Insurance Coverage for Denial-of-Service Attacks

DDoS

It seems that 2011 has been the year of cyberattacks – denial of service attacks, data breaches, and more.  Would your insurance policies cover those events?  Beyond the denial of service attacks that made news headlines, a shocking “80 percent of respondents” in a survey of “200 IT security execs” “have faced large scale denial of service attacks,” according to a ZDNet story.[1]  These attacks and threats do not appear to be on a downward trend.  They continue to be in the news after cyberattacks allegedly took place against “U.S. government Web sites – including those of the White House and the State Department –” over the July 4, 2009 holiday weekend.[2]  The alleged attacks were not only against government sites; they allegedly included, “according to a cyber-security specialist who has been tracking the incidents, . . . those run by the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, The Washington Post, Amazon.com and MarketWatch.”[3]  The more recent ZDNet survey shows that a quarter of respondents faced denial of service attacks on a weekly or even daily basis, with cyberextortion threats being made as well.[4]

Denial of Service Attacks

The cyberattacks that have stolen recent headlines were denial of service incidents.  Personnel from “CERT® Program,” which “is part of the federally funded Software Engineering Institute (SEI), a federally funded research and development center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” have explained:

Denial of service attacks come in a variety of forms and aim at a variety of services. There are three basic types of attack:

  • consumption of scarce, limited, or non-renewable resources
  • destruction or alteration of configuration information
  • physical destruction or alteration of network components.[5]

Some attacks are comparable to “tak[ing] an ax to a piece of hardware” and are known as “so-called permanent denial-of-service (PDOS) attack[s].”[6]  If a system suffers such an attack, which also has been called “pure hardware sabotage,” it “requires replacement or reinstallation of hardware.”[7]

What Insurance Coverage Might Apply?

The first place to look for insurance coverage for a denial of service attack is a cybersecurity policy.  The market for cybersecurity policies has been called the Wild West of insurance marketplaces.  Cyber security and data breach policies, certain forms of which may be known as Network Risk, Cyber-Liability, Privacy and Security, or Media Liability insurance, are relatively new to the marketplace and are ever-changing.  The Insurance Services Office, Inc., which designs and seeks regulatory approval for many insurance policy forms and language, has a standard insurance form called the “Internet Liability and Network Protection Policy,” and insurance companies may base their coverages on this basic insuring agreement, or they may provide their own company-worded policy form.  Because of the variety of coverages being offered, a careful review of the policy form before a claim hits is critical to understand whether the cyberpolicy will provide coverage, and, if it will, how much coverage is available for the event.  If your company does make a claim under a cyberpolicy, engaging experienced coverage counsel who is familiar with coverage for cybersecurity claims will help get the claim covered properly and fight an insurance company’s attempt to deny the claim or otherwise improperly try to limit coverage that is due under the policy.

If your company faces a denial of service cyberattack and suffers losses as a result, but your company has not purchased a specialized suite of policies marketed as cyber security policies, coverage nonetheless may be available under other insurance policies.  In addition, other insurance policies may provide coverage that overlaps with a cyberinsurance policy.  Consider whether first party all risk or property coverage may apply.  First party all risk policies typically provide coverage for the policyholder’s losses due to property damage.  If the denial of service cyberattack caused physical damage to your company’s servers or hard drives, your company’s first party all risk insurer should not have a credible argument that there was no property damage.  Even if the damage is limited to data and software, however, it may be argued that the loss is covered under your company’s first party all risk policy, as some courts have found that damage to data and software consists of property damage.[8]

First party policies may also provide coverage for extra expense, business interruption, and contingent business interruption losses due to a cyberattack.  (Contingent business interruption losses may include losses that the policyholder faces arising out of a cyber security-based business interruption of another party, such as a cloud provider, network host, or others.)[9]

Look also to other first party coverages, such as crime and fidelity policies, to determine whether there may be coverage for losses due to a cyberattack.  In particular, crime policies may have endorsements, such as computer fraud endorsements, that may cover losses from a denial of service cyberattack.[10]

If, after a cyberattack, third parties seek to hold your company responsible for their alleged losses, consider whether your company’s liability policies would provide coverage.  More importantly, consider your company’s commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policy, if your company does not have a specialized cyber liability policy.  If your company did buy a cyberinsurance policy, there is coverage under a CGL policy (and others) that may overlap the coverage in a cyberinsurance policy, providing your company with additional limits of insurance coverage available for the claim.

