Cyber breaches, cyber attacks, and related developments frequently dominated the news in 2014. Looking back can help us anticipate and prepare for what may happen in 2015. Here are the most important developments of 2014 and the trends we are likely to see in 2015 related to cyber risk and insurance.
Big date breaches Any look back at what happened in 2014 would have to begin with the large number of significant payment card data breaches that hit retailers including Target, Home Depot, and Staples. Apart from the effects these breaches have had on the companies involved (such as lost income, executives losing their jobs, and shareholder lawsuits) these large breaches may be most noteworthy for their effect of raising the level of attention given to cyber risks within companies, and for spurring changes to payment card systems in the US and beyond. These breaches have also had important ramifications in the cyber insurance market.
While payment card data breaches grabbed most of the headlines, it is important to note that other significant breaches took place involving other types of data.
in May 2014, eBay announced that employee login credentials had been breached which could allow criminals to access personally identifiable information (PII) of eBay users
JPMorgan Chase disclosed that information for 83m accounts had been breached
on the healthcare front, roughly 4.5m patient records were breached at Community Health Systems. That could be the largest reported breach of protected health information (PHI) ever. The breach reportedly was the result of a cyber attack originating from a country more often associated with industrial espionage than the compromise of individuals’ personal information.
Aggressive regulators 2014 saw US regulators become even more aggressive with respect to data privacy and security issues. The FTC at least temporarily1weathered a challenge by Wyndham Hotels to its ability to regulate cyber security matters, and has continued to be very active in this space.
increasing focus on enforcing companies’ compliance with their information privacy policies
bringing an action4 against a company and its former CEO in connection with the collection of health information (unusual because the claim is brought against a corporate officer and because the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the federal Department of Health and Human Services typically gets involved with PHI risks, not the FTC)
actions against Apple5 and Google6 in connection with in-app purchases by children without parental consent.
The fines stem from companies’ failure to implement appropriate protections for consumer information, use of consumer information for marketing purposes, and 'do not call' list violations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) showed up at the cyber security regulators party last year, and has issued millions of dollars in fines. The FCC could be a significant regulator going forward.
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Health and Human Services has stated that they are bringing more data privacy and security enforcement actions than ever.7 They aren’t focused only on big breaches either. For example, the OCR reached a settlement8with QCA Health Plan, Inc., involving a stolen laptop with unencrypted PHI of only 148 people. This resulted in a $250,000 fine and a number of corrective measures.
The SEC has also joined the party. In 2011 the SEC issued guidance9on cyber security issues for companies. In 2014, they took action. In April, the SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) announced10 that it would be auditing 50 broker-dealers and investment advisors to assess their cyber risks and preparedness. The SEC has made clear11 what it expects companies to do to prepare for cyber risk; well-informed commentators say that this is a prelude to enforcement actions in 2015.
Regulators outside the US are also gearing up to become more aggressive. A few examples:
the European Parliament has updated its laws to provide for fines of up to €100 million for violation of data protection laws
in Germany, the Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information for the state of Rheinland-Pfalz imposed a fine of €1.3m12 on Debeka Health Insurance AG (Debeka) to resolve issues regarding misuse of protected consumer data. Debeka also agreed to pay €600,000 to endow a university chair to study data protection
the Australian government has amended the Privacy Act of 198813 to include the Australian Privacy Principles.14 The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has published guidance15 for data breach notifications that stress the ability of the OAIC to bring enforcement actions and assess fines where appropriate
in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office has continued to be active16 in enforcing data privacy rights and obligations.
Sony Pictures cyber attack Any discussion of 2014 must include the cyber assault on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Sony breach is noteworthy for who did it and what it portends. The attack appears to have been launched by people in North Korea.17 It is an unusually large and public attack by agents or allies of a foreign government against a company in order to further political aims. Calling this an act of cyber warfare may be an overstatement inasmuch as war is typically thought of as an event between two or more political groups or entities; however, this attack may give us an idea of what aspects of cyber warfare might look like in the future.
This will be a story to watch in 2015. Now that Sony Pictures has been attacked other companies will worry that they too could become victims. Unfortunately, that is a real possibility. The ultimate legacy of the attack may be that companies increase their focus on preparing for potential similar events.
The right to be forgotten 2014 was a year when the ‘right to be forgotten’18 took important steps forward. In May, the European Courtof Justice ruled19 that Google must remove information about an EU citizen that was no longer relevant and that could reflect badly on him. Since then, Google and others have received hundreds of thousands of requests to remove information that was once public. While the EU has issued guidelines20 to assist companies in deciding what to remove, the difficulties the requests present for companies receiving them are nevertheless significant.
Lest anyone think the right to be forgotten is a non-US issue, it is worth noting that aspects of it are creeping into US laws. As of 1 January 2015, California law21 requires websites to include an ‘eraser button’ that allows children under the age of 18 to delete information they have created on web sites where they are registered users.
NIST cyber security framework In February 2014, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published its Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.22 The Framework is intended to provide companies with a description of what a comprehensive cyber security program should contain. Further development of the Framework by NIST is encouraged in the recently passed Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014.23 Given that the NIST Framework is quickly becoming a baseline for companies to follow, the Framework will be important to watch in 2015.
