2016 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Crumbling Infrastructure: Day Of Reckoning

Our health and economy are increasingly exposed to a long-documented but ignored risk. 
By: | April 4, 2016 • 5 min read

For decades, government watchdog groups and engineering associations warned that the nation’s infrastructure was grossly underfunded and on the brink of collapse, but those warnings, for the most part, went unheeded by authorities.

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Now a day of reckoning is upon us. The dereliction of North American infrastructure is a catastrophe in slow motion.

For four months, natural gas spewed from a leaking well in southern California — the largest recorded natural gas leak in history. The amount of methane released was the equivalent of running half a million cars for a year. Residents of the area were sickened and more than 10,000 of them needed to be relocated.

For more than a year, the residents of Flint, Mich., suffered lead exposure when the city changed its water source. Water from the Flint River interacted with aging water pipes, resulting in thousands of children being exposed to heavy metals for extended periods. The city is in a federal state of emergency.

Michael Sillat, president and CEO, WKFC, managing general underwriter, Ryan Specialty group

Michael Sillat, president and CEO, WKFC, managing general underwriter, Ryan Specialty group

Dozens more health and environmental debacles are certain to take place.

“U.S. infrastructure is in a dire state of disrepair,” said Michael Sillat, president and CEO of WKFC, a managing general underwriter in the Ryan Specialty group handling excess and surplus lines.

“The roads, bridges, schools, airports and power grids of the U.S. will take something like $3.5 trillion to bring them up to an acceptable, safe and manageable standard.”

Despite events like the huge Northeast blackout in 2003 that affected seven states and the Province of Ontario, and the collapse of the Interstate 35 Bridge in Minneapolis, he noted that “funding for public infrastructure is deficient.”

Operational Risk Challenges

The continuing problem in Flint underscores the challenge of operational risk and risk management. Municipalities all over the country are facing water main ruptures and sewage overflows daily. The costs of repairs and cleanup have to be calculated against any perceived savings in operational or maintenance expenses.

“The onus is on the insureds, especially on government entities for shoring up the infrastructure in the country.” —Michael Sillat, president and CEO, WKFC, managing general underwriter in the Ryan Specialty group

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“We write governmental entities that are water and wastewater authorities and municipalities that treat and provide their own water and collect or treat their own sewage,” said Kathy Adamson, lead underwriter for government entities at CivicRisk, a division of WKFC.

“Prior loss history and infrastructure condition/maintenance is a major factor in determining our attachment and premium.”

Addressing infrastructure shortcomings lies at the feet of owners.

“The onus is on the insureds,” said Sillat, “especially on government entities for shoring up the infrastructure in the country.”

Grace Hartman, director at Aon Infrastructure Solutions, noted that the “contraction in [public] spending … does not mean that existing bridges don’t need maintenance and that new ones don’t need to be built.”

Grace Hartman, director, Aon Infrastructure Solutions

Grace Hartman, director, Aon Infrastructure Solutions

“The question is how to get that done if public entities are not going to pay up-front. There are alternative project delivery methods, notably public-private partnerships (P3s).”

Use of P3s in the U.S. varies with state law. “So called ‘mini-mega’ projects, in the $750 million to $1 billion range have been identified as the correct economy of scale and cost of capital for P3s so far,” Hartman added.

For all the signs of progress, it is unlikely that full infrastructure restoration can be accomplished before another major failure.

Risk professionals in the public and private sectors are asking about worst-case scenarios — bridge collapses that cut off major highway arteries; dam failures that flood vast areas and prevent manufacturing and trade. There are not yet a lot of answers to those big questions.

“We see some agencies in the U.S. that do not even know what their assets are,” said Terry Bills, global transportation industry manager for Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri). “If I were an insurer, I would have concerns about asset management and would be very engaged in the process.”

In starting to assess the effects of a major infrastructure failure or natural disaster, Adrian Pellen, also a director at Aon Infrastructure Solutions, said the costs “have to look beyond frequency and severity of losses to include litigation costs and issues. Property insurance is not intended to pick up things that are already in disarray, but liability can still play a big role.”

The Insurance Response

Aging infrastructure puts a spectrum of industries and even the economy as a whole at risk, said Lou Gritzo, vice president and manager of research at FM Global.

