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The Key to Survival in Wild West of Cyber

Today, the question is not will my organization experience a cyber attack, but when, and how. In our digital and connected business world, companies seeking cost efficiency, speed and better customer experience are rapidly connecting more processes, infrastructure and information to the internet. At the same time, the complexity and frequency of cyber attacks continue to rise. You only need to look at the list of recent high-profile attacks to see that companies across industries, from Wall Street banks to healthcare to entertainment, and government entities are being assailed.

This brave new cyber world exposes organizations to a different category of risks and associated liability issues, including the need to cover themselves for loss or exposure of commercially valuable intellectual property or consumer data; misappropriation of trade secrets; privacy violations; losses via third-parties; costs associated with breach notification, forensics, credit monitoring, outside incident response providers, technical remediation, PCI assessments; business interruption costs and system failure; legal proceedings and defending against regulatory actions – to name a few. On top of this, while companies suffering under the weight of a breach understandably feel like victims, it is not always seen that way by the authorities, the marketplace or the media. While dealing with the fallout of an incident, companies often face the additional challenge of defending their actions, protecting their brands and getting claims settled and paid. In this context, long before an event occurs, proper cyber risk mitigation is a best practice for all organizations.

Just like in the Wild West, organizations dealing with cyber risk are operating in a fast, continuously shifting threat landscape, governed by its own set of evolving laws and rules. Even knowing the bandits are out there, organizations continue to be caught off guard by new criminal tactics and attack vectors. Hackers continue to hone their techniques, whether that means obtaining access through the Internet of Things, masterminding more sophisticated social engineering methods or attacking information sources and manipulating data. What is more, the delay between a cyber criminal penetrating a network and being discovered can be considerable: it might take a hacker only eight days to attack a network, but it typically takes six or more months to detect the incident. Financial firms take an average of 98 days to detect a data breach, and retailers can take as much as 197 days, according to the Ponemon Institute and IBM Cost of Data Breach Study. That’s a wealth of time for attackers to inflict significant damage, and it doesn’t look good to regulators, customers and other stakeholders.

See also: Actuaries Beware: Cyber Is Treacherous  

Against this backdrop, cyber insurance is an essential component of a company’s risk management strategy. Even while companies tend to view the likelihood of a loss as higher for information assets than for property, plant and equipment (PP&E) assets, they are more adept at protecting physical assets, with approximately 51% of PP&E assets covered by insurance to only 12% of information assets covered on average, according to the Ponemon Institute’s 2015 Global Cyber Impact Report. One reason for this is that insureds and cyber insurance providers alike struggle with accurately assessing and quantifying cyber risk; despite paying significant premiums, companies remain under-insured. According to the CEO of Lloyd’s of London, cyber-related losses for businesses worldwide were valued at $400 billion in 2015, yet ABI Research estimated that global gross written premiums for cyber insurance that year only totaled around $2 billion.

The lack of data on which to quantify cyber risk means insurers feel they are often writing policies on the back of incomplete information. Unlike in other risk areas such as flood insurance – where historical data means that companies can quantify risk almost to the dollar – developing a strategy to assess and insure against cyber risk is altogether different. And for the insured, selecting a policy is taxing: all policies are not available to all companies, all policies are not equal, and, on top of this, companies are required to demonstrate the existence of sound cyber risk management policies and programs to be eligible for a policy and to claim benefits. These challenges posed by the burgeoning cyber insurance market, and the fact that companies cannot expect to transfer all their cyber risk, mean that they must take a broader, more holistic approach to assessing and reducing exposure.

It is easy for organizations to lose perspective on how to best to manage cyber risk, particularly as it affects multiple stakeholders in an organization, from the CISO to the risk manager, the board, IT, the C-suite and even HR. Everyone will have their own ideas about which programs should be mandated and which technology is the latest “holy grail” in cybersecurity. However, this siloed approach is not effective. Cyber attackers are simply too well-motivated, -resourced and diverse. But it’s not time to throw in the towel. Knowing they will be attacked does not leave companies powerless; in fact, this certainty can empower a far better approach to cyber security. The key to managing risk – and avoiding chaos and significant loss in the wake of an attack – is achieving cyber resilience. Adopting a cyber resilient mindset serves the interests of all stakeholders trying to defend an organization and provides assurance to insurers that companies are prepared in the event of an attack.

