Malware Anywhere

By: | November 1, 2013 • 3 min read
Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at [email protected]

Risk from cyber attackers — criminal, government-sponsored or recreational — has certainly not escaped most of us in the quiet corners of the insurance marketplace, but few seem aware that because of the increasing sophistication of these attackers, danger may lie in unexpected places.


Most of us realize that malware can be downloaded to our computing devices — portable or desktop — via spam or faked emails from supposedly reliable companies or even friends. Now, however, there is a newer threat. With the advent of the cloud and online services and file sharing sites, cyber attackers are now using such sites to bypass traditional security and steal information. Dark Reading, a data security newsletter, reported that in one case, malware compromised the systems of six employees at a company and created bogus accounts for the employees on a cloud service. From there, the attackers were able to use the individuals’ accounts to upload and download data as they chose. Of course, traffic going to and from a legitimate online service seemed harmless, so no alarm bells were likely to go off when the data transfers took place.

Dark Reading said this type of attack, known as advance persistent threats (APTs) is increasingly being used to gain access to confidential information — information of the type that is commonly in the hands of insurance companies, brokers and agents. In addition, the newsletter said, hackers are continuing to improve their methods, making them more effective and harder to detect.

Just how serious is this trend? Symantec, in its 2013 Internet Security Threat Report, stated that of the Top 10 industries attacked in 2012, “finance, insurance, and real estate” ranked No. 2, accounting for 19 percent of the recorded attacks. Only “manufacturing,” at 24 percent, ranked higher. And while about half of the attacks occurred at companies with 2,501-plus employees, a surprising number (31 percent) were aimed at companies with between 1 and 250 employees (an increase from 18 percent in the firm’s 2011 report).

It would seem that size of organization is a somewhat less important factor than, perhaps, its ability to fend off attacks — which may be weaker in smaller companies that generally have fewer resources.

The 2013 Symantec report also stated that, “At 36 percent, the health care industry continues to be the sector responsible for the largest percentage of disclosed data breaches by industry.”

With the insurance industry closely tied to nearly every facet of health care, it seems its profile as a target for hacking activity has grown quite significantly.


Interestingly, a number of insurance industry surveys show that data security is not among the top-of-mind concerns for most insurers and others in the industry.

Difficult as it is to contemplate, however, we are increasingly involved in a pitched battle to protect our systems and our precious confidential data from theft and/or harm. To ignore this wolf at the door — who grows fatter and more vicious with each passing day — would be foolishness.

And yet, our time and attention are focused on more immediate concerns of competitive positioning and customer attraction and retention. Insurers, brokers and agents of all sizes would be well advised to devote more time and financial resources to data and systems security.

We operate on an assumption of trust from our policyholders; a major data breach could easily destroy that trust.


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The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.


R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.


R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &

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