Lou Gritzo, vice president of research, FM Global

Lou Gritzo, vice president of research, FM Global

“The key issue is protecting industry from water, a risk that continues to change with rising sea level. Now, there are exposures that were previously unrealized. That directly affects coastal development and urbanization.”

There have been efforts by the industry to adapt business-interruption policies to accommodate indirect disaster and infrastructure risks. Results have been mixed. Underwriting is complex, and uptake among owners has been spotty.

Where there are clear and present dangers, such as indicated on new flood maps, homes and businesses are being moved, but refineries and chemical plants can’t be.

“The most important protections in any case are those that are fit for purpose,” said Gritzo. “Anything that can be moved or elevated should be.”

Risk managers must make a plan based on current exposures, and then address the greatest vulnerabilities, he said.

Bills of Esri said that public agencies are focusing on traffic levels as they decide what to repair and what to abandon.

R4-16p30-32_1BInfrastruc.indd“What to keep and what to let go is a very different political issue now,” said Bills. “Infrastructure used to be nonpartisan. But the gridlock at the federal level has forced states to be creative in their own directions.

“One option is P3s, which are growing fast in some places,” he said.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there were about 3,000-plus P3 projects in the works as of September 2015, with a value of about $268 billion.

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Part of the problem, said George Spakouris, director of infrastructure advisory at KPMG,  is that “governments have not been building things in a long time. The booms were in the ’50s and ’60s. That expertise is not within cities and states anymore. Even utilities don’t seem to know how to plan and build anymore.”

That brings the problem full circle, Spakouris noted. “There are many old assets out there where failure could cause great damage,” well beyond the immediate loss of the structure. &

BlackBar

2016’s Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

brokenbridgeThe Fractured Future Infrastructure in disrepair, power grids at risk, rampant misinformation and genetic tinkering — is our world coming apart at the seams?

01c_cover_story_leadCyber Grid Attack: A Cascading Impact The aggregated impact of a cyber attack on the U.S. power grid causes huge economic losses and upheaval.

01d_cover_story_vaccineFragmented Voice of Authority: Experts Can Speak but Who’s Listening? Myopic decision-making fostered by self-selected information sources results in societal and economic harm.

01e_cover_story_dnaGene Editing: The Devil’s in the DNA Biotechnology breakthroughs can provide great benefits to society, but the risks can’t be ignored.

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swan: Cloud Attack

Breaking Clouds

A combination of physical and cyber attacks on multiple data centers for cloud service providers causes economic havoc. Even the most well-prepared companies are thrown into paralyzing coverage confusion.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 10 min read

Scenario

By month 16 of the new presidential administration, the Sunshine Brigade is more than ready to act.

Stoked by their anger over rampant economic inequality, the mostly college-educated group of what might best be called upper-middle-class anarchists — many of them from California, Oregon and Washington State — put in motion the gears of a plan more than two years in the making.

Their logic, to them at least, is unimpeachable. Continued consolidation of economic power into the hands of fewer and fewer corporations is creating a world where the rich increasingly exploit and shut out the poor.

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The rise of the techno giants is accelerating this trend, according to the Sunshine Brigade’s de facto leader Emily Brookes, an All-American rugby player and a graduate of Reed College in Oregon.

With a new presidential administration seemingly bent on increasing the economic advantages of the rich with no end in sight, nothing to do then but break things up; and in so doing break the hold of this technology oligarchy.

As Emily Brookes so forcefully put in her instant messages to the other members of the brigade: Break the Cloud.

With more than 500 members, many of them with ample financial and technical resources, the Sunshine Brigade is very capable of delivering on its plan for a two-pronged attack.

It is also radicalized enough to justify the loss of some human life, even its own countrymen, to “save” — in its collective logic — the tens of millions of global citizens that are living as virtual slaves in this callous, exploitative global economy.

With websites and digitally connected services large and small down for days, irritation turns to fear.

The first wave in the attack is an attempt to infect and shut down the data centers for the top three cloud service providers. It takes months to set up this offensive.

Rather than rely on a phishing scam from outside the firewalls of the service providers, The Sunshine Brigade uses its social and business connections to place three members on each of the cloud provider’s payrolls. An infected link from someone you know, someone in the cubicle right next to you, seems like an unstoppable play.

