Prepare Now for Ransomware

In 2017, a company was hit with ransomware every 40 seconds. Organizations in all industry sectors were subject to ransomware attacks, as these attacks often opportunistically take advantage of security shortcomings. The average ransom demand was more than $1,000.00—greater than three times the average in 2015. What’s more, one in five business that paid ransom never got its data back.

So, how do you protect your business? First, make sure you are insured. While traditional policies provide little, if any, coverage for damage to electronic data—and none for other costs associated with cyber extortion—they are covered by cyber extortion insurance. This is available under many cyber liability policies. Cyber extortion provisions typically cover ransom payments and extortion-related expenses such as costs incurred in negotiating the ransom and restoring or replacing data or software.

But insurance is just one aspect of the protection your business should have. Companies also need to prepare an Incident Response Plan (IRP), that establishes responses to ransomware attacks. An IRP should be a “living, breathing” document that is consistently updated to ensure that its information and procedures are accurate and up-to-date. Typical topics addressed by an IRP are:

  • The Incident Response Team. The IRP must identify the team in charge of responding to ransomware attacks. This team should include an executive and inside counsel, and should provide back-ups in case first-line members cannot be reached. The IRP should contain 24-7 contact information for all team members, including means of contact that do not rely on the business-provided phones or email that may be affected by the attack.

Additionally, the IRP should identify team members’ specific responsibilities, such as implementing security measures, investigating the attack, communicating with the extortionists, communicating with customers or the public, and notifying insurance carriers and law enforcement.

  • Detecting an Incident. The IRP should identify steps for employees to take if they suspect or detect a ransomware attack.
  • Approved Vendors. As you will likely need outside assistance to respond to an attack, your IRP should identify approved vendors such as outside coverage counsel, investigative and cybersecurity firms, and a PR firm to assist with external communications.
  • Reporting to Law Enforcement. The IRP should define when and how ransomware attacks must be reported to which law enforcement agencies. It should also address what evidence should be collected and preserved, and how.  Ideally, these issues should be discussed with the relevant agencies ahead of time, which also helps build a cooperative relationship with them.
  • Notifying Insurance Carriers. The IRP should identify all insurance policies that could provide coverage for a ransomware attack and detail steps to comply with each policy’s notification requirements. Outside coverage counsel can assist with both identifying relevant policies and provisions, and following notification requirements.
  • Responding to Extortionists. The IRP must identify who communicates with the extortionists and who decides whether and how to respond to their demands. This should include steps for how to make potentially required electronic currency payments.
  • Investigating the Incident. The IRP should define who is responsible for investigating a ransomware attack and include a checklist detailing specific response steps. It should also establish procedures to increase the chances of identifying the extortionists, and to detect and address security vulnerabilities.
  • Documenting the Response. The IRP should set forth steps to document both your response to and your investigation of the attack, including contacts with the extortionists, the decision-making process resulting in a response, and the technical response and investigation, including the preservation of evidence. Such documentation may be required by regulatory agencies or insurers.
  • Public Relations. To facilitate communications about the attack with customers or the public, the IRP should assign responsibility for doing so and define steps for preparing and releasing such communications.
  • User Training. End-user training of all employees, including management, is key to preventing ransomware attacks. The IRP needs to contain procedures to ensure that all employees receive such training periodically, as common threats change over time.

Appropriate insurance coverage; an IRP that is consistently updated, including through “post mortem” evaluations following attacks; and up-to-date systems security are critical to prepare your business for—and to the extent possible, protect it from—potential ransomware attacks.

Aon Introduces Single-Parent Captive Cyber Insurance Program


With cyberattack listed as one of their top risks, organizations are looking for ways to mitigate their risk in a market where cyber insurance rates are quickly rising. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the annual cost of cyber crime and economic espionage to the world economy runs as high as $445 billion, or about 1% of global income.

This does not include intangible damage to an organization, however. Companies are purchasing more insurance to cover the risk. In 2014, the report said, the insurance industry took in $2.5 billion in premiums on policies to protect companies from losses resulting from hacks.

As a result, captive insurers are being used more and more for coverage.

Aon said it is addressing shortcomings in traditional cyber coverage with a cyber captive program with capacity of up to $400 million. Companies looking to form a captive would undergo a review to quantify their cyber exposures.

