Property Risk

Is Your Plant Ready for a Cyber Attack that Causes Physical Damage?

Underwriters and risk managers are beginning to get their arms around the next wave of cyber exposure — an attack that causes property or bodily damage.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 7 min read

When the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline exploded in 2008 in eastern Turkey, it damaged the pipeline in Refahiye, spewed oil into the environment and posed physical harm to firefighters called in to quell the flames.

Cyber attackers apparently hacked into the pipeline’s control system and manipulated valves to increase pressure inside the pipe, while suppressing alarms that would have alerted operators to an error.

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In 2014, an unnamed steel mill in Germany sustained extensive damage after hackers breached the plant’s computer network via a spear phishing email, then infiltrated industrial systems that control operational machinery.  The attack compromised the system so that a blast furnace could not be shut down.

In another well-known incident the year before, the Stuxnet computer virus engineered by U.S. and Israeli forces damaged thousands of centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear power plant, again compromising system controls while making it appear everything was working normally. The virus was introduced through an employee’s thumb drive.

These are only a few examples of cyberattacks that caused physical property damage and potential bodily injury.

“The breaches and cyberattacks we see in the news are usually around the theft of personally identifiable information,” said Tracie Grella, global head of cyber risk insurance at AIG.

“We’ve seen ransomware events, DOS attacks. The data disclosure and business downtime are usually the results of a network breach. But the potential for extensive physical damage is an emerging risk.”

As cyber risk rapidly evolves, the insurance industry is working hard to keep up. However, gray areas remain and there are unanswered questions about how to underwrite and mitigate such a dynamic risk.

Loss Scenarios

“Five to 10 years ago, cyberattacks were motivated primarily by financial gain and access to confidential data,” said Chris O’Byrne, cyber underwriting specialist at FM Global. “This has evolved into more attacks focused on causing business disruption, and others where the goal is physical damage.”

Tracie Grella, global head of cyber risk insurance, AIG

Though every type and size of company is susceptible to a cyberattack, those with industrial-control systems (ICS), such as manufacturers and energy suppliers, may be most vulnerable to an attack intended to cause physical damage. Industrial-control systems are comprised of many components relying on communication between separate computer networks. The less cohesive a system is, the more opportunities arise for hackers to find a way in.

“We’re seeing more reports of malware being written specifically to target these systems,” O’Byrne said.

“Companies first think to look at their GL or property policies for coverage … but these policies really were not designed to respond to cyberattacks.” — Tracie Grella, global head of cyber risk insurance, AIG

“The intent may not be to expressly cause physical damage, but that could certainly be a result.”

The physical damage that could result from an attack on ICS varies. It could be a fire that destroys equipment or a whole facility; it could be the simple wearing down and corrosion of machinery; it could involve environmental damage, or damage to any goods being produced.

“Hackers can spoof sensors by sending false data. They can force cyclical behaviors, like turning something on and off in rapid cycles, which causes machinery to wear out, fuses to be blown, leaking, and in some cases explosion and fire,” said Tom Harvey, product manager of cyber solutions at RMS, the risk modeling firm.

“It could be something as simple as disconnecting safety features,” he said. “Everything would be operating as it should, but there’s the increased risk for bodily injury.”

Spoofing sensors also can cause damaged goods, without harming any machinery or equipment. In a refrigerated truck, for example, hackers would feed sensors false data so they continually record a temperature of 0 degrees, even if it’s 70 inside the truck. An entire shipment of frozen goods would be ruined by the time it reaches its destination.

“It’s not that the refrigeration equipment was broken; it’s that the sensors were fed the wrong information, and no one had any indication that it was false,” said Robert Parisi, cyber product leader at Marsh. “These losses will not fall into the simple buckets in which the insurance community likes to put things.”

The scope of potential losses leaves risk managers wondering what insurance policy, if any, will cover the damage.

Looking for Cover

“The question in insurance becomes: where is that covered?” Grella said.

