Cyber Regulation

FTC Taking Action on Cyber Security

The FTC may become more active in suing organizations that don't sufficiently secure data.
By: | August 4, 2014 • 3 min read

In April, a federal court sent a clear if unintended message to the business community when it permitted the Federal Trade Commission to proceed with a lawsuit against Wyndham Worldwide Corp., alleging the hotel giant failed to make reasonable efforts to protect consumer information.

“The ruling will probably — and properly — drive more companies to the cyber insurance market,” said Thomas Caswell III, partner, Zelle Hofmann in Minneapolis, who specializes in insurance coverage litigation.


“They’ll see the exposures and their potential costs for themselves. The pure threat will push them to buy cyber insurance, just as they buy general liability insurance,” he said.

With the ruling in its favor, the FTC may become more active in pursuing regulatory actions, said Rene Siemens, partner, Pillsbury Law in Los Angeles, who represents policyholders in connection with coverage claims for privacy matters.

The types of breaches the FTC may pursue include identity theft, theft of credit card information, and improper access to protected access to health information.

The likelihood that the FTC will assume more responsibility for policing cyber security isn’t necessarily a bad thing for insurance companies or their clients, said Matt Wolfe, vice president for state relations and assistant general counsel, Reinsurance Association of America.

The current voluntary standards leave companies “shooting a bit blind regarding how to protect data and the consequences for not doing so,” he said. “Enforceable standards could actually help companies know how to prepare.”

Insurance industry observers expect carriers to introduce broad standard exclusions for privacy claims, but it’s yet to be seen how broadly they will be adopted and if carriers will adopt variations on exclusions.

“The insurance industry,” Siemens said, “is focused on limiting coverage for privacy claims under conventional coverage.”

“If the FTC pursued action for violating some rule or standard of practice … most cyber liability policies insure for that,” Caswell said. “Most traditional liability coverage doesn’t.”

Everybody’s Vulnerable

Getting hacked alone won’t invite a lawsuit from the FTC, said Kevin LaCroix, attorney and executive vice president, RT ProExec, an insurance intermediary focused on management liability.

“But if you are the target of a breach and fail to take corrective action, you’re subject to subsequent breaches due to the same vulnerability, and that could attract regulators’ attention.”

The FTC alleges Wyndham suffered three similar data breaches that compromised consumer information.

All companies that conduct business over the Internet, or that do business with other companies that do, are vulnerable to data breaches, said Siemens. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act already requires financial institutions to implement and maintain administrative, technical and physical safeguards for customer information.

“If the Department of Defense is vulnerable to hackers,” LaCroix said, “everybody’s vulnerable.”

Hackers’ motivations run the gamut from spite to greed to terrorism. “Still,” he said, “some multinational companies I’d consider high-risk targets don’t yet have privacy and network security insurance.”

Companies should also make sure their vendors and other third-party partners have sound security practices, and that they are insured against breaches they may cause, said Siemens.

That was the vulnerability for Target, when hackers broke into the retailer’s network last year using login credentials stolen from a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company that does work for a number of Target locations. It created the largest data security breach in retail history.


Increasingly, Siemens said, companies outsource data management to companies that specialize in running server farms and storing and processing data. “As that trend continues, risk managers need to be more careful about who they hire.”

LaCroix admitted to having personal experience with such woes. A “tiny” nonprofit school of which he was a board member was hacked through a vendor’s portal, costing $40,000 in notification costs alone. “That would have paid for the premium on cyber insurance for multiple years,” he said.

The take-home lesson for risk managers? Prevention and cyber insurance, said LaCroix, but if there is a breach, demonstrate a vigorous response to minimize risk of regulatory action.

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.


Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”


Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.


“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]