IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 2/13/2014 | 23 comments

Sara Peters
Municipal governments in disaster-struck areas are having trouble getting insurance policies that will help their region recover from natural disasters. Insurers aren't keen to take on high-risk clients -- like New York City since Hurricane Sandy -- all on their own. However, they might be willing to accept that risk if they share it with private investors. This is the idea behind catastrophe bonds (or "cat bonds").

Georgia Levenson Keohane explained the concept in her New York Times column yesterday:

The theory of the cat bond is relatively simple: insurers transfer their risk to capital market investors who are betting against catastrophe; that a hurricane or an earthquake won’t hit a particular place in a specified period of time. If this proves true, investors are repaid principal plus relatively high interest. If disaster strikes, however, the cat bond investors are on the hook and lose their principal.

My question is this: Could the same basic premise be applied to IT catastrophes?

Organizations already have the option of buying "cyber insurance," specifically liability insurance to protect organizations when they have a data privacy and/or security breach.

Organizations also have the option of buying insurance to protect their datacenters and other facilities from fires, floods, and earthquakes.

However, PII breaches and natural disasters aren't the only sorts of cyber catastrophe your organization might experience. What about a breach of intellectual property, or a lengthy denial of service that costs you and/or your customers a million dollars in lost business? What insurance policy covers that?

If insurers were going to start selling cat bonds to allay the costs of paying for IT catastrophes, they would likely want to set their prices based upon your organization's existing security posture and disaster recovery plan. If you could convince them that you're doing a bang-up job on your security and disaster recovery plans already, it might be easier to convince investors to bet against you having an IT catastrophe.

So, in addition to getting you some financial back-up, it might be a driver for your company to invest more in security and DR to begin with.

Would anyone bet against your organization having a cyber catastrophe? If so, would you be interested in it -- especially if it made insurance easier to obtain and made your premiums cheaper? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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SunitaT   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/28/2014 1:22:02 PM
Re : IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry
@ Zaius, you made a very good point. This is another big hurdle in the way of such bonds. Convince the insurer, insurer will convince the investor in turn and then investor will consult his IT experts. Keep adding the layers in the process and you will keep going farther from the possibility of such a thing. At the end of the day, it might be too difficult for the insurers and investors to understand the dynamics of IT.
Sara Peters   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/28/2014 12:50:50 PM
Re: I'd bet on IT over Insurance
@kstaron  Hmmmm. Interesting thought:  "But wouldn't "cat bonds" in an IT company pretty much be the same as a stock purchase of the company anyway? If I invested in the company I am riding or falling on how the company including it's IT department fares." I suppose that's true to a degree, but I wonder if any investors actually think of it that way.

kstaron   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/27/2014 2:17:16 PM
I'd bet on IT over Insurance
I just keep shaking my head over this one. I honestly think it would more feasible to do "cat bonds" for the IT industry than it would be of natural disasters. Given climate change and the lack luster action of nearly any country to do anything about it, I can only see that disasters are going to get more frequent not less as areas that were dry get wet, areas that were cold get warm and in general all the weather we are used to is a thing of the past. But wouldn't "cat bonds" in an IT company pretty much be the same as a stock purchase of the company anyway? If I invested in the company I am riding or falling on how the company including it's IT department fares.
Anand   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/27/2014 4:06:55 AM
Re : IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry
Considering the current security scenario of big organizations and news about big security breaches at organizations which are supposed to be the most protected because they have all the resources at their disposal, it would be difficult to persuade the insurers and private investors to come up with insurance cover for security breaches.
Sara Peters   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/21/2014 6:05:19 PM
Expert opinion
agentlemanwhoreallyknowshisstuffprovidedsomefurtherinsightaboutthistopicoveronthee2twitterfeed.itwassogoodihadtoshareit.
[replacedtest15]src="http://storify.com/3fromthe7/cat-bonds-for-it/embed"frameborder="no"width="100%"height="750">viewthestory"catbondsforit"onstorify]
Sara Peters   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/21/2014 6:04:16 PM
Expert opinion
agentlemanwhoreallyknowshisstuffgaveussomeinsightoveronthee2twitterfeed.itwassogoodthatiwantedtobringitoverhere:
[replacedtest15]src="http://storify.com/3fromthe7/cat-bonds-for-it/embed"frameborder="no"width="100%"height="750">viewthestory"catbondsforit"onstorify]
SaneIT   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/21/2014 8:27:02 AM
Re: Catastrophic Bondage
I would guess not many are buying the insurance but those who do have a lot to lose in intellectual property so it makes perfect sense for them to protect themselves.  I've heard enough stories about really well thought out and expensive backup solutions failing or being more or less useless because it was never tested and when disaster struck the company found out the hard way just how much they could lose.
singlemud   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/20/2014 2:27:22 PM
Re: Catastrophic Bondage
It is a niche market. I'm curious that how many orgnizations are actually buying these kind of insurance.
Broadway   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/18/2014 8:11:40 PM
Re: Catastrophic Bondage
@DBK, now that you mention that Fantex stuff, I do recall making fun of it last year --- perhaps on this very same website.
DBK   IT Disasters: Lessons From the Insurance Industry   2/17/2014 10:30:12 PM
Re: Catastrophic Bondage
@ Broadway - No insurance makes sense in this case there was a company called "Fantex" who was offering what amounted to an IPO on athletes. Kind of crazy in mind and apparently not a big pool of investors either. 

 http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/fantex-adds-another-athlete-to-its-i-p-o-roster/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
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