Cyber Risks

Analyzing Cyber Risk Coverage

Unlike other types of insurance, there is no standard form on which the insurance industry as a whole underwrites cyber coverage.
By: | March 13, 2015 • 10 min read

Many companies are now taking a close look at the protections provided by cyber risk insurance policies — some for the first time — as data breach incidents and related cyber risks continue to increase and gain publicity, and as government agencies become more actively involved in policing the corporate response.

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Although cyber coverage is a relatively new product in the insurance marketplace, there are now roughly 50 insurance carriers that offer it (although the amounts of coverage available often are limited).

These policies are sold under a number of different names, including “cyber risk,” “information security,” “privacy,” and “media liability” coverage.  Unlike other types of insurance, there is no standard form on which the insurance industry as a whole underwrites cyber coverage.

These policies are sold under a number of different names, including “cyber risk,” “information security,” “privacy,” and “media liability” coverage.

While this provides some challenges to buying coverage, especially for the uninitiated, it often provides more room for negotiation of the terms of cyber policies than many other types of coverage.

Most cyber policies currently in the marketplace offer some combination of traditional liability coverage protecting against claims by third parties, and first-party coverage protecting against losses suffered by the insured.

There also are important terms and conditions of cyber policies that can have a significant impact on available coverage.  While no company can reasonably expect to secure every available component of coverage, awareness of differences among the policies being offered is critical to maximizing premium dollars spent.

While not exhaustive, some of the important features to be mindful of when shopping for cyber coverage include:

Third-Party (Liability) Coverages

Privacy liability coverage. This includes liability to the insured’s customers, clients and employees for breaches of their private information which can be a major component of liability in the case of a data breach.

Seeking trigger language that focuses on the insured’s failure to protect confidential information, regardless of the cause (e.g., “any failure to protect”), rather than language requiring an intentional breach, is advisable.

Also, some (but not all) cyber policies also provide coverage for the insured’s failure to disclose a breach in accordance with privacy laws.

Policies that include defense from the earliest stages of an investigation, typically including a civil investigative demand or similar request for information, are preferable.

Regulatory actions. There is substantial variance among cyber policies regarding whether and to what extent they provide coverage for regulatory and other governmental actions. Even where covered, some policies require that the action be initiated by a formal “suit” in order to trigger the defense obligation.

This limitation typically would preclude defense of the investigative stage of government actions — which often is the most expensive stage for the entity being investigated.

Policies that include defense from the earliest stages of an investigation, typically including a civil investigative demand or similar request for information, are preferable.

It also bears noting that civil fines and penalties are covered under many cyber policies, and companies should be mindful of this if an insurer seeks to exclude such coverage.

Notification costs. This coverage includes the costs of notifying third parties potentially affected by a data breach. There is an ever-increasing and constantly evolving landscape of breach notification laws on a state-by-state basis.

This coverage is included in most cyber policies.  However, many policies, often by endorsement, limit the number of individuals that must be notified and the method(s) of notification.  Some policies also may vest some control over the notification process (which is often sensitive to the insured) with the insurer.

These limitations could leave a company absorbing at least some of the notification costs if a breach occurs, and may require it to relinquish some control over the notification process.

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Crisis management. This coverage includes the costs of managing the public relations outfall from most data breach scenarios. Most, but not all, cyber policies contain some form of this coverage.

The insured sometimes is required to choose from a pre-determined list of vendors.  In most cases, if the insured chooses another vendor, the insurer is not required to pay for the services.  However, this restriction may be negotiable.

Call centers. This coverage may be included within the notification and crisis management coverages, may be a stand-alone coverage, or may not be provided at all.

Because this tends to be one of the higher costs associated with data breaches, it is important to identify whether this coverage is expressly provided and any applicable limitations (including the number of affected persons who are eligible to receive call center services, the hours and locations of the call center, and the specific services the call center staff will provide).

Credit/identity monitoring. This coverage is included in most cyber policies, but again, may be limited for the number of affected individuals that can receive the services and the prescribed vendors that are available.

Transmission of viruses/malicious code. As its name suggests, this coverage protects against liability claims alleging damages from transmission of viruses and other malicious code or data. Not all cyber policies have this coverage.

However, before making it a priority, a company should consider the extent to which its operating systems realistically have the potential to be a source of this type of liability.

First-Party Coverages

Theft and fraud coverage. Covers certain of the costs of theft or destruction of the insured’s data and theft of the insured’s funds.

Forensic investigation. Covers the costs of determining the cause of a loss of data.

Network/business interruption. Covers the costs of business lost and additional expense due to an interruption of the insured’s computer systems. Some cyber policies require that the interruption be caused by an intentional cyber attack and some do not.

There typically are limitations to this coverage, including a requirement that the interruption last a minimal length of time before coverage incepts, and the total length of an interruption that will be covered.  This coverage may also include contingent business expenses.

Extortion. Covers the costs of “ransom” if a third party demands payment to refrain from publicly disclosing or causing damage to the insured’s confidential electronic data.

Data loss and restoration. This component — included in some but not all cyber policies — covers the costs of restoring data if it is lost, and in some cases, diagnosing and repairing the cause of the loss. It typically is subject to a substantial retention, and may be limited in terms of the cause of the data loss at issue.

