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Ransomware Is the Hacker Biz Model of Choice: 5 Best Practices to Protect Your Network and Users

Follow these cyber security rules of thumb.
By: | October 3, 2017 • 7 min read

Ransomware attacks used to be small and isolated, targeting smaller organizations less likely to have the resources to fight back. But attackers’ tactics are changing.

The WannaCry and Petya attacks of 2017 demonstrate just how powerful and expansive a ransomware attack can be. The attacks indiscriminately struck businesses of every size and shape around the globe, and though insured losses were low, the number of machines affected, size and prominence of organizations targeted, and level of public attention garnered by these attacks approached catastrophic levels.

“Ransomware is now the business model of choice for cyber thieves,” said Nick Graf, director of information security, risk control, CNA. “Hackers used to make their money stealing data and selling on the black market. Ransomware attacks offer much quicker access to liquid assets.”

“In most cases, they don’t care about your data; they want your cash.”

And most of the time they get it quickly and quietly. By asking for small ransoms from big companies, hackers ensure the amount demanded can and will be paid. Most institutions can’t afford to waste time fighting back against a cyber attacker. They need their data to keep their businesses going; the cost of business interruption is far greater that the cost of a $300 ransom, which is what thieves demanded during the WannaCry attack.

Nick Graf, Director of Information Security, Risk Control, CNA

And as more of our world becomes computerized, attacks are likely to grow in frequency and severity.

“Vehicles are increasingly reliant on their computer operating systems. We have smart homes, wearables, and an infinite number of devices connected to the Internet of Things,” said Andy Lea, head of cyber liability products, CNA. “Software security protections are still written by humans, so they are not infallible. Perfectly secure software doesn’t exist.”

In other words, “Everything is hackable.”

Despite growing awareness around cyber threats, a large segment of the business world remains unprepared.

“Many companies are not following baselines best practices,” Graf said.

Although no preventative measures can guarantee protection from the next ransomware attack, organizations can follow these five cyber security rules of thumb:

1. Update Security Patches

While relatively easy for individuals, implementing new security patches can be challenging for large corporations who have many more machines to update, and want to ensure that new patches won’t interfere with other operational systems or customized applications.

Because of these challenges, may companies delay security updates. But installing new patches promptly may be the simplest way to stay a step ahead of opportunistic hackers.

“Microsoft released new patches two months prior to the WannaCry attack. Had businesses applied these patches, their systems would have been unaffected,” Graf said. Up-to-date endpoint protections like anti-virus and anti-malware solutions also could have prevented much of the attacks.

“In addition to anti-malware tools, end-point security can also include data leakage protection, which can alert users if someone is attempting to ex-filtrate data files from, your system,” Graf said.

2. Train in Security Awareness

No security software, however, can fully protect an organization from negligent employees.

“Your users are your weakest link,” Lea said. “If you have employees that like to click links and open attachments, they can very easily bypass other levels of security that were put in place to protect them.”

Workers may assume that if an email or attachment made it through their company’s firewall, it must be safe to open. But no spam filter is completely ironclad. Employees should be trained to spot clues indicating an email or link is illegitimate and know how what follow-up steps to take, such as calling or checking in with an email sender in person to verify their request.

3. Create a Top-Down Security Culture

Andy Lea, Head of Cyber Liability Products, CNA

For personnel to apply their training consistently, they need to understand the risks facing their company and develop a true commitment to cyber security. The only way that can happen, Lea said, is if top management sets an example.

“Everyone from senior executives down needs to be educated and aware of security risks and the potential consequences of a cyber attack,” he said. Information security requires a holistic approach, with input and effort from every facet of an organization — not just the IT team.

“It may require a cultural change to get everyone on board, and senior leaders need to drive this change,” Lea said.

Underwriters will also look for a strong security culture, evidenced by senior management’s willingness to invest in system updates as well as the existence of cyber security policies and procedures.

4. Build a Response Plan

One of those policies or procedures should be an incident response plan, identifying which team members will take action immediately following discovery of a hack or data breach.

“Being proactively ready can greatly reduce the negative impacts of an attack, including from a regulatory perspective as well as from a business interruption standpoint,” Graf said.

A ransomware attack’s biggest impact, after all, is not the ransom itself but the cost of being unable to access data, and the extra expense of getting operations up and running again.

5. Conduct a Gap Analysis

Once an organization has updated its security and policies, it should periodically conduct gap analyses to identify its weak points and ensure that cyber defenses adjust appropriately. Because technology — and hackers’ strategies — are always changing, companies’ exposure will change as well.

“No one control is enough to protect you,” Lea said.