The first coverage provided in a standard-form CGL insurance policy covers liability for property damage.  Similar to the analysis above for first party all risk policies, if there was damage to servers or hard drives, insurers should not be heard to argue that there was no property damage.  Courts are divided as to whether damage to data or software alone consists of property damage under insurance policies, with some courts recognizing that “the computer data in question ‘was physical, had an actual physical location, occupied space and was capable of being physically damaged and destroyed’” and that such lost data was covered under a CGL policy.[11]  Be aware, however, that the insurance industry has revised many CGL policies to include definitions giving insurers stronger arguments that damage to data and software will not be considered property damage.  But also note that your company’s CGL policy may have endorsements that provide coverage specifically for damage to data and software.[12]  Consider further whether a claim would fall within the property damage coverage for loss of use of tangible property—loss of use of servers and hard drives because of the cyberattack; loss of use of computers arising out of alleged software and data-based causes has been held sufficient to trigger a CGL policy’s property damage coverage.[13]

Keep in mind that if there is a claim for property damage under a CGL policy, there may be coverage for obligations that your company has under indemnity agreements.  Standard form CGL policies provide coverage for indemnity agreements.[14]

Depending on the types of claims asserted, other liability policies may be triggered as well.  For example, directors and officers liability policies may provide coverage for investigation costs,[15] and errors and omissions policies also may cover, if the cybersecurity claims may be considered to be within the definition of “wrongful act.”[16]  The takeaway for companies suffering from a cyberattack is that a careful review of all policies held by the insured is warranted to make certain that the most comprehensive coverage may be pursued.

Scott Godes [was] counsel with Dickstein Shapiro’s Insurance Coverage Practice in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office.  Mr. Godes is the co-head of the firm’s Cyber Security Insurance Coverage Initiative and co-chair of the American Bar Association Computer Technology Subcommittee of the Insurance Coverage Committee of the Section of Litigation.  He frequently represents corporate policyholders in insurance coverage disputes.

[1] Larry Dignan, Cyberattacks on Critical Infrastructure Intensify, ZDNet, http://m.zdnet.com/blog/btl/cyberattacks-on-critical-infrastructure-intensify/47455 (Apr. 19, 2011).

[2] U.S. Government Sites Among Those Hit by Cyberattack, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/07/08/government.hacking/index.html (July 8, 2009).

[3] Siobhan Gorman & Evan Ramstad, Cyber Blitz Hits U.S., Korea, Wall St. J., http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124701806176209691.html (July 9, 2009).

[4] Larry Dignan, Cyberattacks on Critical Infrastructure Intensify, ZDNet, http://m.zdnet.com/blog/btl/cyberattacks-on-critical-infrastructure-intensify/47455 (Apr. 19, 2011).

[5] Denial of Service Attacks, CERT, http://www.cert.org/tech_tips/denial_of_service.html (last visited July 9, 2009); About CERT, CERT, http://www.cert.org/meet_cert/ (last visited July 10, 2009).

[6] Kelly Jackson Higgins, Permanent Denial-of-Service Attack Sabotages Hardware, Security Dark Reading, http://www.darkreading.com/security/management/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=211201088 (May 19, 2008).

[7] Id.

[8] See, e.g., Lambrecht & Assocs., Inc. v. State Farm Lloyds, 119 S.W.3d 16 (Tex. App. 2003) (first party property coverage for data damaged because of hacker attack or computer virus); Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co. v. Ingram Micro, Inc., No. 99-185 TUC ACM, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7299, at *6 (D. Ariz. Apr. 18, 2000) (construing “physical damage” beyond “harm of computer circuitry” to encompass “loss of access, loss of use, and loss of functionality”).

[9] Se. Mental Health Ctr., Inc. v. Pac. Ins. Co., 439 F. Supp. 2d 831, 837-39 (W.D. Tenn. 2006) (finding coverage under business interruption policy for computer corruption); see also Scott N. Godes, Ensuring Contingent Business Interruption Coverage, Law360 (Apr. 8, 2009), http://insurance.law360.com/articles/94765 (discussing coverage under first party policies resulting from third party interruptions).