The claims-made type polices typically are more restrictive in terms of the events that can trigger coverage, and the timing of resulting claims in relation to the loss may limit or preclude available coverage.

Other Key Provisions

Trigger — loss or claim. Cyber policies typically are triggered either by an event that results in the loss of data, or a “claim” arising from the event that is made against the insured (or made against the insured and reported to the insurer) during the policy period.

The claims-made type polices typically are more restrictive in terms of the events that can trigger coverage, and the timing of resulting claims in relation to the loss may limit or preclude available coverage.  Thus, the loss type policy is preferable, even though this coverage may be more expensive.

Trigger — defense. In some cyber policies, the defense obligation is triggered by a “suit,” which requires a lawsuit or written demand against the insured. This definition may preclude defense of a claim that has yet to ripen into a lawsuit or written demand (where much of the defense costs on a particular matter may be spent).

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If available, less restrictive defense language is preferable.  As noted above, in some cyber policies, the “suit” limitation does not apply to governmental actions (such as investigations), which make this language somewhat more acceptable to some companies.

Defense — choice of counsel. In some cyber policies, defense costs are covered only to the extent that the insured chooses from the insurer’s (sometimes short) list of “panel” law firms. If the insured chooses a different firm, its defense costs probably will not be covered.

Given the substantial costs likely to be associated with a significant data breach (which could exceed the limits of the policy), the insured ideally will have substantive input in the choice of counsel.

Accordingly, policies with more balanced choice of counsel language (e.g., the insured and the insurer shall mutually agree on defense counsel and if they cannot agree, the insured shall choose counsel for which the insurer shall pay up to a set hourly rate) are preferable.

Retroactive coverage. Cyber policies often contain a “retroactive date.” Losses arising from events prior to the retroactive date will not be covered.  Insurers often fix the retroactive date at the initial date of coverage by the insurer, although the insured may be able to negotiate a retroactive date further back in time.

Acts and omissions of third parties. Acts or omissions of third parties may not be covered expressly, or even may be excluded, under some cyber policies.

By way of example, if a company uses the services of a third-party vendor to maintain its confidential customer or employee information in the “cloud” and the vendor experiences a data breach, the company could be sued by its customers or employees, and may not have any coverage.

Some cyber policies provide coverage for breaches of data maintained by third parties as long as there is a written agreement between the insured and the vendor to provide such services.  If a company relies on any third parties to maintain any of its confidential information, it should consider seeking a policy that expressly covers breaches of data maintained by third parties.

Moreover, any self-insured retention language applicable to this coverage should be clear that any payments made by the third party indemnifying the company for loss sustained by the breach count toward satisfaction of the retention.

Coverage for unencrypted devices. Many cyber policies exclude coverage for data lost from unencrypted devices. Cyber coverage without this limitation is preferable.

Coverage for corporations and other entities. Many cyber policies define covered persons, for liability purposes, to include only natural persons. However, entities affected by data breaches may include corporations and other business entities.

Companies should consider seeking coverage that appropriately defines the scope of entities potentially affected by a data breach.

Policy territory – occurrences outside the United States. Even if a purchaser does not operate outside the Unites States, its employees may lose their laptops, PDAs and other electronic devices containing confidential information (or have them stolen) while traveling abroad.

Many cyber policies restrict the applicable coverage territory to the United States and its territories.  Companies should ensure that its cyber policy provides coverage even if the loss or theft of confidential information at issue occurs outside the United States.

Breaches not related to electronic records. Some cyber liability policies restrict coverage to loss or theft of electronic data. However, many breaches occur as a result of loss or theft of paper (or other non-electronic) records.  Cyber policies covering both are preferable.

Location of security failure. Coverage under some cyber policies is limited to physical theft of data from company premises. This could be problematic in a number of situations, including theft of a laptop, PDA or external drive from an airport or an employee’s home.

Other policies limit coverage for data breaches resulting from password theft to situations where the theft occurs by non-electronic means.  Companies purchasing cyber policies should be wary of these types of limitations, which may not seem particularly pernicious on initial review but could be extremely costly.

Exclusions for generalized acts or omissions. Some cyber policies exclude coverage for losses arising from: (i) shortcomings in security of which the insured was aware prior to the inception of coverage; (ii) the insured’s failure to take reasonable steps to design, maintain and upgrade its security; and (iii) certain failures of security software.

Because this type of exclusionary language at least arguably is overly broad, lacking in adequate definition, and potentially subjective in application, it should be limited appropriately by negotiation or avoided altogether.

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Exclusions for acts of terrorism or war. This is a common type of exclusion in cyber policies. It is unclear to what extent insurers will rely on these exclusions when data breach result from an organized attack by a foreign nation or hostile organization.

Again, the scope of these exclusions should be negotiated appropriately or, if that is not feasible, the company should consider purchasing alternative coverage.

Steve Raptis is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP. He counsels corporate policyholders nationwide on a broad range of insurance-related issues and represents them in complex insurance disputes. He can be reached at [email protected] or 202.585.6550.

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]