Is hacking insurance worth it?

Heartland Payment Systems figured it was in pretty good shape when it took out a $30 million cyber insurance policy. Unfortunately, the credit card transaction processor was the victim of a massive data breach in early 2009 that resulted in losses estimated at $145 million. The insurance company did pay Heartland the $30 million, but the company was on the hook for the remaining $115 million.

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Heartland Payment Systems figured it was in pretty good shape when it took out a $30 million (£19 million) cyber insurance policy. Unfortunately, the credit card transaction processor was the victim of a massive data breach in early 2009 that resulted in losses estimated at $145 million. The insurance company did pay Heartland the $30 million, but the company was on the hook for the remaining $115 million.

So, is cyber insurance worth it? Is it right for your company? What type of coverage should you get? How much is enough? And what are the gotchas to watch out for?

The first point to understand is that standard business insurance does not cover data breaches or almost any other loss involving data. Standard insurance covers tangible losses and damage. Data isn't tangible.

For that distinction you can thank American Guarantee & Liability Insurance vs Ingram Micro, a US District Court ruling in Arizona in 2000. The court said that a computer outage caused by a power problem constituted physical damage within the meaning of the policy Ingram Micro had purchased from American Guarantee.

"After that, the insurance firms changed their policies to state that data is not considered tangible property," says Kevin Kalinich, national managing director for network risk at insurance vendor Aon Risk Solutions. The upshot is that an enterprise needs special cyber insurance to cover data-related issues. The problem is that the field is new and there is no such thing as standard coverage with a standard price.

The resulting complexity is a major source of push-back by potential buyers, according to Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, a research organization focused on information security and protection.

"The policies have limitations and constraints similar to home policies with act-of-God provisions, and that has created a lot of uncertainty about what is covered, and what the risks are," Ponemon says. "Those who are nevertheless purchasing cyber insurance are typically very selective about what coverage they want," he adds.

Types of cyber coverage currently available include:

Data breach coverage: This pays for expenses that result from a data breach. Covered expenses typically include notification of the victims, setting up a call centre, credit monitoring and credit restoration services for the victims, and other crisis management services, says Ken Goldstein, vice president at the Chubb Group, an insurance vendor.

"You might want to hire forensic experts, independent attorneys for guidance concerning the multiple data breach notification laws and public relations experts. The more thoughtful ones respond in a way that shows they are taking the situation seriously," he says.

Regulatory civil action coverage: Pays in cases where the insured is facing fines from government after a violation of privacy or security regulations. Some policies only cover the cost of defending against the action, while others may pay the fine as well, says Steven Haase, head of INSUREtrust, a specialty insurance provider.

Cyber extortion coverage: For cases where a hacker steals data from the policy holder and then tries to sell it back, or someone plants a logic bomb in the policy holder's system and demands payment to disable it. Among other things, the policy should cover the cost of a negotiator, and the expense of offering a reward leading to the arrest of the perpetrator, Goldstein says.

Virus liability: Pays in cases where the policy holder is sued by someone who claims to have gotten a virus from the policy holder's system.

Content liability: Covers lawsuits filed by people angered over something posted on the website of the policy holder. Such coverage should also cover copyright claims and domain name disputes, Haase says.

Lost income coverage: Replaces revenue lost while the policy holder's computer system or website is down. But Kalinich notes that insurers often apply minimum downtimes of 12 or 24 hours, or require proof of actual losses. "They'll say that, after all, the customers who did not get through (during the outage) could have come back later," he says.

Loss of data coverage: Pays for the cost of replacing the policy holder's data in case of loss. "Backup policies are not always effective, and accidents and sabotage happen," Haase says.

Errors and omissions coverage: Otherwise known as O&M policies, this type of coverage predates cyber insurance, but is increasingly added to cyber policies to cover alleged failures by the policy holder's software, Haase says.

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