[10] For example, in Retail Ventures, Inc. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co., No. 06-443, slip op. (S.D. Ohio Mar. 30, 2009), the court held that a crime policy provided coverage for a data breach and hacking attack.

[11] See, e.g., Computer Corner, Inc. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 46 P.3d 1264, 1266 (N.M. Ct. App. 2002).

[12] See, e.g., Claire Wilkinson, Is Your Company Prepared for a Data Breach?, Ins. Info. Inst., at 20 (Mar. 2006), http://www.iii.org/assets/docs/pdf/informationsecurity.pdf (discussing the Insurance Services Office, Inc.’s endorsement for “electronic data liability”).

[13] See Eyeblaster, Inc. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 613 F.3d 797 (8th Cir. 2010).

[14] See, e.g., Harsco Corp. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., No. 49D12-1001-PL-002227, slip op. (Ind. Super. Ct. Apr. 26, 2011).

[15] See MBIA, Inc. v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 08 Civ. 4313, 2009 WL 6635307 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 30, 2009).

[16] See Eyeblaster, 613 F.3d at 804.

Update:  This post also has been put online over at DoS-Attacks.com.  You can see the post by clicking here.

Second update:  This post also has been put online at the Lexis Insurance Law Community.  You can see the post by clicking here.

Third update:  This post also has been put online on the Blog Notions insurance blog.  You can see the post by clicking here.

Fourth update:  This post also has been put online on Core Compass.  You can see the post by clicking here (registration required).

Disclaimer:

This blog is for informational purposes only. This may be considered attorney advertising in some states. The opinions on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the author’s law firm and/or the author’s past and/or present clients. By reading it, no attorney-client relationship is formed. If you want legal advice, please retain an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed here belong only the individual contributor(s). © All rights reserved. 2011.

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11 comments

  • Peter Houppermans

    There’s a bit more to it, though. First of all needs to be investigated if the company exercised sufficient diligence in preventing a breach. With DDoS, there is a balance between acceptable risk and expenditure for distributed front ends. Auditing such design requires a wider knowledge than just going through the ISO 27002 checklist and that’s because it must also be evaluated if a company is sufficiently planning for AFTER a breach.

    Our experience is that crisis management is often left to the IT department, which tends to focus on only the technical side. The human and legal side are left out, which in extreme cases can result into business failure. BCM is mainly driven by ISO 25999, which also addresses human aspects such as fatalities on premise and which mandates not only the development of a crisis plan (which includes reputation and media management), but also exercising it.

    Another factor that needs to be brought into IT insurance is privacy management, especially in Europe – here too a “beyond technology” view which includes law, regulation and human factors must be taken. Only after looking at the complete picture can a formal risk assessment be presented, which then form the basis on which to acquire insurance.

    Do it any other way and insurance may be costly. Any insurance that does not demand a proper implementation of ISO27002, ISO25999 and intelligent privacy and media handling is at best gambling – or is seeking to prove a diligence failure when it is time to draw funds. Doing it right also means there is actually a proper view on which risks need managing.

    • Peter, are you suggesting that for purposes of recovering insurance, there needs to be an investigation to determine what steps the company took to prevent the breach?

  • Correct, but that’s not all – I am suggesting two separate parts.

    For the purpose of *establishing* cover you need a defined model too that establishes the risk level present. For the purpose of handling a claim, it needs to be established that the organisation took the required steps to maintain the level as insured. This conclusion could be drawn from forensics, but also from annual audit reports.

    Only when both insurer and insured use the same rule book do you have a correctly insured situation. The insurer can manage exposure, the insured can discharge their responsibilities correctly.

    Speaking of cover, at executive and VIP level there is actually a gaping hole in insurance. K & R is no longer sufficient..

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  • Very valuable article, thanks a lot. Insurances are an area which i’m reading a lot those days.

    Best wishes
    Auslandsversicherung

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  • IT insurance is privacy management, especially in Europe – here too a “beyond technology” view which includes law, regulation and human factors must be taken.Very valuable article, thanks a lot.

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