Organizations should assess the security software and tools they have in place, like firewalls, as well as employee onboarding and training plans, company IT policies, and business recovery and continuity plans. They should examine their data to see what is at risk, and assess how they collect, store and protect it.

As part of their cyber solutions offering, CNA’s risk control specialists will sit down with companies to take a deep dive into their cyber operations.

“We’ll meet with senior members of the security staff and look holistically at the controls they have in place. We’ll spend time digging into the sensitive data they hold. Is it credit card information, healthcare information, or other financial information? Where is it stored?” Graf said. “For large distributed companies with legacy systems, the data can be all over the place. We would help them address that.”

CNA Cyber Solutions

Beyond obtaining comprehensive insurance coverage, the biggest benefit companies gain through partnerships with experienced carriers is access to risk control services. In addition to its in-house team of cyber professionals, CNA also partners with third party security services to help insureds strengthen system defenses.

“We take pride in our risk control teams and services,” Graf said. “Our employees are all specialists in their field.” Graf himself is a certified ethical hacker, while 16 other specialists are certified information privacy technologists.

“We’ve partnered with the International Association of Privacy Professionals to certify additional staff as well,” he said.

In addition to risk professionals and an experienced underwriting staff, CNA has also earned a reputation for its claims management team. “Claims services are ultimately what you’re paying for when you buy an insurance policy. We strive to provide a good experience – fair and fast – for clients, from start to finish,” Lea said.

First- and third-party coverages are also available through CNA’s NetProtect cyber liability policy.

To learn more, visit: www.cna.com/cyber.

One or more of the CNA companies provide the products and/or services described. The information is intended to present a general overview for illustrative purposes only. It is not intended to constitute a binding contract. Please remember that only the relevant insurance policy can provide the actual terms, coverages, amounts, conditions and exclusions for an insured. All products and services may not be available in all states and may be subject to change without notice. “CNA” is a service mark registered by CNA Financial Corporation with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Certain CNA Financial Corporation subsidiaries use the “CNA” service mark in connection with insurance underwriting and claims activities. Copyright © 2017 CNA. All rights reserved.


This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with CNA. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

Serving business and professionals since 1897, CNA is the commercial insurance carrier of choice for more than 1 million businesses and professionals worldwide.

Employment Practices


Sexual harassment is a growing concern for corporate America. Risk managers can pave the way to top-down culture change.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 12 min read

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements opened up Pandora’s Box, launching countless public scandals and accusations. The stories that continue to emerge paint an unflattering picture of corporate America and the culture of sexual harassment that has permeated it for decades.


“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it,” reads the official tagline of Time’s Up, one of the most vocal groups demanding change.

The GoFundMe campaign that supports the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund raised more than $16.7 million in less than a month, making it the most successful GoFundMe initiative on record.

Funds will be used to help victims of sexual harassment and assault bring legal action against harassers, as well as provide public relations consultation to manage any media attention such suits might attract.

The problem was never really a secret.

In surveys conducted since 1980 by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 40 percent of women and 15 percent of men consistently reported being sexually harassed at work.

In a sweeping meta-analysis of 25 years’ worth of research data, published in “Personnel Psychology,” an average of 25 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. When respondents were given clear definitions of harassing behavior, that figure shot up to 60 percent.

The current climate is just now pushing awareness to the forefront. It was reported last November that law firms in the nation’s capital are seeing a spike in inquiries about sexual harassment cases.

Laura Coppola, regional head of commercial management liability in North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website is seeing visits to its harassment web page double.

There’s no question the costs to businesses can be staggering. Twenty-First Century Fox reportedly incurred $50 million in costs tied to the settlement of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations in its Fox News division, as well as a $90 million settlement of shareholder claims arising from sexual harassment scandals.

In June, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing that it had $224 million in costs during the fiscal year related to “management and employee transitions and restructuring” at business units, including the group that houses Fox News.

If time is indeed up, it won’t just impact Hollywood, Silicon Valley or Capitol Hill. It will impact every workplace, in every industry.

“It affects everybody,” said Marie-France Gelot, senior vice president and insurance & claims counsel for Lockton’s Northeast Claims Advisory Group.

“I think anybody in corporate America — at some point — has seen it or been aware of it or been around it.”

“This particular phenomenon is certainly at a much wider scope than we’ve seen in the last decade or so,” said Laura Coppola, regional head of commercial management liability in North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty.

“This is going to touch many industries, many segments, and many people.”

Employers are beginning to wonder if their workplace could be next.

“I think if you’d been asking [insureds] a year ago, ‘Are you interested in hearing about sexual harassment prevention?’ I think the answer would have been, ‘No, we’re good, we’ve got it,’ ” said Bob Graham, vice president, HUB International Limited.

