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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.
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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.

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]