RiskTech Forum

The Metrics Of The Matrix: Making Sure Your Cyber-Risks Are Covered

Posted: 25 October 2012  |  Author: Tarron Gartner  |  Source: Insurance Thought Leadership

If you consider information to be an asset, and the means with which it is gathered and used as a measure of your company's performance, the need to protect it becomes abundantly clear.


We live in a world that is almost entirely dependent upon digital technology. Internet sales and marketing, and even the simple efficiency of how information flows, can be a critical indicator of a company's success. Along with it comes an increased risk of hackers, disruption of service, theft of intellectual property, loss or theft of financial data, or worse, the theft of a customer's confidential information. Throw in a global economy that increases international exposure, and you have a recipe for disaster. While most large corporations have sophisticated network security measures in place, small to mid-size businesses cannot afford them, or are not even aware of the potential security risks. But if you consider information to be an asset, and the means with which it is gathered and used as a measure of your company's performance, the need to protect it becomes abundantly clear.

As early as the year 2000, underwriters at Lloyds of London predicted that e-commerce1 would "emerge as the single biggest insurance risk of the 21st century."2 They were dead on. Between 2009 and 2011, the cost of data breaches rose from $6.8 million to $7.7 million — a blistering 9%.3 As one commentator noted, the cost and number of data breaches was so high that 2011 was christened "the year of the cyber-attack."4 Indeed, the risk was seen as so severe that the SEC released disclosure guidelines for publicly traded companies recommending the disclosure of "the risk of cyber incidents if these issues are among the most significant factors that make an investment in the company speculative or risky."5 According to the SEC, "disclosure" includes a "[d]escription of the relevant insurance coverage."6 Although the number of cyber-attacks decreased slightly in 2012, this should not be taken as a sign that the threat of an attack is any less likely; it just means that some companies are responding to attacks more quickly, or implementing stronger security measures on the front end.

While the threat of a cyber-attack may conjure up the image of an overzealous computer geek with the mad-cap idea of ruling the world from his mother's basement, or a network of head-to-toe-in-black cyber-villains, a competitor seeking market dominance may be an equally likely culprit. A cyber-attack can take many forms. Most commonly, a company suffers a data breach, where "hackers, [ ] current or former employees, or others steal or otherwise gain access to personally identifiable information."7 However, there are also "phishing" and "pfarming" schemes where the culprit poses as a legitimate user to steal or redirect internet traffic, or transmit a virus.

Another form of attack is known as a "denial of service" incident, designed to temporarily or indefinitely block public access to a particular website or server. This involves "saturating the target machine with external communications requests, such that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic, or responds so slowly as to be rendered effectively unavailable."8 These attacks "usually lead to a server overload."9 The most serious attacks "are comparable to 'tak[ing] an ax to a piece of hardware," which requires a complete "replacement or reinstallation of hardware."10 A company targeted by a cyber-attack can suffer a loss of informational assets and a significant interruption in operations, not to mention a damaged reputation.

The theft of intellectual property may or may not come as a result of a direct cyber-attack. Rather, a rogue company may steal your ideas, your website design, your domain names and meta-tags, or they may simply advertise and sell knock-off products. Chances are, if they are not using the internet for this purpose, they got your information from the business you transact online. As if this were not enough, there is the potential liability you face if confidential information is exposed, or you inadvertently infringe upon the intellectual property of a competing business. Customers and even shareholders affected by a data breach "commonly initiate expensive and very public litigation."11 Likewise, the pursuit of patent and trademark infringement claims has skyrocketed in recent years, and the cost of defending these claims has symbiotically followed suit. Interestingly, the protection of the intellectual property itself seems to be a concern that is almost secondary to the economic warfare that is often waged by the aggressor.

In a world where technology barely keeps up with technology, how can you effectively protect your business against the threat of a cyber-attack, and potential cyber-liability? If you own a website, engage in direct or indirect internet sales, use clouding, linking, framing, solicit business via electronic communication, conduct financial transactions on the internet, exchange information via the internet, or store information through an internet server, your company is at risk. Managing these hazards can be tricky. As seen by the recent attacks on eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, and Google, even companies that have defined internet usage are not immune. No matter how big or small you are it is absolutely imperative that you implement internal security controls to prevent and/or respond quickly to an attack. Simple measures such as encrypting data, regularly changing passcodes, conducting routine virus scans, and limiting the number of employees who have access to confidential information can go a long way. However, insuring against these risks should be your primary objective because a cyber-attack can literally destroy your business overnight.

So, how does your company measure up? Let's take a little test. Assuming you are a "brick and mortar" business is your company:

If you answered "no" to the last question, your company is at risk. The traditional products that insure small to medium sized businesses are unfortunately inadequate to cover even the known cyber-hazards, much less the ones that are surely on the horizon as e-commerce continues to grow and change, and new markets emerge. For instance, as it pertains to the loss you may suffer as a result of a data breach, while a standard property policy covers "physical loss or damage to covered property," the term "covered property" does not include intangible assets like data. More recent property forms either exclude coverage for data breaches outright, or subject the loss of electronic data to a minimal sub-limit of liability.

Likewise, the coverage typically afforded under a CGL policy for liability claims resulting from an unauthorized intrusion is insufficient. CGL policies provide relatively broad liability coverage, but only for certain defined risks. The policies are "menu" driven, and are endorsed to include or exclude particular coverages or risks, such as employee liability, inland marine or commercial crime. Cyber-liability may or may not inadvertently come within the coverage terms of a particular endorsement, but the standardized forms are definitely not geared towards insuring these risks.


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