Cyber Risk

Hacking the Food Supply

Cyber exposure is a growing concern for farms and agribusiness companies of all sizes.
By: | March 27, 2018 • 7 min read

As agribusiness companies large and small leverage new technologies to increase yields, ease labor strains and maintain a competitive edge, cyber risk has become a growing concern in what was once perceived by many as a relatively low-tech industry.

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“When people generally think about agribusiness, they think about a farmer sitting on a tractor, driving it through his field,” said Stephanie Snyder, senior vice president and national sales leader of cyber insurance at Aon Professional Risk Solutions.

But increasingly, even small- and medium-sized farms are dependent on satellite imagery, drones, smart tractors and other tech.

“It’s not your grandpa’s farm anymore,” said Snyder. “Farming and agricultural organizations are really quite advanced from a technology standpoint.”

Each added device and connection means a greater attack surface for potential cyber security breaches.

“The cyber security that has been applied to a lot of these remotely connected devices is not the best cyber security in the world,” said Michael Born, vice president in Lockton’s Cyber Technology Practice.

Stephanie Snyder, SVP and national sales leader, cyber insurance, Aon Professional Risk Solutions

Scott Stransky, assistant vice president and principal scientist at AIR Worldwide, said users often don’t change their devices’ default passwords. “If you don’t change the default password, you’re basically inviting attackers in,” he said.

As is often the case with industry-specific devices, Stransky said, “There are systems in agriculture that only run on older and less secure operating systems that simply can’t be updated if they want the system to work properly. Hackers can use those vulnerabilities.”

Devices themselves can also be vulnerable to theft. “Drones are valuable,” said Born. “To the extent that I can interrupt your signal and have a drone come to me instead, that’s potentially an easy way for me to steal a piece of valuable property.”

Drones can also present liability risks by violating neighbors’ or others’ privacy rights, or interfering with aircraft.

More common than targeted attacks are problems caused by malware or ransomware, sometimes as a result of phishing attacks.

In other industries, the biggest cyber risk is data breach, and that can be a concern for biotech and chemical companies protecting sensitive trade secrets.

But while farmers may expose their personal or business data, the bigger risk is operational: What could happen if control of all those networks and devices are interrupted or even hijacked?

“In 2018, the focus is more on operational technology,” said Snyder.

“As these organizations are using more and more technology to run their business, if there is some type of breach of that technology, what is the impact to that organization from a balance sheet standpoint, from a financial loss standpoint?”

For farmers who have automated their irrigation, fertilization, harvesting, refrigerated storage or livestock management, such operational interruptions could be devastating.

“If the interruption lasts for any significant period of time at all, say days or even a week, then you could have serious effects on an agribusiness because of the nature of that business,” said Born.

Currently, such losses generally aren’t excluded.

“Once we start to talk about physical damage or livestock injuries or crop destruction, we’re now in the realm of what we call ‘silent cyber,’ where there actually is quite a bit of insurance being written today that doesn’t explicitly exclude cyber as a cause of loss, and doesn’t say it doesn’t include it either,” said Stransky.

“It’s literally silent on whether it includes cyber. And there’s very little legal precedent for whether or not the cyber-induced losses will end up having to be paid. The assumption is that they will, because they are not explicitly excluded.”

Michael Born, vice president, Cyber Technology Practice, Lockton

Major losses from cyber risks have been largely theoretical in the agriculture sector, and as long as they remain so, they most likely won’t be excluded.

“These policy wordings are not really changing due to cyber yet,” said Stransky. “It may take a very large event to spur that on, and then I think you’ll see a great number of companies changing.”

Born is not so sure. “Given the market that exists right now, coverage is broadening and not narrowing, so it’s less likely to happen.”

But he also sees events in other sectors impacting coverage in agribusiness.

“A lot of times these changes in insurance coverage happen globally for a company on all similarly written policies,” said Born.

“Since we’ve seen a couple of large losses on some of the manufacturing and transportation industries arising out of some of these attacks, insurance companies in general are starting to take a close look at what they do and do not cover from a property standpoint.

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“It’s a really hot topic in the insurance industry today: where is this coverage going to fall? If you have a cyber attack that causes property damage or bodily injury, where does the coverage fall? Does it fall on the property policy, the general liability policy, a dedicated cyber policy? Are there gaps in between those?”

Either way, Snyder sees other benefits to cyber policies.

“Cyber insurance policies are going to indemnify the organization for the net income loss they have, as well as extra expenses that they incur,” she said.

“And cyber insurance actually takes that one step further. You can have business interruption indemnification under the policy, not just for a breach of network security but also if you have a technology failure.”

Such coverage can also indemnify for costly computer forensics and remediation.

“Something that we work with our clients on is doing risk quantification modeling,” said Snyder. “Essentially helping our clients determine the financial statement impact or potential loss if they were to have some type of breach that resulted in an outage and an interruption.”

Born noted that, “A lot of insurers out there are offering risk management services along with cyber policies, and these are pre-breach services.”

But he recommends keeping your broker up to date. “If there is a change in operations that could have an impact on this type of exposure, then certainly they should talk to us and we should reevaluate that exposure, mid-term if necessary.”

“It’s not your grandpa’s farm anymore. Farming and agricultural organizations are really quite advanced from a technology standpoint.” — Stephanie Snyder, SVP and national sales leader, cyber insurance, Aon Professional Risk Solutions

Interruptions due to a cyber breach can also have impacts far beyond the farm directly affected.

“We’re talking about the beginning of the supply chain,” said Born. “… If their operations are interrupted and they don’t have the produce or the livestock to provide to the other folks along the supply chain, it’s going to affect all of those businesses.”

“Supply chain insurance is out there,” said Stransky, “but the take-up rate for supply chain insurance is really low.”

Scott Stransky, assistant vice president and principal scientist, AIR Worldwide

“You don’t typically buy insurance for bad things that happen to other people,” said Born. “You buy insurance for bad things that happen to you or your business.”

But with cyber risks threatening every link in the supply chain, that may no longer be the case.

“Even if nothing happened to you and nothing was your fault, if your supply is interrupted because of a cyber attack or other perils, that affects your ability to do business and to make income, we can cover that exposure for you as well,” said Born.

But, he added, “That starts to get into aggregation issues, which is something we’ve been talking about for a while when it comes to cyber, but is particularly relevant when you start insuring events that could happen to another party.

“If that same party supplies many different companies and all of those companies have the supply chain insurance, you have some real aggregation issues.”

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While coverage is obviously important, even more important is avoiding vulnerabilities in the first place.

“It’s all about the people and their vigilance against the cyber attacks,” said Stransky. He emphasizes the importance of changing default passwords, being wary of phishing attempts, and hiring a trusted IT professional to set up equipment and explain how to maintain it.

But ultimately, Born sees cyber coverage becoming another basic cost of doing business.

“I think some form of cyber coverage will become more or less standard coverage for most businesses at some point in the future,” said Born.

“And I don’t think agribusiness is going to be any exception.” &

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurtech

Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”

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“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.

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“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?

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“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.