
- International terrorism
- Retrenchment from globalization
The businessperson in the scenario should have considered various geopolitical risks, among other risks that impact the company. Another set of emerging risks to consider include societal:
- Pandemics and infectious disease
- Regime liability and regulatory framework issues
- Demographic shifts
2. Create relevant and actionable contingency plans: While it is important to research and identify potential shortfalls or risks presented from working with suppliers, vendors or other partners, it is also necessary to take action with this information. The loss of a key supplier, such as in this scenario, must be met with immediate action or dire consequences can occur. Planning ahead is necessary, so backup suppliers and sources of materials should be in place for the company. It is also vital to understand what risks may affect the suppliers’ business, which can ultimately impact the company too. For example, there are currency risks when dealing with suppliers based in another country, such as fluctuations in the economy, changes with the interest rates or issues with foreign exchanges.
3. Understand coverages: The risk exposures, a company’s appetite for risk and several other factors should weigh in to the decision of insurance coverage. Even if a company doesn’t have a chief risk officer, who that responsibility lies with needs to be identified and their knowledge of coverages and coverage limitations needs to be comprehensive.
4. Harness your consultants’ knowledge: The businessperson in this scenario depended too much on his own knowledge and did not seek counsel from insurance consultants or an insurance carrier, which was a vast oversight on his part. It is important to have a clear understanding of coverages and risk mitigation processes through tapping into the valuable insights of available resources and experts.
For more information about SOA, please visit www.soa.org/impact
5 & 5: Rewards and Risks of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing lowers costs, increases capacity and provides security that companies would be hard-pressed to deliver on their own. Utilizing the cloud allows companies to “rent” hardware and software as a service and store data on a series of servers with unlimited availability and space. But the risks loom large, such as unforgiving contracts, hidden fees and sophisticated criminal attacks.
ACE’s recently published whitepaper, “Cloud Computing: Is Your Company Weighing Both Benefits and Risks?”, focuses on educating risk managers about the risks and rewards of this ever-evolving technology. Key issues raised in the paper include:
5 benefits of cloud computing
1. Lower infrastructure costs
The days of investing in standalone servers are over. For far less investment, a company can store data in the cloud with much greater capacity. Cloud technology reduces or eliminates management costs associated with IT personnel, data storage and real estate. Cloud providers can also absorb the expenses of software upgrades, hardware upgrades and the replacement of obsolete network and security devices.
2. Capacity when you need it … not when you don’t
Cloud computing enables businesses to ramp up their capacity during peak times, then ramp back down during the year, rather than wastefully buying capacity they don’t need. Take the retail sector, for example. During the holiday season, online traffic increases substantially as consumers shop for gifts. Now, companies in the retail sector can pay for the capacity they need only when they need it.
3. Security and speed increase
Cloud providers invest big dollars in securing data with the latest technology — striving for cutting-edge speed and security. In fact, they provide redundancy data that’s replicated and encrypted so it can be delivered quickly and securely. Companies that utilize the cloud would find it difficult to get such results on their own.
4. Anything, anytime, anywhere
With cloud technology, companies can access data from anywhere, at any time. Take Dropbox for example. Its popularity has grown because people want to share large files that exceed the capacity of their email inboxes. Now it’s expanded the way we share data. As time goes on, other cloud companies will surely be looking to improve upon that technology.
5. Regulatory compliance comes more easily
The data security and technology that regulators require typically come standard from cloud providers. They routinely test their networks and systems. They provide data backups and power redundancy. Some even overtly assist customers with regulatory compliance such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
1. Cloud contracts are unforgiving
Typically, risk managers and legal departments create contracts that mitigate losses caused by service providers. But cloud providers decline such stringent contracts, saying they hinder their ability to keep prices down. Instead, cloud contracts don’t include traditional indemnification or limitations of liability, particularly pertaining to privacy and data security. If a cloud provider suffers a data breach of customer information or sustains a network outage, risk managers are less likely to have the same contractual protection they are accustomed to seeing from traditional service providers.
2. Control is lost
In the cloud, companies are often forced to give up control of data and network availability. This can make staying compliant with regulations a challenge. For example cloud providers use data warehouses located in multiple jurisdictions, often transferring data across servers globally. While a company would be compliant in one location, it could be non-compliant when that data is transferred to a different location — and worst of all, the company may have no idea that it even happened.
3. High-level security threats loom
Higher levels of security attract sophisticated hackers. While a data thief may not be interested in your company’s information by itself, a large collection of data is a prime target. Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks by highly skilled criminals continue to increase — putting your data at increased risk.
4. Hidden costs can hurt
Nobody can dispute the up-front cost savings provided by the cloud. But moving from one cloud to another can be expensive. Plus, one cloud is often not enough because of congestion and outages. More cloud providers equals more cost. Also, regulatory compliance again becomes a challenge since you can never outsource the risk to a third party. That leaves the burden of conducting vendor due diligence in a company’s hands.
5. Data security is actually your responsibility
Yes, security in the cloud is often more sophisticated than what a company can provide on its own. However, many organizations fail to realize that it’s their responsibility to secure their data before sending it to the cloud. In fact, cloud providers often won’t ensure the security of the data in their clouds and, legally, most jurisdictions hold the data owner accountable for security.
Risk managers can’t just take cloud computing at face value. Yes, it’s a great alternative for cost, speed and security, but hidden fees and unexpected threats can make utilization much riskier than anticipated.
Managing the risks requires a deeper understanding of the technology, careful due diligence and constant vigilance — and ACE can help guide an organization through the process.
To learn more about how to manage cloud risks, read the ACE whitepaper: Cloud Computing: Is Your Company Weighing Both Benefits and Risks?