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Virus tops list of dangers: insurance technologists surveyed name the events most likely to stall operations.

A network virus has the biggest potential to disrupt insurers' technology operations, according to an electronic survey of insurance professionals who attended A.M. Best Co.'s Insurance & Technology conference, E-Fusion 2003, in September.

Respondents were asked to select the two events most likely to impact their technology operations. Network virus was chosen by 82%. Hacker intrusion and natural disaster tied for second place at 39% each.

Insurance technologists have good reason to be concerned about network viruses. They are the most common and most likely system disruption to cause major damage, said Matthew Josefowicz, manager of the insurance group of Celent Communications.

The most important precaution insurers can take is to have the most up-to-date patches installed consistently across the enterprise, Josefowicz said.

If a major disruption does occur, a majority of those surveyed (69%) said they were moderately prepared to handle it.

That concern is widespread throughout the business community. Ninety percent of the participants in a Computer Security Institute survey reported using anti-virus software on their network systems, yet 85% of their systems had been damaged by computer viruses.

The vulnerability of computer networks was tested in August 2003, first by a new "worm" program, then by the power blackout that bit the Northeast. The worm, which affected hundreds of thousands of computers, shut down companies and resulted in loss of service to millions, according to various news reports. The power blackout that hit all or part of eight states and the Canadian province of Ontario caused considerable damage to computer systems, either through lost data of surges that disrupted electronic components.

In 1999, the Melissa virus--the first computer virus to use address books to replicate itself--was credited with more than $80 million in damage as it caused corporations and government agencies to shut down their systems.

Across the Board

Technology integration across the enterprise was mentioned most frequently as the major issue survey respondents had dealt with over the past year.

Half of those surveyed who use a legacy system said it is a disadvantage, while an equal number, 18%, said either that a legacy system is an advantage or that it doesn't matter. SQL was the programming language most often used by those surveyed, followed by Java and XML. Java was the most often cited Web environment, followed by IBM WebSphere.

Transacting E-Commerce

Asked to elaborate beyond multiple choice answers, one insurance technologist pointed with pride to developing a paradigm so that all the insurer's transactions with agents are facilitated through the Internet. Another was most proud of developing product illustration software for annuities.

Asked what project or undertaking had been the most troublesome, insurance technologists identified e-signatures and other facets of e-commerce. Specifically, one respondent said, "Our ongoing grief is maintaining a 10-year-old policy administration legacy system under current Windows operating systems. It is frustrating having to rig policy records to support complex products never intended in the original design of the software."

The cleanest way to fix this problem is to replace existing systems with more modern policy systems, but because that is potentially very expensive and disruptive, insurers are likely to wrap new elements around their existing system or replace components, Josefowicz said.

Finding Experts And Filtering E-Mail

Responses to the survey also revealed the following facts:

* The shortage of qualified technologists has eased. Just over half said they have no problem finding qualified people.

* The favored spam solution is to automatically filter incoming mail.

According to an article published in the October 2003 edition of Best's Review, "Empowering the Victims," nearly 40% to 45% of daily e-mails coming into Prudential Financial's servers are identified as spam, accounting for nearly 100,000 messages a day.

Newark, N.J.-based Prudential relies on several anti-spam filtering mechanisms and software to identify and ward off spam. Its software analyzes messages' subject lines, attachments, text and keywords, said Mark LaChac, vice president, information systems. Prudential has identified several hundred keywords, and a combination of words, to block spam via keyword analysis.

E-Fusion survey tracks technology concerns

People who registered to attend A.M. Best Co.'s Insurance & Technology conference in September were encouraged to respond to an electronic survey about the challenges they face. The results for selected questions are shown below.
In the past year, these issues have occupied much of my attention.

 Technology Integration 77.8%
 Across the Enterprise
 Online or 72.2%
Electronic Accessibility
 Security 50.0%
 Online Competition 47.2%
 Privacy 27.8%
 Spam 27.8%
 Meeting Regulatory 27.8%
 Requirements
 Other 16.7%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

We use a legacy system and find:

It's a Disadvantage 50.0%
 It's an Advantage 18.2%
 It Doesn't Matter 18.2%
 Other 13.6%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

I believe the events that would most impact
our technology operations (pick two) are:

 Network Virus 82.1%
 Natural Disaster 39.3%
 Hacker Intrusion 39.3%
Internal Sabotage 25.0%
 Terrorist Attack 14.3%
 Other 13.6%

Note: Table made from bar graph.
COPYRIGHT 2004 A.M. Best Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:E-Fusion 2003
Author:Ostermiller, Marilyn
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:833
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