Cyber Threats

Health, Higher Ed Most Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks

Unpatched software remains a top cyber vulnerability. Low-tech "phishing" attacks continue to succeed.
By: | May 12, 2016 • 4 min read

As cyber risk management comes of age, more data and better analysis are leading to new realizations. One is that health care and higher education are the most vulnerable sectors, followed closely by financial services.


Another is that the vast majority of security breaches could be forestalled using simple measures, such as ensuring all updates and patches to software are installed and tested.

However, studies are starting to show that cheap, low-tech email attacks remain stubbornly effective despite expensive, high-tech protections.

All of those ideas were advanced and detailed at a fast-moving panel discussion May 11 in New York, sponsored by brokerage Crystal & Company.

Actuarial data is still thin in cyber, but Christopher Liu, head of cyber risk in the financial institutions group at AIG, said that “institutions in health care and higher education are the most hazardous classes of insureds. That is because they have the most sensitive information and that there is high turnover. Also, they usually do not have big budgets, so security is often not well supported.”

Christopher Liu, head of cyber risk, financial institutions group, AIG

Christopher Liu, head of cyber risk, financial institutions group, AIG

Financial institutions, especially asset managers, are the second-most hazardous class, Liu added.

“They have the same attractive information, plus they have money.”

Mitigating that, they also tend to have better funded and supported security, and they have heavy government regulation. That both keeps them on their toes, and also means greater external surveillance. Several panel members noted that firms became aware of breaches when regulators noticed unusual activity.

“We find that we deal primarily with three areas,” said Austin Berglas, senior managing director at K2 Intelligence.

“Those are: unpatched vulnerabilities in software, misconfiguration of internal systems, and misplaced trust by employees. We get called in to handle a breach, and 99 percent of the time we find the vulnerability is unpatched.”

Berglas explained that the software companies race each other to send out new versions that often are not completely functional or secure. So they send out patches. “Windows does it every week on ‘patch Tuesday.’ But users don’t have any regular schedule or system for installing and testing patches. We find unpatched vulnerabilities dating back as far as 1999.”

“I have been to meetings of the cyber response team, and everyone in the room is introducing themselves. This is the response team. Everyone in the room has to know everyone in the room.” — John F. Mullen, managing partner, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith

The challenge of unsecured configurations between systems was dramatically demonstrated with the infamous attack on retailer Target, which came through the air-conditioning vendor. But Berglas emphasized the persistent and pernicious problem of simple phishing.

“It is estimated that 30 percent of individuals within a company will open an email, and 13 percent will click on an attachment, even if they have been warned not to,” Berglas warned.

John Mullen, Managing partner of the law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith

John Mullen, Managing Partner- Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith

“You spent half a billion dollars on security systems and firewalls, and one click on one phishing email by someone with elevated system privileges, and the bad guys have just defeated your half-billion-dollar defense. Now they are inside, with credentials, and you can’t detect them.”

The quickest and easiest thing that any company can do, “is to look for unpatched vulnerabilities in public-facing systems,” Berglas urged.

On the same theme, John F. Mullen, managing partner of the law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, stressed that “security goes way beyond  IT.

“This is not just about the tech guys. Cyber security tends to get pushed downhill.” And that tends to mean lack of coordination on all fronts.

“I have been to meetings of the cyber response team, and everyone in the room is introducing themselves. This is the response team. Everyone in the room has to know everyone in the room.”

Similarly, “insureds have to know the coverage that they have bought. Is there a mandated forensics group? Outside counsel? If so, go meet with them. If you have options, vet them,” Mullen exhorted.

“You spent half a billion dollars on security systems and firewalls, and one click on one phishing e-mail by someone with elevated system privileges, and the bad guys have just defeated your half-billion-dollar defense.” — Austin Berglas, senior managing director, K2 Intelligence

He expects the cyber insurance business to triple or quadruple in the next five years, in terms of premium spending.

Cycling back to the theme of internal responsibility, Paul Miskovich, senior vice president and global practice leader of cyber and technology errors and omissions coverage at Axis, said that 67 percent of cyber claims presented to his firm involved insider activity of some kind: clicking on a phishing email or failing to install a patch or use a firewall. Further, 25 percent of claims involved third parties such as vendors.


For all the focus on the breach itself, Miskovich added that “regulatory costs can be more than the costs of the breach, especially if you don’t have documentation of your security policies and protocols.” That includes documentation that the policies are in place and are rehearsed.

Noting previous comments that many losses are traced to breaches that have gone undetected for years, Miskovich said that a new area within cyber insurance is full coverage for prior acts.

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

Risk Focus: Cyber

Expanding Cyber BI

Cyber business interruption insurance is a thriving market, but growth carries the threat of a mega-loss. 
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

Lingering hopes that large-scale cyber attack might be a once-in-a-lifetime event were dashed last year. The four-day WannaCry ransomware strike in May across 150 countries targeted more than 300,000 computers running Microsoft Windows. A month later, NotPetya hit multinationals ranging from Danish shipping firm Maersk to pharmaceutical giant Merck.


Maersk’s chairman, Jim Hagemann Snabe, revealed at this year’s Davos summit that NotPetya shut down most of the group’s network. While it was replacing 45,000 PCs and 4,000 servers, freight transactions had to be completed manually. The combined cost of business interruption and rebuilding the system was up to $300 million.

Merck’s CFO Robert Davis told investors that its NotPetya bill included $135 million in lost sales plus $175 million in additional costs. Fellow victims FedEx and French construction group Saint Gobain reported similar financial hits from lost business and clean-up costs.

The fast-expanding world of cryptocurrencies is also increasingly targeted. Echoes of the 2014 hack that triggered the collapse of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox emerged this January when Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck pledged to repay customers $500 million stolen by hackers in a cyber heist.

