Risk Scenario

Stabbed in the Back

Internal perpetrators show a company just what it doesn’t know about cyber risk management.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Part One: Opportunity Knocks

Jack Fisk, nice and warm in the comfort of his study in Fort Collins, Colorado, sat and stared at the message in his personal email account inbox. He sat and stared at it for a long time.

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Jack took a sip of herbal tea and a nibble of the lemon cookie at his elbow. Then he went back to staring at the message. There it was in black and white, an offer from a Chinese national — an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse.

As a lead engineer with Super Diamond, a manufacturer of mining and drilling equipment, Jack was an integral part of a team that developed one of the most effective drilling bits ever made. The bit, used in gold mining and deep-sea oil extraction, was helping to push Super Diamond into record-breaking revenue territory.

There was only one problem and it was a very big one, for Jack at least. Super Diamond’s top line was breaking records, but Jack Fisk felt left out. Where were his millions, he wondered.

Well here they were. He didn’t know how they found him, but they found him.

The deal was this. Hand over some of Super Diamond’s top-secret product information and receive a seven-figure reward.

As Jack considered the offer, he felt entirely justified in taking it. It was his creativity and knowledge, more than anyone else’s, which led to the product breakthrough. He was sure of it. He knew it in his gut.

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Here’s what Jack didn’t know. Another employee of Super Diamond, an IT executive based in Mumbai, was looking at a very similar email. This employee, Vijay Bhakta, enjoyed super-user status within Super Diamond’s computer networks, with access to all of its servers.

The Chinese had done their homework. Jack, married with two children, lived a pretty straight life. The lure of a big paycheck was more than enough for him.

Vijay enjoyed a riskier lifestyle. Money was a good motivator for him, but just as compelling were the offers of drugs and prostitutes the Chinese were dangling in front of him.

In approaching Vijay, the Chinese were after more than product information. They wanted access to Super Diamond’s customer list and information on its entire product line, not just the drilling bits that Jack helped develop.

Both executives, unbeknownst to the other, took the bait.

For the next 18 months, Jack used the time-honored method of downloading proprietary information onto a thumb drive, walking out the door with it, and painstakingly sending it to his Chinese contact using his personal email address in the quiet comfort of his study at home.

The Bitcoin payments from the Chinese, amounting to $2.7 million in 18 months, arrive faithfully. Jack uploads his company’s precious trade secrets just as faithfully.

Vijay is introduced to a hacker who, armed with the IT exec’s user information and passcodes, invades Super Diamond’s system at will over the same time period.

Vijay is also faithfully compensated, with cash drops and services meeting his other needs, under the terms of his agreement with the Chinese.

At the end of 18 months, fully exploiting their two points of entry, the Chinese own the keys to the Super Diamond kingdom. They know how to make a number of Super Diamond’s products and they know exactly who to sell them to and at what price.

Part Two: A Chilling Recognition

Super Diamond’s risk manager, Cathleen Sunbury, is enjoying an invigorating game of tennis with a friend on a sunlit court in San Diego, when she gets an urgent text from the company’s COO.

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“Please get to the office, ASAP,” says the message. “Urgent.”

A chill runs through Cathleen.

“Uh oh,” she says, as she and her friend grab a water break courtside.

“What is it?” her friend says.

“I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t look good,” Cathleen says. “I gotta go.”

“Is this because I was winning?” her friend asks.

That would normally be a funny jibe between friends. It’s not today.

At the office, other company executives share with Cathleen what they know. Sales in several of Super Diamond’s key Asian markets have suddenly softened.

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There is also an indication that the company suffered an IT breach, but the extent of it is difficult to ascertain. Whoever broke in did a great job of covering their tracks. What was accessed and what was taken appear to be unknowns. The company’s IT department is at a loss.

“I know who to call,” Sunbury says, banking on a conversation she had with a former higher-up in the FBI who now works for a cyber forensics firm in Philadelphia.

The Super Diamond CEO and CFO initially balk at the forensic firm’s price tag.

The vice president of the forensic firm, who led key cyber investigations for the FBI before entering the private sector, snorts in derision.

“Your company is horrible at this,” the forensics VP says.

“Your IT department has no idea what happened and it will take them months to figure it out,” he says.