Cyber extortion on the rise As Brian Krebs of KrebsOnSecurity.com24 put it, 2014 was the year cyber extortion went mainstream. 2014 saw significant growth in extortion scams by criminals that infected a victim’s computer system with ransomware25 that will corrupt or delete data unless the ransom is paid.
A typical scam would be one where the victim’s files are encrypted and cannot be restored without the encryption key. The criminals provide the key in return for the ransom payment. Unfortunately, the ransom demanded is often small enough that companies elect to pay it (often by Bitcoin26) rather than take on the expense and headache of recovering data by other means.
While there were notable successes in combatting cyber extortion scams in 2014, such as the takedown of the botnet27 that made distribution of the Cryptolocker28 ransomware possible, as long as extortion scams continue to succeed, their prevalence in 2015 seems assured.
The moral of the story is:
back up your data
carry cyber policies that will respond to an extortion event.
Mobile payments and digital wallets In 2014, Apple introduced Apple Pay.29 For those unfamiliar with it, Apple Pay involves giving your credit card information to Apple which will then place a token30 associated with that number in an encrypted chip on an iPhone 6. The phone can then be used to pay for purchases without the credit card or credit card number ever being disclosed to the merchant or to criminals that have compromised the merchant’s systems. Apple Pay, and other existing or upcoming systems designed for the same purpose, appear likely to reduce or eliminate the risks inherent in using payment cards today. These systems seem certain to become more widely adopted in 2015, with the result being that payment card data breaches should eventually become smaller and less severe.
EMV payment card migration One of the most important events that will take place in 2015 is the migration of payment cards in the US from magnetic stripes to chip-and-pin EMV cards. EMV cards are considered more secure because they require thieves to have more than the card number to make fraudulent charges. To make a charge with an EMV card the user must also input a PIN associated with the card.
The migration to EMV cards will take place this year because the card brands are imposing a liability shift on 1 October 2015. If a merchant has not installed equipment to handle EMV card payments, and a customer has an EMV card, the merchant will be liable for any resulting fraud on the customer’s account. If the merchant has installed the necessary equipment to handle EMV card transactions, but the customer’s bank hasn’t issued him or her an EMV card, the bank is liable. If the merchant is set up to handle EMV cards, if a customer uses an EMV card, and if fraud nevertheless takes place, the card brands will be liable.
International conflicts over privacy rights In 2014 the US and EU collided over the disclosure obligations of Microsoft concerning data pertaining to EU citizens that Microsoft stores in the EU.
A US Government agency (we don’t know which one) served Microsoft with a search warrant31 for the content of an individual’s email account. The contents are stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland.
Microsoft has resisted the warrant on the grounds that US search warrants don’t apply to locations outside the United States. As Microsoft’s Deputy General Counsel32 put it, the ‘US government doesn’t have the power to search a home in another country, nor should it have the power to search the content of email stored overseas’.
Predictably, the European Commission agrees. The EC takes the view that the information can only be obtained via established legal frameworks that provide access to it.
The US government has argued (successfully so far) that the warrant applies to any location under Microsoft’s control.
Microsoft (with the active support of Ireland33 and the EU34) is continuing to resist efforts to obtain the data because providing it would violate EU law. This battle will continue in 2015 and will be interesting to watch, given the ramifications the case is likely to have on the legal frameworks governing the cross-border transmission of information subject to privacy protections.
Physical damage from cyber events Many people will recall the Stuxnet35 worm that infected computers in Iran that controlled nuclear centrifuges and physically destroyed a large number of them. In 2014 it was reported36 that an attack on a steel mill37 in Germany resulted in serious damage to blast furnaces there. The possibility of similar future attacks on industrial control systems is real and must be taken seriously. This will be an issue to watch in 2015.
Changes in the cyber insurance market As a consequence of the large and expensive retail breaches over the past year, the cyber insurance marketplace changed dramatically in late 2014.
Cyber coverage for companies with payment card data is becoming more expensive and harder to get. Underwriters are asking deeper questions and are asking for more information than they have in the past. Some insurers are no longer willing to cover such companies; others are reducing the policy limits they are willing to provide. In addition to underwriting becoming more stringent, pricing is going up (even on, and sometimes especially on, excess layers). All of this comes at a time when there is unprecedented demand for cyber insurance.
Companies that don’t have payment card data exposures are not facing the same problems. For them the availability and cost of cyber insurance has changed little in the past year.
Cyber underwriters continue to innovate. In 2014, AIG introduced its CyberEdge PC38 policy that, for the first time in a form for general use, can cover property damage and bodily injury resulting from a cyber event. It does this by providing excess DIC coverage over a company’s existing insurance programs. We also continue to see a willingness on the part of some underwriters to push the envelope on cyber policy terms and conditions in order to provide solutions, not just policies, to clients. That is essential at a time when the cyber risks companies face are so dynamic.
William Boeck – senior vice president, Insurance & Claims Counsel, Global Technology & Privacy Practice, Lockton