Tag Archives: rfid

New Vulnerabilities in the Connected World

Many exciting TV shows and movies include hacking as standard fare – overriding security systems, changing traffic lights, causing explosions, even committing untraceable murders. Hacking makes for interesting entertainment. The frightening part? It’s all possible.

The digital connections in our world are multiplying faster than we realize. It is difficult to even think of anything that cannot be connected. Connected cars and connected homes are advancing by leaps and bounds. Livestock such as cattle and sheep are tracked electronically, and your dog or cat may have an embedded chip. Even bees are being outfitted with tiny RFID backpacks. Roads, buildings and transportation systems are beaming real-time information to servers in the cloud. The rapid rise of wearables, hearables, implantables and personal medical devices means that an increasingly large number of people are connected.

The increasingly connected world provides terrific opportunities to improve life on earth. But with opportunity often comes threat – in this case the threat of hacking. And the facts are scarier than the fiction.

The word “hacking” conjures up images of millions of credit cards being stolen from banks or retailers, or perhaps the stealing of corporate secrets or even cyber-espionage between countries. Insurers have been at the forefront of this battle, designing cyber risk coverages and policies to help individuals or businesses address the financial exposure of hacking. But the connected world increases the hacking potential in incalculable ways. Here are just a few examples of other existing vulnerabilities:

  • Connected Cars: Wired magazine hired two hackers to demonstrate how a Jeep Cherokee could be hacked. The hackers showed that they could take over simple tasks like locking or unlocking doors, and could also take over the steering wheel and drive the car over an embankment.
  • Toys: The new Hello Barbie Doll is connected to the Internet and can be hacked to listen in to the conversations in your home.
  • Laptops and Smart TVs: Bad guys can remotely take over the camera and audio for these devices to spy on the laptop user or anyone viewing a Smart TV.
  • Medical Devices: Insulin pumps and other medical devices can be hacked to alter their treatment. For example, the insulin dosage can be changed, resulting in insulin shock and even death.
  • Wearables: Connected watches, shoes and health monitoring devices are notoriously exposed, especially because they often collect very private, personal information.

Fortunately many of these incidents were the work of white hat hackers hired to expose weaknesses. Unfortunately, most of the exposures still exist, and every new chip, sensor and connected device becomes a target. There are several key implications for insurers and individuals:

  • Cyber risk insurance must greatly expand. The industry has done a yeoman’s job thus far in helping to address financial exposures. But now, whole new classes of cyber threats must be evaluated and addressed.
  • Loss control must increasingly consider cyber safety. Individuals and businesses need advice on how to protect their valuable digital information, related to both traditional and new sources.
  • Insurers must consider their own growing cyber vulnerabilities. As companies employ drones, IoT devices and wearables for employees, they must understand and address the potential exposures from theft of the related information.
  • The industry must actively participate in cyber initiatives. New technology defenses, law enforcement approaches and regulation will all play a role in thwarting hackers. Insurers should provide expertise, investment and support to advance important initiatives.

It’s an exciting time to be alive. And it’s an exciting time to be in the insurance industry. Technology, with all of its benefits, is advancing fast – but faster than we can regulate and manage it.

New risks and threats from connected devices definitely exist. But connected devices also provide great opportunities for the insurance industry to play to its strength – protecting valuable assets, promoting safety and providing peace of mind to individuals and businesses alike.

5 Innovations in Microinsurance

Earlier this year, a group of eight leading insurers and brokers established a consortium to promote microinsurance ventures in developing countries, unsurprisingly called Microinsurance Venture Incubator (MVI). Together, AIG, Aspen Insurance, XL Catlin, Guy Carpenter, Marsh & McLennan, Hamilton Insurance, Transatlantic Reinsurance and Zurich plan to launch 10 microinsurance ventures over the next 10 years.

While conventional insurance targets middle to high-income urban dwellers, microinsurance targets rural residents living on the edge of poverty. Most popular are microinsurance products that offer life, health, accident or property insurance.

