As federal authorities investigate a recent
string of computer hack attacks that temporarily shut down some of
the Web's most popular sites, a growing number of insurers are
offering policies that cover Internet losses.
Marsh Inc., a San Francisco-based insurance broker, recently
began offering up to $200 million in coverage in its NetSecure
policy. A handful of smaller firms offer similar policies.
Coverage options vary, but typically clients pay to protect
against revenue lost due to widespread Internet outages or if their
site is inaccessible to consumers for any number of reasons from
a service outage to a hacker attack.
Marsh has sold about 100 policies so far, and has seen a
fivefold increase in inquiries about the coverage since recent Web
attacks, said Bill Power, a managing director in Houston.
"Technology is not bulletproof," said Emily Freeman, director
of the company's e-business division. "It's a business-risk issue
and needs to be addressed."
Handango, a Dallas startup that sells hand-held technology and
offers software downloads through its Web site, bought "cyberspace
liability coverage" earlier this year after an internal review
revealed potential for heavy Internet losses.
The Internet "is everything that we do," said CEO Laura Rippy
is CEO. "Insurance is a security blanket in a Web world that does
not provide a whole lot of security."
Net insurance is a budding market that has growth potential as
online business continues to expand, said Martin Sheffield, vice
president of the PC ratings division at A.M. Best Co., an Oldwick,
N.J.-based firm that tracks the insurance industry.
"Certainly it's a niche," Sheffield said. "I think as the
Internet exposure becomes more apparent, there will be more
products that align themselves with that exposure, and with any
innovative enterprise the insurance industry comes along to fill in
any of those risks."
Sean Kaldor, an e-business analyst for Internet researchers
International Data Corp., said there are "a few" insurers who
currently offer Internet policies, but the number is growing
steadily because of the demand.
Most big sites such as Yahoo! and eBay are insured, but
generally don't discuss it because businesses not customers are
covered by the policies, Kaldor said. Smaller sites and traditional
businesses that have Web sites will need Internet-specific
coverage, he said.
"I think that anyone doing business online realizes that it
presents unique risks. Any way you can mitigate those risks is
going to make your investors feel more comfortable doing business
with you as well as your customers," Kaldor said.
For now, large insurers are steering clear of the Web because
there is no definitive data showing how big a liability the
coverage could be, Sheffield said.
In addition, Kaldor said, there are other issues that need to be
ironed out, such as who will evaluate and set rates and what
happens if there is a major online disaster.
There's also a risk that the cushion of an insurance policy
could compromise security awareness, he said. "What we don't want
to see is online merchants getting sloppy and saying, 'Oh if this
happens we'll be covered."'