So, what does it mean to be cyber resilient? Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult, often unanticipated conditions. In the world of cyber, resilience strategies enable companies to rapidly detect, respond to and recover from cyber attacks. The goal is to detect incidents before they become serious, respond to them vigorously and recover from them effectively. You will be attacked, but if you are resilient you are less likely to have to wear a scarlet letter when the incident occurs.

Achieving resilience

The most urgent question companies must answer is: What are the critical assets that we are trying to protect? Some organizations will find it easy to agree on a list of assets, such as customer data or Social Security numbers. Others, perhaps more complex organizations, might find it hard to come to agreement. Alignment on defining critical assets is essential and, above all, economically prudent. Cybersecurity talent is scarce and budget is finite, so prioritizing assets helps allocate money where it matters most. Knowing what needs protection, and where it is, enables organizations to focus controls on that area, directs threat detection activity and tells first responders where to look when an attack is suspected. This has the potential to shorten the gap between attack and detection, minimizing the risk of having a predator in the network for seven, eight or more months. Identifying critical assets is also a necessary first step in choosing and benefiting from cyber insurance products. It’s true you don’t need a $100 safe to protect a $1 bill, but you do need an adequate policy to protect everything that you safeguard. Of course, while focusing on protecting critical assets is essential, companies should continue to defend the full organization, maintaining a strong overall security posture.

Once critical assets are clearly defined, cyber threats and vulnerabilities can be assessed and prioritized from three distinct perspectives: the threat to mission-critical technology, the balance sheet and corporate reputation. With vulnerabilities determined, companies can sharpen defenses and deploy programs to uncover, test and remediate them. Tactics regularly used include sophisticated penetration testing and social engineering techniques, to employing ethical hackers or red teams. In the world of resilience, however, the work does not stop at identifying vulnerabilities and shoring up defenses. Resilient organizations are ready for the “during” and “after” phases of an attack, as well as the “before.” They enhance monitoring activities, develop response plans and study and practice threat detection and response processes so that they can quickly bounce back and resume normal business operations.

See also: New Approach to Cyber Insurance  

When news of an attack occurs, it is not scheduled on the day’s calendar of events. It comes as a hit. Companies will typically learn of a breach in one of three ways: The company identifies the breach itself, finding a malicious actor has been in the network for weeks, or even months; a company receives a call from law enforcement often with limited information as part of a larger compromise that has occurred; or, the worst scenario, a third party breaks the news, for example a customer, business partner or the media. Cyber-resilient organizations can adapt to any of these scenarios, take control and respond with confidence. To be prepared, companies need response plans to manage this “during” phase of an attack. Importantly, these plans need to come alive – which means that they are continually enhanced, practiced and ingrained into the workplace culture.

This response preparation and practice equates to confidence, and the degree of practice will be clear in the wake of an attack. Some organizations call this conducting table-top exercises, or simulated cyber attack exercises. This preparation involves all key stakeholders, both internally and externally, and with a well-oiled plan, when a breach call comes, each player follows the blueprint. Public relations is not relegated to a “no comment” statement; financial teams are geared up to manage insurance; lawyers are deployed; and law enforcement is called – among other actions. Ideally, companies have already contracted with a cyber insurance carrier and cyber resilience firm, and have cultivated personal relationships with primary (and even secondary) representatives.

