Cyber Risks

It’s Your Employees, Stupid! How to Fix Your Cyber Security Weakest Link

Rather than viewing employees primarily as liabilities, training them to spot cyber attacks is a best practice.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 5 min read

One year on from WannaCry and NotPetya, senior executives and employees alike have spent time reviewing their companies’ cyber security defenses and their response plans in the event of attack.


They’re likely not pleased by a recently published academic survey highlighting how lucrative cyber crime has become. The annual, tax-free income of the highest earners is up to $2 million, while mid-level criminals can expect up to $900,000 and even beginner hackers average $42,000 — enough for the weekly grocery bill.

The findings will hopefully assist, rather than undermine, the progress achieved over the past 12 months in raising employees’ awareness of cyber security and their role in being alert to potential scams such as phishing emails.

Although WannaCry and NotPetya wrought the most havoc in the shipping and manufacturing industries, they proved large-scale attacks are feasible and that targets can be random rather than selected.

“Financial institutions have always been ahead of the game on cyber security, partly due to the regulator,” said Marcin Weryk, senior underwriter, XL Catlin. “The transportation sector — ranging from airlines to cargo carriers — is a close second.

“Manufacturing is also starting to come around, having realized that its systems weren’t designed with security primarily in mind. They have certainly improved but still have a long way to go.”

Gareth Wharton, CEO, cyber, Hiscox

Meanwhile cyber criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, said Andrew Beckett, MD and EMEA leader for Kroll’s cyber security and investigations practice.

He noted that back in 2012, Sir Iain Lobban, then the head of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, estimated organized crime was four years behind state entities in the sophistication of its cyber attacks.

“Since then you’ve had the emergence of the Shadow Brokers, who’ve hacked and released details of the National Security Agency’s own hacking methods. The gap has closed as organized crime catches up with state-backed entities,” Beckett said.

There is growing acceptance that while companies should take all reasonable steps to bolster their resilience, full protection against cyber attacks is unattainable.

“Companies can be regarded as always two steps behind the intelligent criminal or hacker who can spot and exploit any vulnerability,” said Shannan Fort, cyber product development leader, Aon’s global broking center.

“For companies, it’s a fine balance in deciding at which point they decide to transfer the risk. There’s a threshold at which more money and resources can be spent on the system without any commensurate improvement in security. It’s then an issue of spotting a breach at the earliest possible opportunity and minimizing the impact.”

Beckett agreed. “The emphasis has changed, and the focus is less on keeping the attackers out and more on spotting them early and having an effective response plan in place.”

Employee Risk Management in Cyber Security

When it comes to the issue of cyber security, the question everyone should ask is, “Where are the company jewels and how do we protect them?” said Karen Kukoda, senior director, strategic partnerships, FireEye.

Companies aiming to make employees more cyber security-savvy should be able to count on them sharing this aim, added Gareth Wharton, CEO, cyber, Hiscox.

“Employee screening is vital, as is having good management processes in place for when an employee departs. This includes ensuring they can’t log into the system after departure and limiting access to only those systems relevant to their job — for example, they can’t access payments if they’re not in the accounts department.”


Training the workforce to become more aware of cyber security is nothing new, said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader, cyber risk, Starr Companies.

“The big issue is getting employees to understand that they have a responsibility to protect company information, just as it’s the employer’s responsibility to protect employees,” he added. “Many senior executives in the older-age ranges aren’t keen on the need, say, to learn five different passwords when logging in, which means even now there are still a lot of single sign-ons.

“Millennials are generally far more open and receptive to additional security measures, so your workforce’s attitude is very much determined by its demographics.”

“The big issue is getting employees to understand that they have a responsibility to protect company information, just as it’s the employer’s responsibility to protect employees.” — Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader, cyber risk, Starr Companies

Weryk is optimistic attitudes are changing company-wide. “Two years ago, when a company gave out tokens for multi-factor authentication to employees, many regarded it as annoying, but they’ve quickly come to appreciate the need for it,” she said.

Hiscox’s Wharton noted employees are already accustomed to having  tougher levels of security applied to workplace devices, simply because they see the approach in their other day-to-day activities, such as personal banking.

Dave Cameron, XL Catlin’s chief information security officer, added most employees appreciate that while their company has to protect thousands of devices and hosts, the successful attacker only has to find one that is vulnerable.

“It’s good that heightened awareness means, for example, employees are more likely to question the authenticity of an email that could conceal a phishing scam,” he said.

Kukoda also advocates for this approach: “Tabletop exercises are a great way of identifying where the company can strengthen its security. As the strategy is developed, they must be able to demonstrate exactly where these improvements have been made.

“Threat groups tend to target a specific industry rather than an individual company to discover which are the most vulnerable and likely to reveal their intellectual property secrets or accede to a ransom demand,” she said.

It might be assumed that with the trend for more employees to bring their own smartphones, laptops and tablets to the workforce and connecting on the secure corporate network — and also working more from home or away from the premises — companies might want to review their “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies.

“Two years ago, when a company gave out tokens for multi-factor authentication to employees, many regarded it as annoying, but they’ve quickly come to appreciate the need for it.” — Dave Cameron, chief information security officer, XL Catlin

However, Beckett pointed out location is less an issue than the equipment the employee is working with.


“WannaCry and NotPetya exploited Windows’ vulnerability, but this was well-known for some time before the attack and largely affected older devices with outdated systems. Employees using BYOD usually don’t use Windows XP.

“To an extent, that’s due to vanity, but it also sends the wrong message to clients and colleagues if you’re still using an antique device. Individuals instead want a state-of-the-art laptop that declares they are at the top of their game,” Beckett said.

Future Cyber Attack Threats

Insurers are devoting resources to educating company work forces. Despite the increase in attacks and the potential for major losses, more have joined the original top four cyber insurers — Chubb, Beazley, AIG and XL Catlin — in developing detailed offerings and holistic pre-incident and response programs.This includes alerting companies to new threats. &

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]