“It’s looking like you have an internal perpetrator, possibly more than one. How much longer can you afford to wait to determine what’s going on?”

The phrase “possibly more than one” overwhelms any resistance on the part of the CFO and the CEO. They sign on the dotted line with the forensics firm.

The forensic firm gets right to work. To connect the dots they pull records from a number of departments, including Human Resources and Security.

They also have their own cyber security specialist take a look at the Super Diamond network to see who might have compromised it.

It takes the forensics firm two days to come up with two names: Jack Fisk and Vijay Bhakta.

Part Three: Gone, Gone, Gone

Jack Fisk and Vijay Bhakta are dismissed and face criminal charges. As painful as that is for company executives, that’s the easy part.

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What comes next for Cathleen Sunbury in her role as risk manager is far more painstaking, and far more painful.

The forensics team is able to match up human resources records, including data on when Vijay Bhakta and Jack Fisk were in the office, against data on computer use, including when an outside device was connected to Jack Fisk’s computer.

That left no doubt that the product information and additional company information that was taken from Super Diamond was the work of inside perpetrators.

The “good” news is that Super Diamond executives now understand what happened. The bad news is that their insurance policies are inadequate to cover the loss.

Determining the value of what was taken, including the cost of lost sales, is difficult, but Super Diamond executives settle on a figure of $200 million.

The company’s cyber breach policy, though, covers an occurrence in the event of a breach from an outside hacker. Bhakta and Fisk are internal perpetrators, and thus the company is not covered, its carrier says.

Compounding the pain, Super Diamond shareholders file suit against Super Diamond executives and board members. The shareholders argue that the board and the C-suites failed to take adequate measures to protect proprietary company information.

The company’s E&O and D&O policies respond to the costs of the lawsuits. But the company faces punishing premium increases for both E&O and D&O coverage going forward.

Sales are depressed, due to the theft of key intellectual property, and getting good cyber coverage at a reasonable price is flat-out impossible.

Super Diamond settles for a premium increase to cover both external and internal hacks that is 400 percent more than it faced the previous year.

Worn out by the process of determining the loss and trying to get coverage for a company that is bleeding money; Cathleen Sunbury resigns.

“I don’t know who we’re going to get to replace you,” the CEO says.

“I don’t know either,” Sunbury says, meaning no disrespect but feeling utterly defeated.

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Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

Super Diamond’s Cathleen Sunbury might still have her job and her company would be in much better shape had she partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Swiss Re, in addition to offering cyber insurance coverage that would have covered an internal perpetrator incident such as the one detailed in “Stabbed in the Back,” would also advise Sunbury and her fellow executives at Super Diamond on being much better prepared to defend against and respond to it.

Having a forensics team, a crisis (breach) communications partner and the right law firm lined up ahead of time would have saved the company a lot of time and trouble. Swiss Re offers all of that as part of its coverage.

In just one example, imagine the costs that Super Diamond will incur if it has to go after Vijay Bhakta and Jack Fisk in civil court, or what it’s going to spend defending itself against shareholder lawsuits.

Swiss Re Corporate Solutions would have paid for Super Diamond’s legal defense, compensated it for lost revenue, and paid for data reconstitution and additional legal costs as part of its CyberSolutions product.

The lost sales in Asia that Super Diamond experiences when Jack Fisk sells its intellectual property to a Chinese national would also be covered under that policy.

On the front end, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions would work with Super Diamond to identify which of its mining or drilling technologies were most valuable; in other words, naming the “crown jewels” that the company absolutely could not afford to lose control of. That would also involve ascertaining where those “jewels” are stored and who has access to them.

The upfront work would also include the services of experts with IBM who can conduct penetration tests of the company’s IT systems.

In essence, companies everywhere need to understand that any gap in its preparedness or ability to respond creates liability. There is not only the initial liability of a loss or a penetration, there is the multiplying liability of shareholders, or regulators, holding the company responsible for its negligence.

By partnering with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and picking up its CyberSolutions product, Super Diamond would have bolstered its risk mitigation and vastly improved the efficiency of its response.

No company is safe from a cyber penetration; the record is clear on that.  But experts say many companies have a lot of ground to make up to become more vigilant and better coordinated to bounce back when an incident occurs.

No entity can do this on its own. Pick the right partner(s).




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]