However, to really be the “can-do” coverage for the poor, it is not enough for microinsurance to be affordable and accessible; it also has to be tailored to the unique environment in which it is being offered. After all, context is king.

So with the context of “poor people deserve innovation too,” here are five examples of innovative microinsurance schemes that target different risk pools:

1. The Use of Technology to Combat Fraud

Insurers providing livestock insurance in India have been struggling with high claims ratios, mostly because of fraud. Typically, to get coverage, a veterinarian would place an external plastic tag on the animal’s ear as an indication that that specific animal is insured. However, this produced zero controls in place, and insurers learned that these plastic tags somehow made their way to dead cattle, way too frequently.

Nowadays, India’s IFFCO-Tokio (ITGI) insurance company is using radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that are injected under the skin of the animal (which is less painful than tagging!). These chips are accessible through a reader, which allows an insurance official to easily verify that the RFID reading coincides with the identification number on the policy, when a farmer reports a claim. This results in fewer fraudulent cases and faster claim processing.

Almost a fairy tale ending if it wasn’t for the high price of these microchips. Nonetheless ITGI is using a combination of external plastic tags and RFID chips to control their costs yet still prevent excessive fraud. It’s working.

2. Forming Index-Based Insurance to Build Trust

Another promising innovation is index-based insurance, where an external indicator triggers payments to clients rather than the traditional “I’m calling to report a claim.”

Kilimo Salama, AKA Safe Farming, combines mobile phone payment system with solar powered weather stations to offer farmers in Kenya “pay as you plant” insurance.

Here’s how it works:

  • A farmer goes to an approved dealer and buys a bag of fertilizer, which he pays 5% extra for to get climate coverage.
  • The dealer scans a special bar code, which immediately registers the policy with the insurance provider and sends a text message confirming the insurance policy to the farmer’s mobile phone.
  • When data transmitted from a particular weather station indicates drought or other extreme condition is taking place, the farmer registered with that station automatically receives payouts via a mobile money transfer service.
  • Similarly, a more recent entrant called ClimateSecure says it will “work hand-in-hand with [its] clients, meteorologists, financial experts and other brokers in order to build indexes that most accurately reflect [their] clients’ risk.”

3. Targeting the Cash Poor by Relaxing Liquidity Constraints

In China, pork composes roughly 48% of livestock production, with most pigs generally raised in small numbers by rural families in their backyards, forcing Chinese hog farmers to face the risk of hog diseases. Yet, despite the obvious benefits of microinsurance products, the demand is still low because of cash constraints and a lack of trust in insurance providers.

Yet a pig insurance scheme, which offered credit vouchers that allowed farmers to take up insurance while delaying the premium payment until the end of the insured period, coinciding with when pigs are sold, saw their insurance premiums go up by 11%.

By the same token, telecommunications companies embed insurance premiums in their service contracts, with the advantage of offering (oftentimes free) coverage as part of a pre-existing plan. In Africa, for instance, free insurance is linked to phone data usage; the more airtime one buys, the more coverage he/she gets.

4. Product Bundling to Attract Customers

The 2014 winner of the prestigious Hult Prize, NanoHealth, is a social enterprise that not only offers microinsurance but also tackles chronic diseases by providing door-to-door diagnostics via its network of community health workers, which it equips with a low-cost point-of-care device called Doc-in-a-Bag. This startup is slowly but surely creating India’s largest slum-based electronic medical record system and disease landscape map.

5. Coverage Within Reach via Garbage in, Coverage out

Forget bitcoin, garbage is the new currency with this Indonesian startup called Garbage Clinical Insurance (GCI), which was founded by a 26 year-old doctor named Gamal Albinsaid. Through GCI, community residents are encouraged to recycle and get healthcare coverage at the same time because trash is translated to funds that can later be used to pay for medical insurance.

In sum, in this micro world of microinsurance, where only 260 million of the world’s low-income citizens are covered, words like big data and claim history could not matter less. What matters is how quickly an insurer can scale, how low can its margins go and how clearly can it communicate its offering to the low-income farmer all in the name of for-profit social enterprise.

