Now’s the time for insurers to develop meaningful cyber liability policies

Industry must step up competition, speak common language, create risk profiles to attract buyers

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Uncertainty about several key variables appears to be causing U.S. businesses and insurance companies to move cautiously into the much-heralded, though still nascent, market for cyber liability policies.

Insurers continue to be reluctant to make policies more broadly available. The big excuse: Industry officials contend there is a relative lack of historical data around cyber incidents, and they also bemoan the constantly evolving nature of cyber threats.

This assessment comes in a report from the Deloitte Center for Financial Services titled: Demystifying Cyber Insurance Coverage: Clearing Obstacles in a Problematic But Promising Growth Market

Sam Friedman, Deloitte insurance research leader

“Insurers don’t have sufficient data to write coverage extensively with confidence,” says Sam Friedman, insurance research leader at Deloitte.

But the train is about to leave, and some of the stalwarts who shaped the insurance business into the ultra conservative (read: resistant to change) sector it has become could very well be left standing at the station.

Consider that regulations imposing tighter data handling and privacy protection requirements are coming in waves. Just peek at the New York Department of Financial Services’ newly minted cybersecurity requirements; or Europe’s recently revamped General Data Protection Regulation.

With cyber threats on a steadily intensifying curve, other jurisdictions are sure to jump on the regulation bandwagon, which means the impetus to make cyber liability coverage a standard part of everyday business operations will only increase.

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Meanwhile, cybersecurity entrepreneurs, backed by savvy venture capitalists, are moving aggressively to eliminate the weak excuse that there isn’t enough data available to triangulate complex cyber risks. In fact, the opposite is true.

Modern-day security systems, such as anti-virus suites, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, malware sandboxes and SIEMS, generate mountains of data about the security health of business networks. And the threat intelligence systems designed to translate this data into useful operational intelligence is getting more sophisticated all the time.

And while large enterprises tend to have the latest and greatest of everything, in house, even small and medium-size businesses can access cutting-edge security systems through managed security services providers.

Related podcast: As cyber threats rise, more companies turn to MSSPs

Meanwhile, big investments bets are being made in a race to be the first ones to figure out how to direct threat intelligence technologies to the task of deriving the cyber risk actuarial tables that will permit underwriters and insurers to sleep well at night. One cybersecurity vendor to watch in this arena is Tel Aviv, Israel-based InnoSec.

“Cyber insurance policies are being given out using primitive means, and there’s no differentiation between policies,” observes InnoSec CEO Ariel Evans. “It’s completely noncompetitive and solely aimed right now at the Fortune 2000. Once regulation catches up with this, cyber insurance is going to be required. This is around the corner.”

InnoSec was busy developing systems to assess the compliance status and overall network health of companies involved in merger and acquisition deals. It now has shifted to seeking ways to apply those network assessment approaches to the emerging cyber insurance market.

At the moment, according to Deloitte’s report, that market is tepid, at best. While some have predicted U.S. cyber insurance sales will double and even triple over the next few years to reach $20 billion by 2025, cyber policies currently generate only between $1.5 billion and $3 billion in annual premiums.

Those with coverage in minority

Adam Thomas, Deloitte principal

As of last October, just 29 percent of U.S. business had purchased cyber insurance coverage despite the rising profile of cyber risk, according to the Deloitte report. Such policies typically cover first- and third-party claims related to damages caused by a breach of personally identifiable information or some derivative, says Adam Thomas co-author of the Deloitte report and a principal at the firm. In some cases, such policies also might cover business disruption associated with a cyber incident.

The insurance industry contends it needs more businesses to buy higher-end standalone cyber insurance policies, until such time as enough claims data can be collected to build reliable models, much as was done with the development of auto, life and natural disaster policies.

But businesses, in turn, aren’t buying cyber policies in enough numbers because insurers are adding restrictions to coverage and putting fairly low limits on policies to keep exposure under control. “It is a vicious cycle,” Friedman says.

“Insurers recognize that there is a growth opportunity, and they don’t want to be left out of it,” he says. “On the other hand, they don’t want to take more risk than they can swallow.”

While the insurance industry gazes at its navel, industry analysts and cybersecurity experts say the big challenge—and opportunity—is for underwriters and insurers to figure how to offer all businesses— especially small- and medium-size companies—more granular kinds of cyber policies that actually account for risk and provide value to the paying customers.

Ariel Evans, InnoSec CEO

“What they’re doing now is what I call the neighbor method,” InnoSec’s Evans says. “You’re a bank, so I’ll offer you a $100 million policy for $10 million. The next guy, he’s a bank, so I’m going to offer him a $100 million policy for $10 million. It has nothing to do with risk. The only place this is done is with cyber.”

Talk in same terms

This is due, in part, to a lack of standard terminology used to describe cyber insurance-related matters, says Chip Block, vice president of Evolver, a company that provides IT services to the federal government. The SANS Institute, a well-respected cybersecurity think tank and training center, last year put out a report that drills down on the terminology conundrum, including recommendations on how to resolve it, titled Bridging the Insurance/Infosec Gap.

And the policies themselves have been another factor. “If you compare car insurance from Allstate and Geico, a majority of the policies are relatively the same,” Block says. “We haven’t gotten to that point in cyber. If you go from one underwriter to another, there is no common understanding of the terminology.”

Understandably, this has made it hard for the buyer to compare policies or to determine the relative merits of one policy over the other. Block agrees that cyber policies today generally do not differentiate based on risk profile—so a company that practices good cyber hygiene is likely to see no difference in premiums as compared to one that doesn’t.

Industry must get moving

InnoSec’s Evans argues that even though cybersecurity is complex, the technology, as well as best practices policies and procedures, are readily available to solve the baseline challenges. What is lacking is initiative on the part of the insurance industry to bring these components to bear on the emerging market.

“This is absolutely possible to do,” she says. “We understand how to do it.”

Putting technological solutions aside, there is an even more obvious path to take, Friedman argues. Resolve the terminology confusion and there is little stopping underwriters and insurers from crafting and marketing cyber policies based on meeting certain levels of network security best practices standards, Friedman says.

“You look at an organization’s ability to be secure, their ability to detect intrusions, how quickly they can react, and how much they can limit their damage,” he says. “In fact, insurers should go beyond just offering a risk transfer mechanism and be more aggressive in helping customers assess risk and their ability to manage and prevent.”

Thomas pointed to how an insurance company writing a property policy for a commercial building might send an engineering team to inspect the building and make safety recommendations. The same approach needs to be taken for cyber insurance, he says.

“The goal is to make the insured a better risk for me,” he says.

More stories related to cyber insurance:
Challenges and opportunities ahead for cyber insurance industry
Underwriters, InfoSec officers must close gap on risk management
Cyber insurance is a great investment, but can’t solve all security needs