“But I think now everyone’s saying ‘Sure, yes, we’d like to hear something.’ ”

Leading the Conversation

As American workplaces come under increasing scrutiny, the time is ripe for a large-scale pivot in the way employers manage risks related to sexual harassment.

The co-chairs of the EEOC’s select task force on the study of harassment in the workplace expressed it aptly in 2016:

“With legal liability long ago established, with reputational harm from harassment well known, with an entire cottage industry of workplace compliance and training adopted and encouraged for 30 years, why does so much harassment persist and take place in so many of our workplaces? And, most important of all, what can be done to prevent it? After 30 years — is there something we’ve been missing?”

Experts in the management liability field unanimously told Risk & Insurance® these issues should be elevated to the board level and the C-suite.

“Just as cyber liability shifted rapidly from an IT discussion to a board level discussion, so too will the harassment and discrimination discussion go beyond HR and be elevated to the highest levels,” said Coppola. It will become a corporate-wide, enterprise-wide conversation.

“It’s going to take some time to get to that board level, but it’s going to have to happen,” said Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services.

“Risk management and HR cannot go down parallel paths, not understanding one another. Not anymore. There’s too much at stake.” — Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services

Risk managers, said Kelly Thoerig, U.S. employment practices liability coverage leader, Marsh, are well suited to lead this conversation, which means actively partnering with human resources, the legal department, the general counsel’s office and outside counsel.


“Just like the quarterback depends on the offensive line, on receivers, on the running backs, it’s not a one-man show,” said King. “This can’t be the risk manager operating in a vacuum; they have to be liaising with multiple parts of the organization.”

Added King, “Risk management and HR cannot go down parallel paths, not understanding one another. Not anymore. There’s too much at stake.”

Connecting with outside counsel can also be of great benefit to risk managers, said Coppola.

“[They can] provide a very independent objective view of what they see in the overall market and how their knowledge of the individual client’s best practices can be improved and enhanced to ensure that they are protecting employees and the organization.”

Brokers and carriers also may be able to offer insights and services. Unfortunately, that piece is often lost because risk management and HR are siloed.

“The [knowledge of the] services that come with the insurance policy end up with the policy — in a drawer in the risk manager’s office,” said Tom Hams, employment practice liability insurance leader, Aon.

“HR doesn’t know that they exist. Even if they’re just online blogs or something like that, they could be more meaningful to the HR department than they are to risk management.

“So it’s important to make sure that companies are aware they’ve got those tools and — more importantly — to share them internally.”

Expediting Cultural Change

The X factor that underpins every aspect of these efforts is culture, experts agreed.

“It’s not so much ‘does the company have best-in-class policies and procedures in place;’ I think many of them do. I think that a significant change needed is doing a full overhaul of corporate culture, and that’s no small feat,” said Gelot.

Paul King, national practice leader, management and professional services, USI Insurance Services

True culture change can only come from the top level. But that isn’t likely to happen unless everyone at the top understands what the scope of the exposure could be if it’s not addressed appropriately on the front end. And for that, money talks, said Thoerig, who will be presenting on the topic at RIMS 2018 in San Antonio.

“Nothing is more instructive than real tangible claims examples and settlement amounts. Arm yourself with … recent, relevant claims examples specific to the industry and the jurisdictions the company operates in.”

In addition, said King, HR and legal should be regularly feeding claims information to risk managers to share at quarterly meetings of the board and give specific updates around these issues.

Armed with that level of intelligence, top brass can set the goals that will drive all anti-harassment efforts, said experts, putting an emphasis on identifying and correcting behavior that could potentially expose a company to liability.

Better Training and Reporting 

The best anti-harassment programs are multilayered, said Hams, with each facet carefully tailored to suit the employee population, the industry and the organization’s goals. A clearly defined policy is essential, stating that harassment will not be tolerated and neither will retaliation against those who report it.

The policy should be clear that employees are expected to report harassment or unacceptable behavior. Hams said he’s seen companies go so far as to state employees who don’t speak up are in violation of the policy.

“At least it should give them pause to stop and think about what they might have seen before they click the button or sign the document,” he said.

Companies should consider how uncomfortable employees may be about speaking up. An open-door policy is a start.

But there should also be multiple reporting points throughout the organization, said Hams, and an anonymous hotline for those reluctant to bring the matter up with anyone in their chain of command, and a multilingual hotline as well.

An effective training plan will have multiple moving parts and should touch every level of the organization from the executive suite to managers and supervisors to the rank and file. Comprehensive training is especially critical for the managers and supervisors who might receive or investigate complaints.

