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.

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