Evolving Email Security Landscape Puts Cyber Insurance Policies at Risk

Cyber insurance uptake is growing quickly but a lack of employee training on the latest email attacks is leaving organizations at great risk of breaking policy terms. These new social-engineering and impersonation attacks could leave leaving firms of all sizes at risk of taking the full financial brunt of crime.

Waves of high-profile breaches and new breach notification legislation is setting the scene for a huge growth in cyber insurance take-up. But while insurers often pay for clean-up fees after a breach, it is important that organizations check that their policies protect them if an employee is tricked into sending a large amount of money to a fraudulent account.

Whaling (CEO fraud) attacks have been growing rapidly in volume and in scale. Mimecast revealed in April that 67% of firms have seen an increase. Then only last month, Austrian aerospace manufacturer FACC sacked its CEO after his apparent mistakes led to the firm being defrauded out of €50 million ($55.8m) in a whaling attack.

Attacks where employees are tricked into sending personal data or intellectual property are even less likely to be fully covered. For example, how would an insurer decide compensation if a set of W-2 tax forms were stolen compared to the secret plans for a new and theoretical product? What about hacks that compromise the integrity of data rather than stealing it? Can insurance ever really fully provide coverage for these data-specific use cases? 

One other concern for insurers is that it can be difficult to separate real crime from potential insurance fraud.

As part of Mimecast’s research into cyber insurance policies, Mimecast questioned 436 IT experts at organizations in the US, UK, South Africa and Australia. The research revealed that:

  • 45% of firms with cyber insurance are unsure if their policy is up-to-date for covering new cyber social engineering attacks, and only 10% believe it is completely up-to-date
  • 43% of firms with cyber insurance are confident that their policies would pay out for whaling financial transactions
  • 64% of firms don’t have any cyber insurance at all

One example of this growing risk is the legal proceeding between Texas-based AFGlobal Corp and Federal Insurance Co., a division of insurance giant Chubb Group. AFGlobal maintains that the policy it held provided coverage for both computer fraud and funds transfer fraud, but insurer denied a claim when scammers impersonating AFGlobal’s CEO convinced the company’s accountant to wire $480,000 to a bank in China.

The rise of whaling has created an attack climate where many insured organizations may not be protected from fraudulent transactions because they fall outside of the coverage scope of when their policies were originally signed.

Mimecast research also found that:

  • 58% of organizations have seen an increase in untargeted phishing emails
  • 65% have seen targeted phishing attacks grow
  • 50% said they have seen social engineering attacks that utilize malicious macros in attachments increase

A survey of risk managers by The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. (HSB) highlighted the primary reasons for not buying coverage. Perceived complexity (44 percent), lack of a sufficient threat (34 percent) and cost (22 percent) were cited.

With the cybersecurity landscape constantly evolving, cyber insurers will have great difficulty keeping their coverage up-to-date. CEO fraud is a prime example how quickly an attack can grow morph. Tomorrow’s threats will almost always comes as a surprise.

Mimecast is recommending that all organisations review their cyber insurance policies regularly. A comprehensive cyber resilience strategy is only effective alongside regular employee training on the latest threats combined with appropriate technology fail-safes.


*Mimecast will be exhibiting at Infosecurity Europe, 7-9 June, at stand #G100. Mimecast security experts will discuss the top email attack strategies being used against millions of organizations around the world today.