Cybersecurity Litigation Review

This blog post was submitted in dialogue with the recent PLUS webinar “Cyber Risk is a D&O Risk.” You can view the recording of this webinar and past free webinars on the PLUS website here.

If you have blog content you’d be interested in submitting, please reach out to Katie Campbell at kcampbell@plusweb.org.

John Cheffers was hired to be a Director of Research for Watchdog Research in 2019 and creates content that is featured on the company blog.  He obtained his J.D. from Ave Maria School of Law in Naples Florida in 2019, where he was a member of the Law Review and graduated magna cum laude. Prior to that he worked for Audit Analytics as a Research Analyst.

Cybersecurity has gone from a niche concern to a hot topic in the D&O insurance world.  On September 23rd, this week, PLUS hosted a webinar on how companies can strategically handle cybersecurity concerns.  The speakers offered tremendous perspective on this dynamic and growing area, and we encourage everyone to listen to their fascinating conversation.

We are an independent research provider that uses an extensive database of public information to create easy-to-use reports for over 4,500 publicly traded companies.  Since we track cybersecurity incidents and all material litigation for public companies, we thought we could use this as an opportunity to provide a little color to the important discussions concerning cybersecurity.

Overview

We began by looking at incidents that occurred at companies listed on the NYSE and Nasdaq over the past ten years, and the growth rate of cybersecurity incidents is alarming: 

*The graphs and tables in this post were created by Joseph Burke, PhD, and derived the Audit Analytics database.

In 2010, only 0.1 % of companies reported a cybersecurity incident. In 2019, 2.2% of companies reported a cybersecurity incident. The growth of cybersecurity incidents over the past five years has been incredible and it is not clear when it will slow down. 

Another interesting facet is that the risk of a cybersecurity incident is much higher at a large company that it would be at a small company. Attacks on large companies are driving much of the growth in these numbers.

Cybersecurity Security Class Actions

A cyberbreach at a company creates all sorts of problems, including litigation. We identified all the security class action suits that were brought over cybersecurity issues and calculated the likelihood of being named in one of those suits. Unsurprisingly, the last ten years has shown significant growth in the risk of being named in a cybersecurity related lawsuit.

It is important to note that these percentages are for all companies.  Large cap companies have a significantly probability than is represented in the graph because they are both more likely to be the victim of a cybersecurity incident and are generally more likely to have a securities class action suit filed against them.  

Cybersecurity as a Leading and Covariate Indicator

Two of our researchers, Joseph Burke PhD and Joseph Yarbrough PhD, wrote a research paper calculating when particular flags from our reports were associated with an increased risk of securities class action litigation for 2014-2018. Companies with a cybersecurity incident were almost three times as likely to get named in a securities class action lawsuit the year that the incident occurred.

Additionally, cybersecurity incidents were one of the six leading indicators of securities class action suits.  An event is considered a leading indicator of litigation if the occurrence of that event is associated with an increased risk of litigation for the following year. 

Conclusion

The chance of being involved in a cybersecurity securities class action lawsuit is still relatively low, but it is increasing rapidly. Additionally, the risk profile is far higher for large companies, which are more likely to be a victim of a cybersecurity incident and more likely to get named in a securities class action lawsuit. 

If company boards wish to prevent having their company victimized twice (by hackers and by lawyers), then they need to make wise and strategic decisions to confront this growing threat.

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The Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) was founded in 1986 by industry professionals who recognized the need for a forum for individuals involved in the field of professional liability. The Society is a non-profit organization with membership open to persons interested in the promotion and development of the professional liability industry. Membership consists of over 6,500 individuals, representing over 1,000 companies active in the many fields of professional liability. PLUS currently receives the support of more than 200 companies through corporate membership. PLUS is recognized as the primary source of professional liability educational programs and seminars, assistance to its members to help serve clients, and information regarding professional liability. The Society is continually seeking new means to fulfill its mission statement and better serve its members.

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