Expect more entrants.

How the NFL May Fix Workers’ Comp

I have a whiz bang idea for solving that pesky investigation issue that surrounds every workers’ compensation claim.

This idea will clearly get me that Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. Either one. I’m not fussy.

It came to me while I was reading an article about the NFL boosting its statistics tracking and accuracy with the use of RFID tags in the players’ shoulder pads. It seems these amazing little chips will allow NFL statisticians to know “real-time position data for each player,” as well as “precise info on acceleration, speed, routes and distance.” This is part of the NFL’s “Next Gen Stats” initiative for fans.

For those who are unaware, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology is the hot new thing. Essentially, an RFID tag contains a passive ID chip that can be activated by receivers as it passes near them. The tag requires no battery power and is highly reliable. Stores like Walmart now use them extensively to track and monitor inventory changes. Even my Florida SunPass tag uses one. The small sticker on my windshield allows me to zip through tolls and access parking at Tampa International Airport without talking to anyone or even rolling down my window. Of course, the tag also allows the state to bill me for that activity and serves to notify the NSA that I am on the move again. But the NSA probably already knew that. The complete loss of privacy is a small price to pay for not having to chat up a friendly toll taker.

I am so glad the NFL has gone with RFID. It is a much more reliable technology than those old scanner barcodes. That was a disaster — having to get the player to run into the end zone six times before the scanner could capture the touchdown — but I digress. . . .

While the article on the NFL and RFID was prattling on about all the useless stats fans could now have access to, I was thinking in an entirely different direction. I recognized that the NFL has inadvertently invented the personal “black box” for workplace accidents. Think about it. This is a technology that could be employed in offices and factories all over the country.

Employers could easily monitor “real-time position data for each employee,” as well as “precise info on acceleration, speed, routes and distance” as employees move throughout the day. An RFID-enabled wearable could tell accident investigators if an employee was running when he slipped and fell down the stairs, as well as how many rotations he took as he progressed to the bottom.  The tag could determine that an employee was idle in the break room at the time she claimed to be straining her back on the loading dock.  And biometric sensors added to the RFID wearable could actually cross reference stress levels and physiological indicators to the time and location of the accident, giving a clearer view of events than ever before possible.

It is just like data used from airplane black boxes to reconstruct what actually happened to cause an accident. I am telling you, this technology could be a tremendous boon for risk managers and accident investigators everywhere. But why should they have all the fun?

Safety professionals could leverage the same technology to prevent accidents in the first place. Restaurant servers would no longer have to yell “corner” or “door” when traversing areas with visual limitations. Their RFID-enabled monitors would send real time location updates of other employees in the vicinity to heads-up displays located within employees’ Google Glass. The system would issue potential collision warnings similar to those in today’s aviation industry.  I’m telling you, Big Brother really may have all the answers after all.

Unless, of course, all the employees were watching internet porn on their Google Glass heads-up displays, and no work would get done anywhere. On the plus side, biometric sensors should pick up signs of unauthorized porn viewing, so it may be controllable after all.

The remaining challenge will be the design and implementation of the RFID biometric wearable devices. Will they be embedded in the work clothes or uniforms, in bracelets, necklaces or other accessories or simply implanted in our skulls? For the record, I do not recommend the skull implant method. My wife tells me my skull is so thick, the signal could never get out. Also, multiple sensors may need to be deployed on every employee, such as in shoes and on the head. This would be helpful for a truly accurate rotation count on those extended fall injuries.

In the end, we may all be wired to the hilt, with no more need to verbally communicate in the workplace. But we will have our personal black boxes. We’ll all end up as fat people in our little floaty chairs. But if we over-sensored tubbos have a collision, our wearable technology will give investigators a much clearer idea of what went tragically wrong.

Even though the idea is somewhat creepy, and I am largely joking, I think we may actually have something here: black box wearables. Coming soon to a workplace near you.