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City Hacks – Atlanta’s 2018 Cyberattack and the Growing Need for Cyber Liability Insurance

Posted on: February 12th, 2019

By: Matthew Weiss

Already a growing area of liability insurance for businesses, the importance of cyber insurance for local governments came to the forefront last March when the City of Atlanta suffered a malware attack in which its computer networks were hijacked by hackers seeking a ransom equal to $51,000 in bitcoin. The cyberattack left the City unable to perform basic services, including processing tickets in municipal court and providing Wi-Fi service at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. At one point, city employees were advised not to even turn on their computers.

While Atlanta’s cyberattack made national headlines, the role that cyber insurance played in its response has been largely undocumented. The City holds a cyber insurance policy with AIG, and the total cost associated with the cyberattack is believed to have approached $5 million.

Although Atlanta redacted key details of its cyber insurance policy, including its coverage limits, in response to press inquiries, the State of Georgia has acknowledged that it holds a $100 million cyber insurance policy, the largest of any state, covering more than 100 state agencies including every branch of state government except higher education. The policy was put to use when the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s computer system was infected by malware in December 2017, compromising the department’s computer system, including employee email and internal operation servers. The cost of the state’s response to the malware attack exceeded its self-insured retention of $250,000.

The recent experiences of the City of Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Agriculture exemplify the growing importance of cyber insurance for state and local governments. Governments are frequently considered prime targets for cyberattacks due to a lack of synchronization of government systems, the lack of harmonization among third-party vendors rendering services to those governments, and a dearth of qualified professionals employed by governments due to the fact that more lucrative careers are available in the private sector. Indeed, governments frequently assign cybersecurity to their IT departments, which are already overburdened and under-resourced. At the same time, as local governments become more digital, the impact of a cyberattack can become highly disruptive to the city’s operations, as the City of Atlanta’s experience showed. In fact, Forbes has reported that Lloyd’s City Risk Index estimates that the risk of cyberattack is the third most consequential threat to Atlanta and other North American cities, with a collective potential impact of more than $93 billion. Given these substantial risks, Lloyd’s concludes that cities and states should better utilize cyber insurance, with a 1% increase in insurance penetration resulting in a corresponding 22% decrease in the risk to taxpayers.

The growing need for cyber insurance among cities, counties, and states melds both the areas of local government law and insurance coverage and is certain to be a major growth area in the near future. Hopefully, Atlanta’s painful learning experience will better prepare other local governments in the months and years to come.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Matthew Weiss at (678) 399-6356 or [email protected].

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