2015 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Corporate Privacy: Nowhere to Hide

Companies can no longer expect to conduct business out of the gaze of prying eyes.
By: | April 8, 2015 • 6 min read

SCENARIO: In a small apartment in Atlanta, Pete scanned the hardware in front of him. His fingers flew as he deftly navigated multiple windows. A former defense contractor employee, Pete possessed a highly specialized set of skills.

He knew how to hack into almost anything, from network servers and credit card databases, to VoIP phone systems and video conferencing systems. An encryption expert, he knew how to exploit every weakness and sniff out every back door. Pete never met a digital lock he couldn’t pick.

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Pete’s talents — and his reputation for discretion — kept him in demand, especially in certain circles.

His latest gig was gathering intel on Odyssey International for one of Odysseys’ top competitors, especially an inside track on any mergers or acquisitions Odyssey might have up its sleeve.

Pete pulled up his files for several key Odyssey execs and smiled smugly. People like Garry Buchanan made Pete’s job way too easy.

An encryption expert, he knew how to exploit every weakness and sniff out every back door. Pete never met a digital lock he couldn’t pick.

Odyssey’s U.S. head of new business development, Buchanan was tech-obsessed. From the moment Buchanan hopped into his Tesla Model S and engaged the autopilot until he arrived at work, Pete could peek at every email, calendar entry and company report. Buchanan’s smartphone let Pete keep track of him out of the car too, whether he was picking up a latte or checking in for a flight.

Accessing Odyssey’s network was a little tougher than Pete expected — its security was more sophisticated than most. But, like most companies, it spent more time protecting its customer and finance data. Its email server was far less secure. Its phone system was barely protected at all.

Around 8:15 a.m., Pete’s system alert let him know that Buchanan was on the phone. It sounded like Odyssey was researching a potential acquisition.

Pete tapped the screen to record the call and sent an encrypted file to the man who’d hired him.

Buchanan’s flight to London arrived on time. He’d checked into his hotel and stayed there all night. But Pete was drumming his fingers on his desk, aggravated. There were meetings on Buchanan’s calendar. But with whom? There was no data.

There had been a few vague email references, but nothing that had given Pete a clear picture of what was up. Buchanan seemed to be deliberately keeping the details under wraps.

“We’ll see about that,” said Pete, firing up more hardware. He checked the time and calculated the time difference. Buchanan would probably be leaving the hotel soon.

He’d found Buchanan’s Uber account the day before and guessed he’d be using the service. Sure enough, he’d already been picked up. “Gotcha,” said Pete, gaining unauthorized access to Uber’s “God View” and tracking the car’s route.

Ten minutes later, Buchanan walked into a café and was seated at a table out front. Pete watched in real time as Buchanan took a moment to take in the London scenery while waiting for his breakfast companions.

“Bless those Brits,” thought Pete. “And their millions upon millions of CCTVs.”

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Buchanan’s two guests arrived a few minutes later. Pete was pleased to have a good angle on both of them. He locked on their faces and dragged the images into his facial recognition program. He got a match on both and searched their records. One was a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge in the department of engineering. Interesting.

Pete kept digging. An hour later, Pete had enough data on both of them to get a picture of what Buchanan was up to and why Odyssey wanted this little excursion to be kept under wraps.

Time for another file upload to his new corporate benefactor. This info was hot.

“I should’ve charged him twice as much,” Pete thought ruefully as he sent his customer the information on his competitor’s latest move.

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ANALYSIS: There are no more secrets. The lesson brought home by WikiLeaks and later by Edward Snowden is that privacy is a quaint notion of a bygone era. We are in, as it has been dubbed, the “Golden Age of Spying.”

Everyone now knows that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has access — on a massive scale — to chat logs, stored data, voice traffic, file transfers, phone records, email and social networking data. It can also access web chats, Internet searches, text messages … the list goes on.

The agency has long had a certain amount of cooperation from major technology companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Apple. Unbeknownst to some, it also engineered a weakness in an encryption standard, allowing back-door access to those companies, and their data.

Problem is, if you leave the back door open, you can’t guarantee that others won’t find their way in.

Now factor in the Internet of Things. Estimates suggest there could be up to 80 billion connected devices in use five years from now — devices that can monitor anything from the climate quality in your delivery trucks to whether the plant in your window needs more sun.