It only partially works. Only one of the cloud service providers is harmed when an unsuspecting employee clicks on a link from their traitorous co-worker. The released malware manages to cripple a major cloud service provider for 12 hours.

With millions of users affected, the act creates substantial disruption and garners global headlines. Insured losses are around $1.5 billion. But this is just the beginning.

The morning after, the Sunshine Brigade unleashes a far more devastating and far more ruthless Round Two.

Using self-driving trucks, the Sunshine Brigade smashes into five data centers; three on the West Coast, and two in the Midwest. Fourteen employees of those cloud servers are killed and another 23 injured; some of them critically.

This time the Brigade gets what it wanted. The physical damage to the data centers is substantial enough that it significantly affects three of the top four cloud service providers for five days.

With websites and digitally connected services large and small down for days, irritation turns to fear.

Small and mid-sized banks, which host their applications on clouds, are shut down. Small business owners and consumer banking customers immediately feel the brunt. Retailers that depend on clouds to host their inventory and transaction information are also hit hard.

But really, the blow falls everywhere.

In the U.S., transportation, financial, health, government and other crucial services grind to a halt in many cases.

Not everyone is disrupted. Some of the larger corporations are sophisticated enough in their risk management, those that used back-up clouds and had steadfast business resiliency plans suffer minimal disruption.

Many small to mid-size companies, though, cannot operate. Their employees can’t get to work and when they can, they sit idly in front of blank computer screens connected to useless servers.

For the man on the street, this is hell.

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Long lines blossom at the likes of gas stations, banks and grocery stores. A population already on edge from a steady diet of social media provocation becomes even more inflamed.

By nightfall of Day Five, the three major cloud service providers are recovered, and digital “normalcy” begins to creep back. But for many small and medium-sized businesses, the recovery comes way too late.

Economic losses promise to register in the tens of billions. It’s not being too imaginative to think that losses could hit the $100 billion mark.

Two multinational insurers based in the U.S., three Lloyd’s syndicates and a Bermuda insurer signal to regulators that their aggregate cyber-related losses are so great that they will most likely become insolvent.

Emily Brookes and her cohorts were willing to kill more than a dozen people to promote their worldview. In their youthful naiveté, they could not know just how much suffering they would cause.

Observations

For some commercial insurance carriers, the aggregated losses from a prolonged disruption of cloud computing services could be catastrophic, or close to it.

“It’s on a par with any earthquake or hurricane or tornado,” said Scott Stransky, an associate vice president and principal scientist with the modeling firm AIR Worldwide.

AIR modeled the insured losses for the Fortune 1,000 were Amazon’s cloud service to go down for one day. They came up with a figure of $3 billion.

Now consider that most businesses in this country are small businesses, with not nearly the risk management sophistication of the Fortune 1000. Then consider a cloud interruption of five days or more.

Mark Greisiger, president, NetDiligence

“Almost any company you talk about today would rely to some extent on the cloud, either to host their website, to do invoicing, inventory, you name it — the cloud is being used across the board,” Stransky said.

“It’s a significant issue for insurers and one we think about a lot,” said Nick Economidis, an underwriter with specialty carrier Beazley.

“Should a cloud service provider go down, everybody who is working with that cloud service provider is impacted by that,” he said.

“Now, pretty much every software maker is on the cloud,” said Mark Greisiger, president of NetDiligence.

“In the old days, someone would come in and install software on your servers and come in annually for maintenance. That’s all gone bye-bye. Everybody who makes software is forcing you onto their private cloud,” Greisiger said.

The aggregation risk for carriers is complicated by the degree of transparency they have into which insured’s applications are hosted on which cloud provider.

Now here’s the even trickier part. Clouds outsource to other clouds.

“It’s almost becoming a spider’s web of interdependencies on who has access to what in terms of upstream and downstream providers,” Greisiger said.

Determining which of their insureds is hosted on which cloud, and in turn, where that cloud is outsourcing to other clouds can be very difficult for carriers to determine.

Even if a company is careful to diversify the risks they’re taking, they might not realize that a high percentage of insureds are even with the same cloud provider. They could be hit with devastating losses across their entire portfolio of business, said an executive with BDO consulting.

