Cybersecurity data breaches have increased dramatically over the last several years. These breaches impose significant costs on companies, including the costs of forensic analysis, credit monitoring, crisis management services, statutory fines, and –  potentially  –  regulatory  investigations and litigation. As recent high-profile data breaches have demonstrated, even a sophis- ticated company may be the victim of a cyberattack.

Insurance can play a vital role in a com- pany’s ability to mitigate the risks of cyber liability and manage its financial expo- sure. Unfortunately, however, insurance providers frequently deny policyholders’ claims for cyber liability coverage under their standard commercial general liability (CGL) policies and are increasingly adding exclusions to their CGL policies to avoid such coverage. While the insurance indus- try has begun to develop standalone cyber insurance policies that specifically address cyber liability, selecting and negotiating the right cyber insurance policy presents its own unique and significant challenges. Moreover, although insurers market these policies as an essential risk-management tool for any well-secured business, com- panies can still obtain significant coverage under their existing policies.

As the risk of cyber liability grows, it is important for companies to understand their existing coverage, weigh their cover- age options, and seek experienced poli- cyholders’ insurance recovery counsel to negotiate policy terms and ensure that their contractual rights are fully enforced.

Coverage Under CGL Policies

CGL policies may provide significant coverage for cybersecurity data breaches. Among other things, these policies insure against damages arising from “personal and advertising injury,” which is gener- ally defined to include any “oral or written publication that violates a person’s right of privacy.” While some courts have denied coverage for data breaches under CGL policies, holding that the “right to privacy” means simply the right to seclusion, other courts have upheld coverage, interpreting the “right to privacy” to include the right to keep private information from others.

Even in jurisdictions where courts uphold CGL coverage for cyber liability, however, insurers may assert a number of additional defenses. These defenses might include, for example, failure to comply with  the  insurance  policy’s  notice  provi-sions, failure to cooperate with the insurer, and failure to disclose the appropriate risks on the insurance application. Some insurers also argue that, at the time they drafted their policies, data breaches and other hacking activities were not prevalent, and that poli- cyholders cannot claim coverage for risks that neither party contemplated at the time of drafting. Despite these obstacles, many policyholders have successfully secured cyber liability coverage under their CGL policies, through both settlement and liti- gation.

As courts have upheld coverage under CGL policies, however, the insurance industry has sought to eliminate cyber lia- bility from its standard-form policies. The revised standard-form CGL policy – effec- tive May 1, 2014 – explicitly excludes such coverage. Because the policy’s language will generally control the coverage deter- mination, a claim for cyber liability cover- age under the revised standard-form CGL policy is probably futile. However, many insurance providers have not yet adopted the revised form and may be reluctant to do so. Insurers may fear that implementing the revised language will imply an admis- sion that their existing policies provide cyber liability coverage. At the very least, adopting the revised form may imply that insurers’ existing policies are ambiguous in this regard, thus warranting a construal of the policy in favor of coverage.

Thus, depending on the facts, allegations and policy terms, a CGL policy may remain a strong option for cyber liability coverage. Companies relying on their CGL policies for coverage should provide prompt notice to their insurers of any data breach allega- tions and hire experienced policyholders’ insurance coverage counsel to evaluate and pursue their claims.

Coverage Under Specialized Cyber Liability Policies

Because of the challenges in  obtain- ing cyber liability coverage under CGL policies, insurance providers have begun to develop specialized cyber liability policies. Insurers in both the U.S. and London mar- kets are increasingly offering these policies under a variety of different names, includ- ing “cyber liability insurance,” “privacy breach insurance” and “network security insurance.”

Unlike CGL policies, cyber insurance policies are not standardized and vary widely among insurers. Nonetheless, these policies almost always cover both first- and third-party losses arising from cybersecu- rity breaches. First-party policies provide first-dollar coverage for losses to the policy- holder’s business. These policies cover lost revenue, breach notification costs and other crisis management expenses, such as foren- sic investigation, credit monitoring, call centers and public relations efforts. In con- trast, third-party policies provide coverage for losses arising from the policyholder’s liability to third parties, such as clients and governmental entities. These policies cover defense costs (including the costs of class actions, consumer demands, FTC investiga- tions, and state attorney general proceed- ings) as well as the costs of any settlement or judgment against the policyholder.

Cyber insurance can be a relatively expensive investment, particularly for high-risk organizations that either generate most of their revenue online or store large amounts of data, such as online retailers, computer coding businesses, and healthcare institutions. Insurers who market these policies, however, contend that a well-tai- lored cybersecurity policy can significantly reduce  the  out-of-pocket  expenses  that breached entities incur and that insurers allow recovery under these policies without dispute. Insurers also argue that obtaining cyber insurance actually reduces the risk of a cyberattack because insurers will either deny coverage or increase premium costs for companies that do not have adequate data security systems in place.

Given the lack of standardization and the competitive market for cyber insurance, the terms of cyber insurance policies tend to be highly negotiable. Before purchasing cyber insurance, a prospective policyholder is well-advised to consult with an experienced cyber liability coverage lawyer, who can negotiate key provisions in a way that maxi- mizes coverage and minimizes disputes. There are a number of policy provisions to which prospective policyholders should pay particular attention:

Exclusions

As with CGL policies, cyber insurance policies may contain overly broad exclu- sions that defeat the intended purposes of the policy. Many policies, for example, exclude coverage for data breaches that the policyholder failed to take adequate pre- cautionary measures to prevent. If drafted broadly enough, this type of provision could potentially exclude the type of neg- ligent conduct that motivates companies to purchase cyber insurance in the first place. Cyber insurance policies also frequently exclude coverage for claims arising from contractual liability, statutory liability, unauthorized collection of data or acts of “foreign enemies.” Prospective policy- holders must negotiate with their insurers to narrow and clarify the scope of these exclusions.

Notice Provisions

Many cyber insurance policies contain overly onerous notice provisions, which may void coverage for the policyholders’ negligent acts. Prospective policyholders must ensure that the notice requirements are not so broad or burdensome as to defeat the purpose of the policy itself.

Definitions: “Claim” and “Loss”

Cyber insurance policies must be drafted broadly enough to protect the policyholder from the types of financial exposure that cyberattacks create. For example, a well- drafted policy should define “claim” to encompass non-traditional claims, such as FTC investigations, third-party subpoenas, and even verbal requests for information by government bodies. Similarly, the defini- tion of “loss” should be broad enough to encompass the extensive crisis manage- ment services that companies must engage to mitigate the effects of a cyber breach, such as the costs of public relations efforts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Clauses

Many cyber insurance policies con- tain alternative dispute resolution (ADR) clauses, which require policyholders to resolve coverage disputes through arbitra- tion. Because of the private and confi- dential nature of arbitration proceedings, ADR provisions are generally in the policyholder’s best interest. However, prospective policyholders must scrutinize these provisions to ensure that they are drafted fairly. Policyholders must ensure, for example, that the ADR provision does not require or allow for a biased arbitration panel comprised primarily of insurance industry executives. Moreover, there may be situations in which companies would prefer to proceed publicly, by initiating a lawsuit against the insurance carrier, and prospective policyholders should consult with counsel to determine whether it is appropriate to retain this option.

Conclusion

Insurance can play an important role in an organization’s overall efforts to mitigate cyber risk. Given the prevalence of cyber- security incidents, the insurance industry’s evolving position on CGL policy coverage, and the emerging variety of insurance poli- cies, companies are well-advised to under- stand their existing insurance coverage, carefully weigh their coverage options, and consult with experienced counsel who can assist in securing a policy that is properly tailored to the company’s cyber-risk needs.