According to Peter Mullen, CEO of Aon Captive and Insurance Management, the program is designed to help clients understand their risk profile. “Once this is understood, they are is in a better position to make decisions about how much risk to retain in their captive and how much risk to transfer to the program,” Mullen said. “The program allows captives to purchase coverage up to $400 million on a reinsurance or excess insurance basis.”

The cyber captive program will be domiciled in Bermuda and is available to single-parent captives. The basis for coverage will be “a very broad form which includes coverage for property damage and business interruption following a cyber event,” he added.

“Building a large tower of limits can be hampered by differing policy terms and conditions and dislocation of rates at different layers in a program,” Mullen said. “Additionally, many organizations facing cyber risks that can result in physical impacts, such as property damage and business interruption, agree that a more comprehensive approach to cyber risk is needed.”

Businesses Ignore Significant Cybersecurity Risks to Proprietary Data

Knowledge assets are critical to any business remaining functional and competitive, yet this data is routinely exposed to the risk of theft and overlooked in cybersecurity risk management. According to a new report from the Ponemon Institute and law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, the organizations are increasingly ineffective at safeguarding data like trade secrets, product design, development or pricing, and other proprietary information.

As breach notification laws, regulatory requirements, and reputation considerations draw more focus to cybersecurity surrounding personal data of customers or personnel, businesses are leaving more risk on the table regarding their most valuable assets, and that risk has a notable price tag.

In the past year, the average cost of remediating these attacks was about $5.4 million, and half of respondents estimated the maximum cost would range over $250 million, with seven out of ten placing it over $100 million. What’s more, on average, respondents believe only 35% of the losses resulting from knowledge asset theft would be covered by their current insurance policies.

The primary drivers of these costs, respondents said, were (out of 100 points):

knowledge asset theft costs

Why are so many businesses failing to take action against the risks to knowledge assets?

knowledge asset data theft risk

Among the findings, the report noted:

  • Theft is rampant. Seventy-four percent of respondents say it is likely that their company failed to detect a data breach involving the loss or theft of knowledge assets, and 60% state it is likely one or more pieces of their company’s knowledge assets are now in the hands of a competitor.
  • Companies don’t know what they need to protect, or how to protect it. Only 31% of respondents say their company has a classification system that segments information assets based on value or priority to the organization. Merely 28% rate the ability of their companies to mitigate the loss or theft of knowledge assets by insiders and external attackers as effective. The great majority who rate their programs as not effective cite as the primary reasons a lack of in-house expertise (67%), lack of clear leadership (59%), and lack of collaboration between different job functions (56%).
  • Executives and boards aren’t focused on the issue and its resolution. A data breach involving knowledge assets would impact a company’s ability to continue as a going concern according to 59% of respondents, but 53% replied that senior management is more concerned about a data breach involving credit card information or Social Security numbers than the leakage of knowledge assets. Only 32% of respondents say their companies’ senior management understands the risk caused by unprotected knowledge assets, and 69% believe that senior management does not make the protection of knowledge assets a priority. The board of directors is often even more in the dark. Merely 23% of respondents say the board is made aware of all breaches involving the loss or theft of knowledge assets, and only 37% state that the board requires assurances that knowledge assets are managed and safeguarded appropriately.
  • Careless employees and unchecked cloud providers are key risk areas. The most likely root cause of a data breach involving knowledge assets is the careless employee, but employee access to knowledge assets is not often adequately controlled. Fifty percent of respondents replied that both privileged and ordinary users have access to the company’s knowledge assets. Likewise, 63% of respondents state that their company stores knowledge assets in the cloud, but only 33% say their companies carefully vet the cloud providers storing those assets.

Thanks in part to the lack of action currently, there is plenty businesses can easily do to improve.

“Companies face a serious challenge in the protection of their knowledge assets. The good news is there are steps to take to reduce the risk,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. “First of all, understand the knowledge assets critical to your company and ensure they are secured. Make sure the protection of knowledge assets, especially when sharing with third parties, is an integral part of your security strategy, including incident response plans. To address the employee negligence problem, ensure training programs specifically address employee negligence when handling sensitive and high value data.”