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The industry has no uniform way to address these losses. Cyber coverage typically excludes physical loss. Property or general liability policies likely cover property damage, even if the underlying trigger was a cyber event. Companies also might find coverage in crime or fidelity policies, if the breach was perpetrated by an employee.

“Companies first think to look at their GL or property policies for coverage, and they may find it there, but these policies really were not designed to respond to cyberattacks,” Grella said.

“Finding silent coverage is not really where insurers or insureds want to be. Clients want to know what they’re buying and what’s covered, and carriers want to know exactly what they’re covering.”

Coverage for cyber-triggered physical losses could extend in two directions. Carriers could begin offering affirmative coverage for cyber events in property policies, or cyber policies could expand to include property damage and bodily injury, not just loss of data, business interruption and other non-physical losses.

Tom Harvey, product manager of cyber solutions, RMS

“Market conditions will dictate that evolution to some degree,” Harvey of RMS said. “At the moment, the property market is very soft, which drives underwriters to try to win more business, which means they’ll be more generous with their cyber coverages. On the other hand, regulators want to ensure underwriting is done properly, with adequate controls in place, which could push property underwriters to move away from cyber endorsements.”

Property and cyber underwriters need to work together to ensure they are managing the risk appropriately. Marsh’s Parisi said some cyber insurers have offered to cover physical loss only if the insured’s property policy does not respond. This shows the industry is recognizing the widening coverage gaps.

“Cyber policies expanding to take in this exposure is the cleanest way to do it,” he said. “We are seeing greater flexibility on the part of the cyber market to adapt to changing loss scenarios that don’t have actuarial data behind them or underwriting standards.”

AIG, Marsh and FM Global are among insurers and brokers offering expanded cyber products designed to affirmatively cover physical harm.

“We’re starting to get more inquiries about our coverage and how it intersects with other cyber policies,” FM Global’s O’Byrne said. “What clients really want is contract certainty.”

Risk Mitigation

RMS has spent the past year modeling the severity of physical losses triggered by a cyberattack, but nailing down the frequency remains a challenge.

“We have developed models to confidently help insurers assess what the severity of cyber-physical events might be,” Harvey said. “RMS are continuing to explore methods of assessing the probability of these rare events as we know both the frequency and severity are critical components of quantifying the risk.”

With cyber risks evolving and uncertainties in the type and scope of losses and coverage gaps, the best approach risk managers can take is to treat cyber like any other operational risk and apply enterprise risk management.

“The best companies approach cyber risk the same way they do currency risk, or political unrest, or weather risk — like any other standard risk,” Parisi said. “Tech-based risks are really no different that any other risk and you need to manage them through the normal risk management channels. Make sure that technology risk is part of the ERM discussion.”

“If you are targeted by a sophisticated group of hackers, they will find a way in. You have to make sure you’re properly covered.” —Tom Harvey, product manager, cyber solutions, RMS

Cross-functional teams including risk management, IT, operations and security should work with senior executives to assess the scope of cyber risk and develop a multi-pronged strategy, O’Byrne said.

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“Buying the newest, shiniest piece of technology won’t necessarily solve your exposure. Assuming that the IT guys will somehow fix it ignores the fact that technology has crept into everything that we do. It’s an active risk to be managed, not a problem to be solved,” he said.

Patching cyber vulnerabilities in industrial-control systems, and separating critical control systems from business networks and other non-critical functions can make it harder for hackers to access machinery and production controls.

Risk managers also should conduct gap analyses to determine if and where they have coverage for physical damage from a cyberattack.

“Your broker or a third-party vendor can provide this service,” Grella of AIG said. “You want to make sure you have a primary policy that provides coverage for physical damage from cyber on an affirmative basis.”

Given the near impossibility of gauging and defending against all cyber exposures as the risk takes on new forms, closing coverage gaps will be the most critical risk management technique.

“If you are targeted by a sophisticated group of hackers, they will find a way in,” Harvey said. “You have to make sure you’re properly covered.” &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She 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]