AIR’s Stransky said his company launched a product in April, ARC, which stands for Analytics of Risk from Cyber, which is designed to help carriers gain that much needed transparency.

Among insureds, surviving an event of this magnitude will depend not only on the sophistication of their risk management department, but on the company’s overall ability to negotiate contracts with vendors and suppliers that will indemnify the company in the case of a cloud outage of this duration.

It will also depend on organization’s understanding that there is no off-the-shelf solution that will prevent an event like this or make a company whole after it.

Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader, cyber, Starr Companies

Experts say contracts with cloud service providers, customers and suppliers must be structured so that a company is defended should it lose cloud access for as much as five days or more.

Best practices also include modeling just what your losses would look like in this area, and vetting your full portfolio of insurance policies to understand how each would respond.

One broker said buyers can’t be blamed if the complexities of the coverage issues at stake here are initially hard to grasp.

“It’s becoming a spider’s web of interdependencies on who has access to what.” —Mark Greisiger, president, NetDiligence

“I think it’s the broker’s job to inform the client of this exposure,” said Doug Friel, a vice president with JKJ Commercial Insurance, based in Newtown, Pa.

“You may have business interruption coverage for direct physical damage to your building. But have you ever thought about your business income if your IT structure goes down?” Friel said.

He said many buyers might not realize there is a difference.

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Large businesses should have the resources to demand from their cloud service providers that they be indemnified for the entirety of a cloud failure event. There will be a fee for that, but it will be well worth paying, Friel said.

“You have to push,” Friel said. “They are going to say, ‘Here is our standard contract, sign it.’ ”

Don’t settle for that, he said, although many do in ignorance, he added.

“Where possible, we would look for clients to negotiate their contracts. These business relationships should be mutually beneficial, even if one of these events occur,” said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader, cyber, for the Starr Companies.

It’s a partnership, he said.

“It shouldn’t be a zero sum game on either side. I think there should be an understanding of what the potential loss might be and then designing a contract around that,” he said.

While cloud service providers are known for having high grade security systems, most average organizations don’t have the means for that. But no matter what a company’s resources, the first step is modeling where your digital assets are, and what you and your customers stand to lose if you lose access to them.

“Most insureds don’t seem to understand the amount of individual loss that you could be subject to,” said Jim Evans, leader of insurance advisory services at BDO Consulting. “Usually this stuff is measured in hours,” he said. “But what if a cloud provider is out for three or four days?” he said.

“Trying to quantify what you did lose in an event is hard enough. Trying to do a modeling exercise about what you could lose? It’s something that just doesn’t get done enough,” he said.

Once you have an understanding of what you own and what you stand to lose, the next step is prioritizing the protection of the assets you have. That means drilling into your contract with your cloud service providers to get the maximum indemnification.

It also means spreading your risk so that if at all possible, not all of your assets or your customers’ assets are housed by one cloud service provider. Cloud platforms can be public, private, or a hybrid of the two.

Understanding where your assets are in that architecture is crucial. Spending the money to insure that they are protected behind a diverse menu of firewalls is highly advisable.

Navigating the different iterations of business interruption coverage in property, cyber and kidnap and ransom policies is also important.

Make sure your broker can provide clarity on the different types of coverages and tailor them to your needs, experts said.

The concept of design thinking is really what’s in play here. Organizations have to work with vendors in every aspect of their operations to design a risk management system that can sustain this kind of hit.

“Build a better mousetrap to protect yourself,” said JKJ’s Friel.

“Depending on your service, you need to have the best and the brightest designing this stuff. Spread the risk.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for more,” he said.

Postscript

In engineering an attack on the cloud, Emily Brookes and her cohorts accomplished the opposite of what they set out to do.

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Only the largest corporations with the most sophisticated risk management programs were able to survive the attempt to break the cloud with manageable losses.

Small businesses, the true backbone of the U.S. economy, suffered terribly. Entrepreneurs who put their life’s work into their business lost it in many cases.

Those on the lowest part of the economic scale, the working poor, lost their jobs and their ability to cover their rent and grocery bills. They joined the ranks of those subsidized by the government by the millions.  The attempt to break the cloud resulted in an even more polarized society. &

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