The shifting cyber risk landscape over the past eighteen months – especially the explosion of ransomware attacks — has put a spotlight on what businesses and governments are doing about cybersecurity risk and what role does or could cyber insurance play – not only as a risk transfer vehicle, but as an enabler of improved risk management practices. As of early 2021 the total global premiums for cyber insurance have reach over $5 billion, but the truth is cyber insurance is still a very new industry, and the role it can play in mitigating cyber risk is has been an open question for a few years.
However, according to a new report by the UK-based security research institute RUSI, the role of cyber insurance as a risk mitigation tool is still pretty limited. One big challenge is that both issuers and insureds too often view cyber insurance as a replacement for actual cybersecurity policies and procedures. Cyber insurance doesn’t mean that you won’t get hacked just like having fire insurance doesn’t mean your house won’t ever burn down. This challenge has most recently been playing out with questions surrounding ransomware payments. Today, many cyber insurance policies include payments for ransom demands. However, this raises the concern that such practices are actually fueling the recent spike in ransomware attacks. In fact, some evidence suggests ransomware attackers are specifically targeting companies with cyber insurance and tailor their demands to the high-end of what those policies will cover.
That said, cyber insurance still has a role to play — but it doesn’t replace the other value chains within the broader risk mitigation process . Like with most insurance, it’s not designed to prevent or eliminate risk, but rather to transfer risk as a last line of defense. In the RUSI report, many of the experts interviewed cite post-incident services as one of the main benefits of having cyber insurance. From incident response to forensic analysis, cyber insurance can be extremely useful for maintaining business continuity following a cyber incident. This is even more important for small businesses who might not have internal teams and the expertise to carry out a post-incident response swiftly and effectively. However, there is a lot more to cyber security than how you respond to an incident. As RUSI’s report points out, right now cyber insurance is most effective as a tool for cyber resilience, but not risk mitigation.
What is important to understand is the need to properly place cyber insurance within your larger risk governance strategy. Cyber risk management is like putting together a puzzle with various shapes and sizes. From performing informed risk assessments, to maintaining strong systems controls, to creating a culture that values cybersecurity, there is a lot of factors that need to be pieced together in a way that aligns with your business context, strategy, and goals. Effective risk management includes a value change of activities and partners, including insurance, but relying on insurance along is not enough.
According to a new report by Coalition, one of the nation’s cyber insurance providers, ransomware attacks make up 41% of all cyber insurance claims in the first half of 2020. Unfortunately, that’s the good news. That number is actually down by 18% since 2019. The bad news? While the frequency of ransomware attacks are down, the severity of attacks has risen dramatically.
In particular, cyber criminals are starting to demand more and more money from their victims. According to Coalition, ransomware claims are in general 2.5x higher than other cyber insurance claims across all industries. And demands continue to increase in dramatic fashion. Coalition’s report states that the average ransom demand increased 100% since 2019 and has already risen an additional 47% between Q1 and Q2 of this year.
What’s more, not only have ransomware demands increased, but the attacks themselves are becoming more and more sophisticated. While traditional ransomware attackers encrypt data within the target’s network, now they are actually stealing the data and threatening to leak the information if a payment isn’t made, as happened to the cloud services firm Blackbaud this summer. This tactic may in part account for the of the increases in demands, as organization’s may be more motivated to pay in order to keep the incident private. However, there is no guarantee that paying will stop the attackers from leaking the data anyway.
While the Coalition report shows that more and more businesses are turning to cyber insurance to help with ransomware attacks, relying on insurance should not be your solution. Sure, insurance may help pay the cost of the ransom, but if attacks know insurance companies will pay up, they may start to feel confident asking for larger and larger amounts of money. The FBI also discourages businesses from paying demands.
Instead, the best response is prevention. Even simple solutions like multi-factor authentication and good password management can help dramatically. In addition, the report found that 60% of claims are for attacks that originated as a phishing or other social engineering scams. Investing in effective cyber awareness training can help prevent attacks from occurring in the first place. Like with most things related to cybersecurity, it’s always better to take action now rather than wait for the worst to happen.
The fear of experiencing a cyberattack is rightfully keeping businesses owners up at night. Not only would a cyber attack give your security team a headache , but could have profound and irreversible financial implications for your businesses. In fact, according to a report by IBM and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach in the U.S. is a over $8 million. And with 30% of companies expected to experience a breach within 24 months, it’s no surprise that business are seeking coverage. The problem, however, is that businesses and insurance companies alike are still grappling over exactly what is and is not covered when a cyber event occurs.
Some businesses are learning this the hard way
Recently, a phishing campaign successfully stole the credentials of an employee at a rent-servicing company that allows tenants to pay their rent online. The phishers used the employee’s credentials to take $10 million in rent money that the company owed to landlords. The company had a crime insurance policy that covered losses “resulting directly from the use of any computer to fraudulently cause a transfer,” but soon found out their claim was denied. Among the reasons the insurer gave for denying the claim was that, because the funds stolen were owed to landlords, the company did not technically suffer any first-party losses and there were not covered by the insurance policy.
In another case, the pharmaceutical company Merck found itself victim to a ransomware attack that shut down more than 30,000 of their computers and 7,500 servers. The attack took weeks to resolve and Merck is now claiming $1.3 billion in losses that they believe should be covered by their property policy. The problem, however, is that the attack on Merck was actually a by-product of a malware campaign that the Russian government was waging against Ukraine and happened to spread to companies in other countries. The insurer therefore denied the claim, stating their property coverage excludes any incidents considered an “act of war.”
Silence is Deadly
The Merck example above also illustrates the concept of “silent”, or “non-affirmative” cyber. Basically these are standard insurance lines, like property or crime, in which cyber acts have not been specifically included or excluded. Merck was filing the claims against the property policy because it sustained data loss, system loss and business interruption losses. Silent cyber is difficult for a carrier to respond to (which is why the carrier in this case is looking to the war and terrorism exclusion to deny coverage) and even more challenging to account for. That’s one reason both carriers and businesses are looking to standalone cyber insurance, which provides both the insured and carrier with a lot more clarity as to what is covered. (Although, carriers can deny coverage in situations where the attestations about the quality of security up front do not measure up at claim time.)
Predicting the Unpredictable
It’s commonly said that insurers will do anything to avoid paying out claims, but the issue with cyber insurance coverage goes much deeper. Instead, the problem centers around a number of uncertainties involved in categorizing and quantifying cyber risk that makes comprehensive policy writing a near impossible task. For one, cyber insurance is a new market dealing with a relatively new problem. There are therefore not as many data points for insurers to accurately quantify risk as there are for long-standing forms of insurance.
The real problem, however, is that cyber incidents are extremely difficult to predict and reliably account for. Whereas health and natural disaster policies, for example, are based on scientific modeling that allows for a certain degree of stability in risk factors, it is much harder for insurance companies to predict when, where, and how a cyber attack might happen. Even Warren Buffett told investors that anyone who says they have a firm grasp on cyber risk “is kidding themselves.”
Reading the Fine Print
It’s important to understand that, despite the relatively unpredictable nature of cyber incidents, there are plenty of steps businesses can and should take to understand and mitigate their risk profile. Organizations with robust risk management practices can significantly reduce their vulnerability and a strong security posture goes along way towards minimizing their risks and providing a strong defense when a claim strikes.
Unfortunately, this puts a lot of the responsibility on individual businesses when evaluating their cyber exposures and the insurance coverages which might be available to respond. A good insurance broker who has expertise in cyber is essential. Much like the threat landscape, cyber insurance coverage is constantly evolving, and it is to all parties, from businesses to carriers, to keep up.