Companies should also take steps to have incident response and forensic investigators, as well as outside counsel, on retainer, even if they have additional internal expertise to handle these aspects of an investigation. During a breach, companies need to move quickly. Entering contract negotiations and procurement processes mid-crisis will not only waste precious time but also leave companies on the back foot in price negotiations with providers. When considering who to retain, it is key to look at the firm’s experience: the number of cases a firm has been engaged on; the diversity of skillsets; the technical tools used; the references of the subject matter experts; and vertical experience. Be careful if selecting a firm that requires its own technology be used on the investigation, as this can limit the scope of its capabilities and potentially lead to conflicting motivations. Also be aware that asserting privilege over the information shared with any firm is a slippery slope, especially through in-house counsel: the strongest way to assert privilege in an investigation is through outside counsel.

Recovering from a cyber attack

Now that the attack is contained, it’s time to recover. Enter stage right, cyber insurance. The cost of a breach can be significant, not only in intangible ways but in concrete costs, particularly if companies face risk and liability via a regulatory or legal investigation. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can launch lawsuits against organizations if it suspects them of failing to properly safeguard customer information. Such cases have the potential to span several years and can result in companies’ drowning in millions of pages of documents in response to requests and questioning, often involving executives at the very highest level. The cost of related investigations can reach millions of dollars in legal and vendor fees, not to mention the associated damage to brand and reputation.

To protect from such costs, it is critical that companies quantify the intangible damages that will occur in the event of a breach and enhance board-level understanding of the financial value of these risks to deploy capital to strengthen resilience and purchase insurance policies. When looking to transfer risk, companies must seek industry-leading terms and conditions with global carriers, often across multiple lines of business. Unlike policy options for physical assets, which are relatively standardized, the insurance industry is still ascertaining what cyber coverage looks like and, while more sophisticated teams are being assembled to effectively assess risk, evaluate preparedness and write policies, the policies still vary greatly. At its base, companies want a policy that covers “first party” types of losses, including forensics, notification costs, credit monitoring and breach coach fees. Companies will also want products to cover the third-party traditional liability costs, in case they are found liable for the incident and must pay a judgment or enter into a settlement. Insurance can also cover costs to defend against any regulatory action. Once a policy is purchased, a resilient organization has processes in place to ensure that potential losses are properly tracked in the event of a breach, which will help maximize coverage and cost recuperation. A strong personal relationship with the carrier representative is invaluable at this juncture, as is the ability to quickly and fully disclose the depth of cyber preparedness planning. This will confirm that the organization has an advocate for claim submission and approval.

In terms of the risk of a public lawsuit and legal proceeding, negligence is by far the most common reason an organization is found to be liable of cyber wrongdoing. Fortunately, class action lawsuits are not common. Bryan Cave, in its Data Breach Litigation Report, reported that in 2016 about 5% of all breach cases filed led to class action litigation, a number that has remained consistent over the past four years. One case recently decided in favor of the plaintiffs was Tampa General Hospital, where it was argued that a series of insider breaches put plaintiffs at risk for identity theft, and was the result of the hospital’s inadequately safeguarding patient data. Tampa General, in an October 2016 preliminary settlement approval, agreed to pay plaintiffs $10,000 plus as much as $7,500 toward attorney and litigation costs. Larger data breach class action settlements have reached the tens of millions, for example, in which claimants are eligible for cash payment if credit or debit card data or personal information was stolen as a result of the breach. Although it is still rare to see these allegations result in settlements, this pendulum could swing. When it swings, a sound cyber insurance product will bring protection in the form of covering part, or all, of the defense costs and resulting settlement payments.

See also: Most Firms Still Lack a Cyber Strategy

Cybersecurity is firmly entrenched as one of the most consequential issues affecting organizations across industries – no one is immune. However, acceptance that an attack is likely can be the impetus for companies to work toward becoming resilient. By putting in place better policies, people, response processes and technology, companies can position themselves in a place of power when a breach does occur. Resilient companies also put themselves in better positions when negotiating cyber security insurance rates, when claiming damages following an attack and when facing regulators, lawsuits and, importantly, embittered and disappointed consumers. Ultimately, adopting a cyber-resilient mindset serves the interests of all stakeholders and allows companies to focus on doing what they do best – running their businesses.