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Higher Education

Higher Ed’s Cyber Threat

Universities that want to stay eligible for federal grants better get their cyber-risk house in order.
By: | August 29, 2017 • 5 min read

Oh, for the days when university security meant cautioning administrators to lock their offices at night and preparing campus police for perimeter breaches at Friday night football games.

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All that has changed, of course, with broad open-access computer platforms online and cyber threats coming from all sides — threats that crystalized for Heidi Wachs following two data breaches in 2007.

“One was the first time I got a notification telling me that my information had been compromised,” said the privacy expert and member of Jenner and Block’s Privacy and Information Governance Practice in Chicago. “And shortly after I joined Georgetown University, they experienced their own data breach, theft of hardware, and I had to put all of the things I had learned into practice.”

E-mail breaches and stolen laptops haven’t gone away, Wachs added, but the number of attack sectors has expanded, notably to newer threats such as phishing, ransomware and misuse of insider electronic privileges.

In fact, the data breaches universities must contend with daily are really no different than those confronting manufacturers, suppliers and their customers, said Wachs. But she added that a university is more complex than many businesses because it has a broader customer base than just students, staff and faculty.

Heidi Wachs, special counsel, Privacy and Information Governance Practice, Jenner and Block

“Lots of universities open their doors to the communities they are located in to provide services — for example, their libraries. And sometime universities own and operate their own hospitals, so you’re dealing with health information as well.”

That fact became painfully evident in Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Report. This year, major universities including Georgetown and Oklahoma harvested the dubious distinction of seeing their crests hung on the Department of Health and Human Services’ “wall of shame” for e-mail breaches.

E-mail breaches represent one of the two largest cyber threats on campus, the report noted. The other: malignant spyware surreptitiously slipped into open access platforms used by students, faculty and researchers.

Compliance Is Complicated

It’s not as if these universities haven’t had adequate warning. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission enacted a “Safeguards Rule” requiring all institutions providing financial products or services, including universities, to create a comprehensive Written Information Security Program (WISP) aimed at identifying and lowering the risk of cyber attack.

“The cyber criminals are a little bit ahead of the cyber defenses. And everybody is struggling with it.”  —Nick Economidis, underwriter, Beazley Group

But universities and colleges were slow to embrace the WISP standards, said Michael Corn, Chief information Security Officer (CISO) at the University of California, San Diego, because of standards considered far more robust under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

For example, by December of this year, some federal grants will be subject to the NIST 800-171 standard requiring universities to safeguard unclassified as well as classified information from cyber intrusions.

“Every university I know is figuring out how we’re going to comply with it because it raises the bar considerably on security practices,” said Corn. “And compliance is a condition of receiving those grants from the government.”

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Despite reported concerns that cyber insurance might not be available to colleges and universities not in compliance with WISP, Corn said that appears not be a problem under NIST.

“My suspicion is that the insurers are asking more detailed questions than they used to,” he said.

Those questions will center around each university’s risk profile and be manifested in cyber liability policies “that are akin to a cafeteria-style menu where you can pick and choose from different kinds of coverages,” said Jan Larson, partner in Jenner and Block’s Insurance Recovery and Counseling Practice in Washington, D.C.

This includes third party litigation loss, but also “things on the other side of the spectrum such as cyber extortion,” said Larson, “where you have someone threatening the university from outside holding your data hostage, for example.”

First party costs, such as those accrued notifying everyone potentially affected that a cyber breach has occurred, can be “a tricky art,” said Nick Economidis, an underwriter at Beazley Group and a specialist in technology risk.

Nick Economidis, underwriter, Beazley Group

He cites the example of a small college which sent out a notification of a cyber breach to faculty and employees, only to have a staff of three on the help desk flooded with phone calls.

“What we did is parachute in a call center to take those calls off the help desk,” said Economidis.

But he said other threats are even harder to master alone, like getting the key to unlock ransomware holding your data hostage.

“We won’t tell you to pay,” said Economidis. “That’s your decision.”

But insureds can tap into the experience of insurers and brokers who’ve dealt with similar crises for other clients.

Based on the look and feel of the ransomware, they may be able to help narrow down suspects suggest whether that hacker or group has made good on past promises to turn over the key after the ransom has been paid.

“Decisions become a lot easier when you have that type of information.”

Insurance programs can also help colleges access cyber forensic experts and crisis communications experts to formulate a media response to a well-publicized breach.

Grading University Response

So how are universities doing in these days of the WannaCry ransomware and other cyber intrusions? Very well, thank-you, said Mary Ann Blair, director of information security at Carnegie Mellon University.

Despite the volume of malware, hacking and other cyber attacks, “everyone is upping their game.” That includes specific units within universities researching and applying security controls.

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“But we’re also seeing that the data provider is specifying more what that menu of security controls must look like before they provide the data. So this is a case where everybody is responding to everyone else in the face of a threat.”

University of Texas CISO Helen Mohrmann believes colleges have started to pay attention to connected objects like vehicles and buildings embedded with software, and sensors enabling those objects to collect and exchange data.

“But we need to put an increasing amount of focus on it,” she said, “as do the vendors who produce these types of devices and those who provide networks and other security tools. It has to be a partnership.”

Economidis believes universities are doing a very good job securing their systems from cyber attack. But they’re also a microcosm of the core challenge facing the entire nation.

“The cyber criminals are a little bit ahead of the cyber defenses. And everybody is struggling with it,” said Economidis.

The task at the university level and elsewhere: to balance the need for controls aimed at thwarting cyber criminals, “while not infringing upon the freedoms we enjoy.” &

David Godkin is a freelance magazine writer based in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]