From your digital world to your physical world, everything will be hackable, trackable, visible. Everything will have the potential to be seen by someone you never intended to share it with.

That’s happy news for those set on malfeasance, either to steal corporate secrets or engage in disruption for fun or profit. But it’s troubling for businesses of all sizes as they face the challenge of protecting what they can and managing the rest.

Randy Nornes, executive vice president, Aon Risk Solutions

Randy Nornes, executive vice president, Aon Risk Solutions

“What you’re going to see is a more formalized way of communicating sensitive information and housing sensitive information,” said Randy Nornes, executive vice president with Aon Risk Solutions.

“So if you have key data that creates value for your firm, I think you’re going to see that the fundamental technology architecture that people use to store the really important stuff will be remote and distant, and it won’t be readily accessible through the Internet.”

But it’s the day-to-day actions of conducting business that organizations will have more trouble keeping behind locked doors.

“In a fully transparent world … companies will have to behave as if every action will be reported on the front page of their local paper,” said Nornes’ colleague Paul Kim, co-CBO of Aon Risk Solutions U.S. Retail operations.

Futurist and author David Brin said in a recent interview with “Variety,” that organizations can’t “count on anything staying secret for more than 10 years, that’s delusional on the border of psychosis.

“Get used to the notion that some day, someone is going to hear this conversation or read this document. And live and work as if anybody might be watching now,” Brin added.

Along with those inevitable leaks come serious risks to brand and reputation, which is why reputation risk management will need to develop at least as fast as privacy erodes.

That means using an extremely thorough process of scenario planning, and understanding exactly how any kind of breach, leak or competitive attack could affect the company’s value and its ability to conduct business.

“It’s not something that’s limited to the public relations team; it’s not something that’s limited to a chief communications officer,” said Chris Lukach, president of Anne Klein Communications Group, LLC.

“It’s something that needs to be shared among risk management, legal, HR, operations … . That to me is what makes companies prepared.”

There are multiple points at which hyper-transparency can result in a business loss, and insurance products will no doubt keep evolving to meet those needs. In a case where a release of confidential information might damage a company’s image, for instance, Tokio Marine Kiln is already underwriting a product that goes beyond traditional cyber insurance and helps companies insure against that spectrum of losses.

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Explained Tom Hoad, underwriter at Tokio Marine Kiln, a Lloyd’s syndicate, risk managers have become increasingly sophisticated in the way they think about their exposures.

“[They’re asking], ‘Where are the key performance indicators for the company and what sorts of things can affect our ability to deliver on those things?’ … The preservation of brand equity, is very much at the forefront of that process.”

BlackBar

Complete coverage of 2015’s Most Dangerous Emerging Risks:

Corporate Privacy: Nowhere to Hide. Rapid advances in technology are ushering in an era of hyper-transparency.

04012015_04B_implant_devices_150px_mainImplantable Devices: Medical Devices Open to Cyber Threats. The threat of hacking implantable defibrillators and other devices is growing.

04012015_03_concussions_150px_mainAthletic Head Injuries: An Increasing Liability. Liability for brain injury and disease isn’t limited to professional sports organizations.

04012015_04_vaping_150px_mainVaping: Smoking Gun. As e-cigarette usage rises, danger lies in the lack of regulations and unknown long-term health effects.

04012015_05_aquifer_depletion_150px_main

Aquifer: Nothing in the Bank. Once we deplete our aquifers, there is nothing helping us get through extended droughts.

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Most Dangerous Emerging Risks: A Look Back. Each year since 2011, we identified and reported on the Most Dangerous Emerging Risks. Here’s how we did on some of them.

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swan: EMP

Chaos From Above

An electromagnetic pulse event triggered by the detonation of a low-yield nuclear device in Earth’s atmosphere triggers economic and societal chaos.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 9 min read

Scenario

The vessel that seeks to undo America arrives in the teeth of a storm.

The 4,000-ton Indonesian freighter Pandawas Viper sails towards California in December 2017. It is shepherded toward North America by a fierce Pacific winter storm, a so-called “Pineapple Express,” boasting 15-foot waves and winds topping 70 mph.

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Normally, Pandawas Viper carries cargo containers. This time she harbors a much more potent payload.

Unbeknownst to U.S. defense and intelligence officials, the Viper carries a single nuclear weapon, loaded onto a naval surface-to-air missile, or SAM, concealed below deck.