The size and scope of last summer’s attacks accelerated discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, between risk managers and brokers seeking more comprehensive cyber business interruption insurance products.

It also recently persuaded Pool Re, the UK’s terrorism reinsurance pool set up 25 years ago after bomb attacks in London’s financial quarter, to announce that from April its cover will extend to include material damage and direct BI resulting from acts of terrorism using a cyber trigger.

“The threat from a cyber attack is evident, and businesses have become increasingly concerned about the extensive repercussions these types of attacks could have on them,” said Pool Re’s chief, Julian Enoizi. “This was a clear gap in our coverage which left businesses potentially exposed.”

Shifting Focus

Development of cyber BI insurance to date reveals something of a transatlantic divide, said Hans Allnutt, head of cyber and data risk at international law firm DAC Beachcroft. The first U.S. mainstream cyber insurance products were a response to California’s data security and breach notification legislation in 2003.

Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Of more recent vintage, Europe’s first cyber policies’ wordings initially reflected U.S. wordings, with the focus on data breaches. “So underwriters had to innovate and push hard on other areas of cyber cover, particularly BI and cyber crimes such as ransomware demands and distributed denial of service attacks,” said Allnut.

“Europe now has regulation coming up this May in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation across the EU, so the focus has essentially come full circle.”

Cyber insurance policies also provide a degree of cover for BI resulting from one of three main triggers, said Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter for specialist insurer Beazley. “First is the malicious-type trigger, where the system goes down or an outage results directly from a hack.

“Second is any incident involving negligence — the so-called ‘fat finger’ — where human or operational error causes a loss or there has been failure to upgrade or maintain the system. Third is any broader unplanned outage that hits either the company or anyone on which it relies, such as a service provider.”

The importance of cyber BI covering negligent acts in addition to phishing and social engineering attacks was underlined by last May’s IT meltdown suffered by airline BA.

This was triggered by a technician who switched off and then reconnected the power supply to BA’s data center, physically damaging servers and distribution panels.

Compensating delayed passengers cost the company around $80 million, although the bill fell short of the $461 million operational error loss suffered by Knight Capital in 2012, which pushed it close to bankruptcy and decimated its share price.

Mistaken Assumption

Awareness of potentially huge BI losses resulting from cyber attack was heightened by well-publicized hacks suffered by retailers such as Target and Home Depot in late 2013 and 2014, said Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability at Victor O. Schinnerer & Company.


However, the incidents didn’t initially alarm smaller, less high-profile businesses, which assumed they wouldn’t be similarly targeted.

“But perpetrators employing bots and ransomware set out to expose any firms with weaknesses in their system,” he added.

“Suddenly, smaller firms found that even when they weren’t themselves targeted, many of those around them had fallen victim to attacks. Awareness started to lift, as the focus moved from large, headline-grabbing attacks to more everyday incidents.”

Publications such as the Director’s Handbook of Cyber-Risk Oversight, issued by the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Internet Security Alliance fixed the issue firmly on boardroom agendas.

“What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.” — Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Reformed ex-hackers were recruited to offer board members their insights into the most vulnerable points across the company’s systems — in much the same way as forger-turned-security-expert Frank Abagnale Jr., subject of the Spielberg biopic “Catch Me If You Can.”

There also has been an increasing focus on systemic risk related to cyber attacks. Allnutt cites “Business Blackout,” a July 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London and the Cambridge University’s Centre for Risk Studies.

This detailed analysis of what could result from a major cyber attack on America’s power grid predicted a cost to the U.S. economy of hundreds of billions and claims to the insurance industry totalling upwards of $21.4 billion.

Lloyd’s described the scenario as both “technologically possible” and “improbable.” Three years on, however, it appears less fanciful.

In January, the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, said the UK had been fortunate in so far averting a ‘category one’ attack. A C1 would shut down the financial services sector on which the country relies heavily and other vital infrastructure. It was a case of “when, not if” such an assault would be launched, he warned.

AI: Friend or Foe?

Despite daunting potential financial losses, pioneers of cyber BI insurance such as Beazley, Zurich, AIG and Chubb now see new competitors in the market. Capacity is growing steadily, said Allnutt.

“Not only is cyber insurance a new product, it also offers a new source of premium revenue so there is considerable appetite for taking it on,” he added. “However, whilst most insurers are comfortable with the liability aspects of cyber risk; not all insurers are covering loss of income.”

Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company

Kletzli added that available products include several well-written, broad cyber coverages that take into account all types of potential cyber attack and don’t attempt to limit cover by applying a narrow definition of BI loss.

“It’s a rapidly-evolving coverage — and needs to be — in order to keep up with changing circumstances,” he said.

The good news, according to a Fitch report, is that the cyber loss ratio has been reduced to 45 percent as more companies buy cover and the market continues to expand, bringing down the size of the average loss.

“The bad news is that at cyber events, talk is regularly turning to ‘what will be the Hurricane Katrina-type event’ for the cyber market?” said Kletzli.

“What’s worse is that with hurricane losses, underwriters know which regions are most at risk, whereas cyber is a global risk and insurers potentially face huge aggregation.”


Nor is the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) necessarily cause for optimism. As Allnutt noted, while AI can potentially be used to decode malware, by the same token sophisticated criminals can employ it to develop new malware and escalate the ‘computer versus computer’ battle.

“The trend towards greater automation of business means that we can expect more incidents involving loss of income,” said Sané. “What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.

“We’re likely to see a growing number of attacks where the aim is to cause disruption, rather than demand a ransom.

“The paradox of cyber BI is that the more sophisticated your organization and the more it embraces automation, the bigger the potential impact when an outage does occur. Those old-fashioned businesses still reliant on traditional processes generally aren’t affected as much and incur smaller losses.” &

Graham Buck is editor of He can be reached at