Holding Executives Accountable for Cybersecurity Failures

The average cost of a data breach for companies surveyed has grown to $4 million, a 29% increase since 2013, with the per-record costs continuing to rise, according to the 2016 Ponemon Cost of a Data Breach Study, sponsored by IBM. The average cost hit $158 per record, but they are far more costly in highly regulated industries—in healthcare, for example, businesses are looking at $355 each, a full $100 more than in 2013. These incidents have grown in both volume and sophistication, with 64% more security incidents reported in 2015 than in 2014.

Ponemon wrote:

Leveraging an incident response team was the single biggest factor associated with reducing the cost of a data breach–saving companies nearly $400,000 on average (or $16 per record). In fact, response activities like incident forensics, communications, legal expenditures and regulatory mandates account for 59 percent of the cost of a data breach. Part of these high costs may be linked to the fact that 70 percent of U.S. security executives report they don’t have incident response plans in place.

With so much on the line, more and more companies and consumers continue to search for whom to hold accountable for cybersecurity failures, and the message is becoming clearer: executives need to get serious or watch out.

In a recent report from Bay Dynamics, “How Boards of Directors Really Feel About Cyber Security Reports,” board members expressed a surprising amount of confidence in their abilities to understand and act on cyberrisk threats and indicated there are real risks on the table for IT and security executives. Almost all of those surveyed said that some form of action will be taken should these executives not provide useful and actionable information, with 59% claiming there is a good chance one or more security executives would lose their job over such reporting failures.

More board members (26%) ranked cybersecurity risk as their highest corporate priority than any other risk, including financial, legal, regulatory and competitive risks, and 89% said they are “very involved” in making cybersecurity decisions.

Following the typical presentations from IT and security executives, more than three in five board members are both significantly or very “satisfied” (64%) and “inspired” (65%), but 32% are significantly or very “worried,” and 19% are significantly or very “confused” and “angry.”

According to the report:

Of the information provided to them during these presentations, the majority of board members (97%) say they know exactly what to do or have a good idea of what to do with the information. This statistic, however, does conflict with IT and security executives’ thoughts on the information they present. Based on our December 2015 survey, only 40% of IT and security executives believe the information they provide the board is actionable. There is a clear disconnect here between what the board perceives is actionable information, and what IT and security executives define as data that can be used to make informed decisions.

“IT and security executives are focusing on what they believe are the most impactful issues: a) forward-looking information about known vulnerabilities that could potentially harm the company in the future, b) specifics about data that was lost as a result of known infiltrations and data breaches, and c) the impact of these infiltrations and breaches,” Bay reports. “Interestingly, while information about how much is spent to address cyber risk is reported by IT and security executives in less than one-half of the companies surveyed, this was the most commonly cited information that board members said they needed to make investments for cyber risk planning and expenditures.”

Bay also pointed to a critical challenge in the education gap of many board members and the reliance upon information security executives: a large portion of the education board members have on infosec is from the organization’s IT and security executives, and “when the person education you on cybersecurity is the same individual tasted with measuring and reducing cyberrisk, there’s a fundamental disconnect.” It is extremely difficult for board members to understand what they are missing without education of their own and a third-party audit in place.

As cyberrisk continues to become a top enterprise risk priority, the consequences of failure may impact more of the C-suite than just chief information security officers or top IT executives. In May, following a social engineering fraud case that resulted in a wire transfer of 50 million euros, Austrian aircraft parts manufacturer FACC fired its chief executive of 17 years. Some regulators also want to start holding chief executives accountable in a way that truly speaks to them: their paychecks. According to a report from members of parliament on the British Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Britain’s status as the leading internet economy in the G20 is under threat from a combination of increasing reliance on digital infrastructure, and inadequate protection of it. To address the issue, they suggest that chief executives who fail to prevent cybersecurity breaches have a portion of their pay docked.

Such was the case with Baroness Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk, Britain’s fourth-largest broadband provider, which suffered a high-profile cyberattack recently. Her performance bonus was slashed by more than a third as a result of the company’s security failings.

“Companies must have robust strategies and processes in place, backed by adequate resources and clear lines of accountability, to stay one step ahead in a sophisticated and rapidly evolving environment,” said Jesse Norman, chairman of the committee. “Failure to prepare for or learn from cyber-attacks, and failure to inform and protect consumers, must draw sanctions serious enough to act as a real incentive and deterrent.”