The warhead has an involved history. It was smuggled out of Kyrgyzstan in 1997, eventually finding its way into the hands of Islamic militants in Indonesia that are loosely affiliated with ISIS.

Even for these ambitious and murderous militants, outfitting a freighter with a nuclear device in secrecy and equipping it to sail to North America in the hopes of firing its deadly payload is quite an undertaking.

Close to $2 million in bribes and other considerations are paid out to ensure that the Pandawas Viper sets sail for America unmolested, her cargo a secret held by less than two dozen extremist Islamic soldiers.

The storm is a perfect cover.

Officials along the West Coast busy themselves tracking the storm, doing what they think is the right thing by warning residents about flooding and landslides, and securing ports against storm-related damage.

No one gives a second thought to the freighter flying Indonesian colors making its way toward the Port of Long Beach, as it apparently should be.

It’s only at two in the morning on Sunday, December 22, that an alert Port of San Diego administrator charged with monitoring ocean-going cargo traffic sees something that causes him to do a double take.

GPS tracking information indicates to him that the Pandawas Viper is not heading to Long Beach, as indicated on its digital shipping logs, but is veering toward Baja, Calif.

Were it to keep its present course, it would arrive at Tijuana, Mexico.

The port administrator dutifully notifies the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Indonesian freighter Pandawas Viper off course, possibly storm-related navigational difficulties,” he emails on a secure digital communication channel operated by the port and the Coast Guard.

“Monitor and alert as necessary,” his message, including the ship’s current coordinates, concludes.

In turn, a communications officer in the Coast Guard’s Alameda, Calif. offices dutifully alerts members of the Coast Guard’s Pacific basin security team. She’s done her job but she’s about an hour late.

At 3:15 am Pacific time on December 22, the deck on the Pandawas Viper opens and the naval surface-to-air missile, operated remotely by a militant operative in Jakarta, is let loose.

It’s headed not for Los Angeles or San Diego, but rather Earth’s atmosphere, where it detonates about 50 miles above the surface.

There it interacts with the planet’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field to produce an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which radiates down to Earth, creating additional electric or ground-induced currents.

The operative’s aim is perfect. With a charge of hundreds and in some cases thousands of volts, the GICs cause severe physical damage to all unprotected electronics and transformers. Microchips operate in the range of 1.5 to 5 volts and thus are obliterated by the billions.

As a result, the current created by the blast knocks out 70 percent of the nation’s grid. What began as an overhead flash of light plunges much of the nation into darkness.

The first indication for most people that there is a problem is that their trusty cellphones can do no more than perform calculations, tell them the time or play their favorite tunes.

As minutes turn to hours, however, people realize that they’ve got much bigger concerns on their hands. Critical infrastructure for transportation and communications ceases. Telecommunication breakdowns mean that fire and police services are unreachable.

For the alone, the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable, panic sets in quickly.

Hospital administrators feverishly calculate how long their emergency power supplies can last.

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Supermarkets and other retailers anticipating one of their biggest shopping days of the year on that Monday, December 23, instead wake up to cold homes and chilling prospects.

Grocery stores with their electricity cut off are unable to open and product losses begin to mount. Banks don’t open. Cash machines are inoperable.

In the colder parts of the United States, the race to stay warm is on.  Within a day’s time in some poorer neighborhoods, furniture is broken up and ignited for kindling.

As a result, fires break out, fires that in many cases will not draw a response from firefighting crews due to the communication breakdown.

As days of interruption turn into weeks and months, starvation, rioting and disease take many.

Say good-bye to most of the commercial property/casualty insurance companies that you know. The resulting chaos adds up to more than $1 trillion in economic losses. Property, liability, credit, marine, space and aviation insurers fail in droves.

Assume widespread catastrophic transformer damage, long-term blackouts, lengthy restoration times and chronic shortages. It will take four to 10 years for a full recovery.

The crew which launched the naval surface-to-air missile that resulted in all of this chaos makes a clean getaway. All seven that were aboard the Pandawas Viper make their way to Ensenada, Mexico, about 85 miles south of San Diego via high-speed hovercraft.

Those that bankrolled this deadly trip were Muslim extremists. But this boat crew knows no religion other than gold.

Well-paid by their suppliers, they enjoy several rounds of the finest tequila Ensenada can offer, and a few other diversions, before slipping away to Chile, never to be brought to justice.

