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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.

Risk Report: Entertainment

On With the Show

Entertainment companies are attractive and vulnerable targets for cyber criminals.
By: | December 14, 2017 • 7 min read

Recent hacks on the likes of Sony, HBO and Netflix highlight the vulnerability entertainment companies have to cyber attack. The threat can take many forms, from the destruction or early release of stolen content to the sabotage of broadcast, production or streaming feeds.

Brian Taliaferro, entertainment and hospitality specialist, JLT Specialty USA

“Cyber attacks are becoming the biggest emerging threat for entertainment companies, bringing risk to reputations, bottom lines and the product itself,” said Brian Taliaferro, entertainment and hospitality specialist, JLT Specialty USA.

For most entertainment firms, intellectual property (IP) is the crown jewel that must be protected at all costs, though risk profiles vary by sub-sector. Maintaining an uninterrupted service may be the biggest single concern for live broadcasters and online streaming providers, for example.

In the case of Sony, North Korea was allegedly behind the leak of stolen private information in 2014 in response to a film casting leader Kim Jong Un in what it considered an unfavorable light.

This year, Netflix and HBO both faced pre-broadcast leaks of popular TV series, and Netflix last year also had its systems interrupted by a hack.


Online video game platforms are also ripe for attack, with Steam admitting that 77,000 of its gamer accounts are hacked every month.

The list goes on and will only get more extensive over time.

Regardless of the platform, any cyber attack that prevents companies from producing or distributing content as planned can have huge financial implications, particularly when it comes to major releases and marquee content, which can make or break a financial year.

“People and culture are the biggest challenges but also the keys to success.” — David Legassick, head of life science, technology and cyber, CNA Hardy

The bottom line, said David Legassick, head of life science, technology and cyber, CNA Hardy, is that these firms have a combination of both assets and business models that are inherently open to attack.

“Vulnerabilities exist at every point in the supply chain because it’s all tech-dependent,” he said, adding that projects often run on public schedules, allowing criminals to time their attacks to maximize impact.

“The combination of IP, revenue and reputation risk make entertainment a hot sector for cyber criminals.”

Touch Point Vulnerabilities

Film, TV, literary and music projects invariably involve numerous collaborators and third-party vendors at every stage, from development to distribution. This creates multiple touchpoints through which hackers could gain access to materials or systems.

According to Kyle Bryant, regional cyber manager, Europe, for Chubb, there is nothing unique about the type of attack media companies suffer — usually non-targeted ransomware attacks with a demand built in.

“However, once inside, the hackers often have a goldmine to exploit,” he said.

He added targeted attacks can be more damaging, however. Some sophisticated types of ransomware attack, for example, are tailored to detect certain file types to extract or destroy.

“NotPetya was designed to be non-recoverable. For a media company, it could be critical if intellectual property is destroyed.”


As entertainment companies have large consumer bases, they are also attractive targets for ideological attackers wishing to spread messages by hijacking websites and other media, he added.

They also have vast quantities of personal information on cast and crew, including celebrities, which may also have monetary value for hackers.

“It is essential to identify the most critical information assets and then put a value on them. After that, it is all about putting protection in place that matches the level of concern,” Bryant advised.

As with any cyber risk, humans are almost always the biggest point of vulnerability, so training staff to identify risks such as suspicious messages and phishing scams, as well as security and crisis response protocols, is essential. Sources also agree it is vital for entertainment companies to give responsibility for cyber security to a C-suite executive.

“People and culture are the biggest challenges but also the keys to success,” said Legassick.

“Managing the cyber threat is not a job that can just be left to the IT team. It must come from the top and pervade every aspect of how a company works.”

David Legassick, head of life science, technology and cyber, CNA Hardy

Joe DePaul, head of cyber, North America, Willis Towers Watson, suggested entertainment companies adopt a “holistic, integrated approach to cyber risk management,” which includes clearly defining processes and conducting background checks on the cyber security of any third party that touches the IP.

This includes establishing that the third parties understand the importance of the media they are handling and have appropriate physical and non-physical security at least equal to the IP owner in place. These requirements should also be written into contracts with vendors, he added.

“The touchpoints in creating content used to be much more open and collaborative, but following the events of the last few years, entertainment firms have rapidly introduced cyber and physical security to create a more secure environment,” said Ryan Griffin, cyber specialist, JLT Specialty USA.

“These companies are dealing with all the issues large data aggregators have dealt with for years. Some use secure third-party vendors, while others build their own infrastructure. Those who do business securely and avoid leaks can gain an advantage over their competitors.”

Quantification Elusive

If IP is leaked or destroyed, there is little that can be done to reverse the damage. Insurance can cushion the financial blow, though full recovery is very difficult to achieve in the entertainment space, as quantifying the financial impact is so speculative.

As Bill Boeck, insurance and claims counsel, Lockton, pointed out, there are only “a handful of underwriters in the world that would even consider writing this risk,” and sources agreed that even entertainment firms themselves struggle to put a monetary value on this type of exposure.

“The actual value of the IP taken isn’t generally going to be covered unless you have negotiated a bespoke policy,” said Boeck.

“If you’re in season five of a series with a track record and associated income stream, that is much easier, but putting a value on a new script, series or novel is difficult.”

Companies for whom live feeds or streaming are the primary source of revenue may find it easier to recoup losses. Determining the cost of a hack of that sort of service is a more easily quantifiable business interruption loss based on minutes, hours, ad dollars and subscription fees.


Brokers and insurers agree that while the cyber insurance market has not to date developed specific entertainment products, underwriters are open for negotiation when it comes to covering IP. The ball is therefore in the insured’s court to bring the most accurate projections to the table.

“Clients can get out of the insurance market what they bring to the equation. If you identify your concerns and what you want to get from insurance, the market will respond,” said Bryant.And according to Griffin, entertainment companies are working with their brokers to improve forecasts for the impact of interruptions and IP hacks and to proactively agree to terms with underwriters in advance.

However, Legassick noted that many entertainment firms still add cyber extensions to their standard property policies to cover non-physical damage business interruption, and many may not have the extent of coverage they need.

Crisis Response

Having a well-planned and practiced crisis response plan is critical to minimizing financial and reputational costs. This should involve the input of experienced, specialist third parties, as well as numerous internal departments.

Ryan Griffin, cyber specialist, JLT Specialty USA

“The more business operation leaders can get involved the better,” said Griffin.

Given the entertainment industry’s highly public nature, “it is critically important that the victim of a hack brings in a PR firm to communicate statements both outside and within the organization,” said Boeck, while DePaul added that given that most cyber attacks are not detected for 200-plus days, bringing in a forensic investigator to determine what happened is also essential.

Indeed, said Griffin, knowing who perpetrated the attack could help bring the event to a swifter and cheaper conclusion.

“Is it a nation state upset about the way it’s been portrayed or criminals after a quick buck? Understanding your enemy’s motivation is important in mitigating the damage.”

Some hackers, he noted, have in the past lived up to their word and released encryption keys to unlock stolen data if ransoms are paid. Inevitably, entertainment firms won’t always get so lucky.

Given the potentially catastrophic stakes, it is little surprise these firms are now waking up to the need for robust crisis plans and Fort Knox-level security for valuable projects going forward. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]