Many large employers already have training programs that can be considered best-in-class. Small to midsized employers, however, may still be using the cookie-cutter compliance-centric training that has dominated the field for decades.

The goal of this training is to hit all the bases related to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, ticking off a list of acts or speech that would be considered illegal and affirming the company will not tolerate illegal behavior.

Overwhelmingly though, this type of training misses the mark. Studies have shown that this one-size-fits-all training is ineffective, especially when it’s a rote check-the-box exercise. Employees get the message their employer doesn’t take the subject too seriously.

Worse, it can even aggravate tensions, creating more discriminatory behavior from men who avoid working with women just to eliminate the chance of being accused of anything.

One study even found that men were more likely to place blame on the victim of sexual abuse after they’d received that type of anti-harassment training.

Even at best, compliance-centric training will still fail, because it only addresses behaviors that violate the law. But there is a broad array of behavior that — while not quite illegal — shouldn’t be tolerated.

When this kind of activity is allowed to flourish unchecked, the environment becomes increasingly toxic for those on the receiving end. It also tells employees that the company will tolerate harassment as long as it’s not overly egregious. In that case, it’s just a matter of time before the company is faced with a serious claim.

“Nothing is more instructive than real tangible claims examples and settlement amounts. Arm yourself with … recent, relevant claims examples specific to the industry and the jurisdictions the company operates in.” — Kelly Thoerig, U.S. employment practices liability coverage leader, Marsh

In its 2016 report, the EEOC’s harassment task force recommended changing tactics, exploring alternative training models such as respect-based civility training — what some call professionalism training.


The theory is “if you train them to act in a professional manner, these things tend not to happen at all,” said Hams.

The EEOC also suggested bystander intervention training, which is designed to empower employees to intervene when they witness harassing behavior.

Experts agreed whatever training programs or modules a company chooses, it’s important the training material reflect the workforce and be continuous and regularly refreshed.

A certification scheme also should be put in place to ensure the training is hitting the mark. While the law does not yet require companies to prove the effectiveness of their programs, some suggest it’s only a matter of time before the courts catch up to the problem.

What’s more, said Coppola, it’s simply the right thing to do for companies that want to confirm they’ve created a culture where all employees can expect to be treated professionally.

Zero Tolerance

Gelot and others believe a zero-tolerance policy should be a key component of an effective anti-harassment program.

“There are many companies that have Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers and Kevin Spaceys working in their midst and those people are tolerated. Employees know about them — it’s not a secret.”

Bob Graham, vice president, HUB International Limited

Particularly when the harasser is a high-level executive, companies may wrestle with the decision to look the other way or lose a key rainmaker. In a zero-tolerance environment — one that starts at the top — the decision would be clear.

“What we saw with Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose — they were terminated immediately as the accusations came out. That’s zero tolerance. That’s sending a message to all of the employees within the company that this is completely unacceptable, we won’t tolerate it, and [it] clearly sends a message to the public at large.”

Employers should promote a workplace culture where all forms of harassment and discrimination are unacceptable and reportable, said Gelot. That’s the only way to take the fear and the stigma out of reporting.

That said, the EEOC offers a word of caution on zero-tolerance policies applied militantly without regard for common sense. Employers should hash out the specifics of which acts merit immediate termination versus a warning.

Overzealous application of the zero-tolerance doctrine can backfire if an employee fears her coworker’s children will go hungry if she reports his lewd or sexist jokes.

Creating a Dialogue

As with managing any other exposure that touches everyone, robust sharing of ideas and best practices has the power to improve the risk profile of entire industry sectors.

Facebook raised eyebrows in December, making public its sexual harassment policy in full.

“I hope in sharing it we will start a discussion, both to help smaller companies thinking about this for the first time, and to improve our own practices by learning from other companies,” wrote Lori Goler, Facebook’s global VP of people, about the company’s bold move.


That level of disclosure is making some risk professionals uncomfortable. But others acknowledge the wisdom of it.

“Any time you can share best practices that’s probably a great idea, because no one has all the answers … or at least not all the right answers,” said Graham.

“There’s a reason they did that, and I think it’s for all the right, positive reasons. They want to drive the momentum that is going to reduce or even eliminate what we have seen in corporate America over the last 50-plus years. They want to lead by example, they want to be the model and rightly so,” added Coppola.

“I think we are at a perfect time in our economic environment that allows the evolution of equality in our workplace.”

Part of that should involve making the workplace more egalitarian, said Gelot, and figuring out “how to make female employees not feel ostracized by a ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere, and actively championing the ascension of women into senior rolls.”

“We can’t focus on the past,” said Coppola. “But we can work very hard collectively as a community, and within the insurance industry specifically, to move forward.” &

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