Observations

This outcome does not spring from the realm of fiction.

In May, 1999, during the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, high-ranking Russian officials meeting with a U.S. delegation to discuss the Balkans conflict raised the notion of an EMP attack that would paralyze the United States.

That’s according to a report of a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which was submitted to the U.S. Congress in 2004. But Russia is not alone in this threat or in this capability.

Wes Dupont, vice president and general counsel, Allied World Assurance Company

North Korea also has the capability and the desire, according to experts, and there is speculation that recent rocket launches by that country are dress rehearsals to detonate a nuclear device in our atmosphere and carry out an EMP attack on the United States.

The first defense against such an attack is our missile defense. But some experts believe this country is ill-equipped to defend against this sort of scenario.

“In terms of risk mitigation, if an event like this happens, then that means the best risk mitigation we have has already failed, which would be our military defense systems, because the terrorists have already launched their weapon, and it’s already exploded,” said Wes Dupont, a vice president and general counsel with the Allied World Assurance Company.

The U.S power grid is relatively unprotected against EMP blasts, Dupont said.

And a nuclear blast is the worst that can occur. There isn’t much mitigation that’s been done because many methods are unproven, and it’s expensive, he added.

Lloyd’s and others have studied coronal mass ejections, solar superstorms that would produce a magnetic field that could enter our atmosphere and wipe out our grid.  Scientists believe that an EMP attack would carry a force far greater than any coronal mass ejection that has ever been measured.

An extended blackout, with some facilities taking years to return to full functionality, is a scenario that no society on earth is ready for.

“Traditional scenarios only assume blackouts for a few days and losses seem to be moderate …” wrote executives with Allianz in a 2011 paper outlining risk management options for power blackout risks.

“If an event like this happens, then that means the best risk mitigation we have has already failed … because the terrorists have already launched their weapon, and it’s already exploded.” — Wes Dupont, vice president and general counsel, Allied World Assurance Company

“But if we are considering longer-lasting blackouts, which are most likely from space weather or coordinated cyber or terrorist attacks, the impacts to our society and economy might be significant,” the Allianz executives wrote.

“Critical infrastructure such as communication and transport would be hampered,” the Allianz executives wrote.

“The heating and water supply would stop, and production processes and trading would cease. Emergency services like fire, police or ambulance could not be called due to the breakdown of the telecommunications systems. Hospitals would only be able to work as long as the emergency power supply is supplied with fuel. Financial trading, cash machines and supermarkets in turn would have to close down, which would ultimately cause a catastrophic scenario,” according to Allianz.

It would cost tens of billions to harden utility towers in this country so that they wouldn’t be rendered inoperable by ground-induced currents. That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s really not when we think about the trillion dollars or more in damages that could result from an EMP attack, not to mention the loss of life.

Allianz estimates that when a blackout is underway, financial trading institutions, for example, suffer losses of more than $6 million an hour; telecommunications companies lose about $30,000 per minute, according to the Allianz analysis.

Insurers, of course, would be buffeted should a rogue actor pull off this attack.

Lou Gritzo, vice president and manager of research, FM Global

“Depending on the industries and the locations that are affected, it could really change the marketplace, insurers and reinsurers as well,” said Lou Gritzo, a vice president and manager of research at FM Global.

Gritzo said key practices to defend against this type of event are analyzing supply chains to establish geographically diverse supplier options and having back-up systems for vital operations.

The EMP commission of 2004 argued that the U.S. needs to be vigilant and punish with extreme prejudice rogue entities that are endeavoring to obtain the kind of weapon that could be used in an attack like this.

It also argued that we need to protect our critical infrastructure, carry out research to better understand the effects of such an attack, and create a systematic recovery plan. Understanding the condition of critical infrastructure in the wake of an attack and being able to communicate it will be key, the commission argued.

The commission pointed to a blackout in the Midwest in 2003, in which key system operators did not have an alarm system and had little information on the changing condition of their assets as the blackout unfolded.

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The commission’s point is that we have the resources to defend against this scenario. But we must focus on the gravity of the threat and employ those resources.

Our interconnected society and the steady increase in technology investment only magnify this risk on a weekly basis.

“Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow,” the EMP commission members wrote back in 2004.

But “correction is feasible and well within the nation’s means and resources to accomplish,” the commission study authors wrote. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]