Are Hackers a Threat to My Design Firm?

Hackers make headlines daily with targets ranging from major Swiss banks to Minecraft users to German nuclear power plants. But what are the risks to architects and engineers?

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Professional Liability carrier Victor O. Schinnerer urges design professionals to Take Cyber Liability Exposures Seriously in a recent blog post:

Cyber liability problems that have disrupted firm operations often are based on one of three vectors:

— insiders who are dissatisfied or recognize their ability to tap firm assets and use that access for harm or personal profit;

— past employees who either take digital assets with them or to enact revenge against their former employers corrupt firm systems and information; and

— hackers who know that confidential project data is vulnerable and hold digital information hostage until a ransom is paid.

Hackers Can Wreak Havoc on a Firm

Although internal threats cause many cyber liability breaches, a malicious outsider is one of the greatest fears of professional services firms. A hacker could cause data inaccessibility through alteration or destruction. A firm would lose intellectual property and no longer be able to meet contract objectives and deadlines. Attackers who gain access to a firm’s data can encrypt it using ransom-ware and extort payment to regain access to information. Firms that do not properly preserve digital assets through robust back-up systems often have no alternative but to pay the ransom.

Construction projects today are increasingly dependent on digital technology. The adoption of BIM and the increasing use of digital technologies in designing, constructing, and operating buildings and infrastructure are transforming the way the industry works. The concept of collaborative work through the sharing and use of detailed models and large amounts of digital information requires that parties be aware of vulnerability issues and take appropriate control measures. Improper access controls could lead to an attack severely disrupting progress on a project, causing delays or remedial work that could lead to significant claims from owners, lenders, or other stakeholders. And if confidential information on the structure or systems of projects is accessed by unauthorized parties, the safety of the owners and users of the buildings or infrastructure could be put at risk.

It is possible to insure against these vulnerabilities. Schinnerer’s Cyber Protection Package is one example of such coverage. Here are a few others:

Give your local a/e ProNet broker a call to discuss your options today.

Inquiring Minds and the FMLA

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Complying with the many provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a concern for even those well-versed in the Act. Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals clarified when the FMLA applies, and spelled out an affirmative duty of the employer to inquire and confirm if an employee wants to take FMLA leave if eligible.

What Is the FMLA and How Does It Apply?

The FMLA entitles some employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. It applies to employers that are public agencies and to private employers with 50 or more employees who work at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. An employee is eligible for FMLA leave if they:

  • Worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months;
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of their FMLA leave; and
  • Work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed or within 75 miles of that location.

An eligible employee has the right to take 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. In general, the employee can take leave due to their own serious health condition; for the birth of a newborn child; to care for a newly-adopted child; or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. This right means that if an employer terminates or otherwise retaliates against an employee for taking leave, it can result in a civil lawsuit or administrative proceeding against the employer for back pay, reinstatement, and other damages.

When a state provides greater protections than the federal FMLA standards, an employer must comply with state law as well. For example, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) also covers same-sex domestic partners, and provides more privacy protections. Continue reading “Inquiring Minds and the FMLA”

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Chicago architecture firm and a/e ProNet client John Ronan Architects is one of seven finalists for the design of the Obama Presidential Library, which will be built on Chicago’s South Side. The remaining seven firms hail from all over the world, so it’s exciting that at least one “local” architect made the cut. John Ronan Architects may be best known for the dramatic Poetry Foundation building in Chicago. Best of luck to the team!

Shout-out Credit:

Mike Welbel
M.G. Welbel and Associates
650 Dundee Road, Suite 170
Northbrook, IL 60062
Phone: 847.412.1414
mwelbel@mgwelbel.com

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Compared with many other industries, the Engineering and Architecture community has a relatively low abuse/dependence rate (7.9%) on any substance, and alcohol is the substance these design professionals are most likely to be dependent upon. This is according to a 2010/2011 national survey completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Coping with substance abuse and dependence is a big enough challenge on its own, but balancing both an addiction and a career can pose an even bigger struggle. The impact of drug abuse on workplaces is astronomical, costing the United States $120 billion in lost productivity in 20071. Alcohol abuse is similarly widespread, with 15% of American workers reporting being impaired by alcohol while at work at least once during the previous year2. And the effect on safety can be potentially catastrophic: Employees involved in accidents were more than four times as likely to test positive for opiates3. So what are the patterns of substance use across America’s industries?” — Treatment4Addiction.com

You can visit the Treatment4Addiction website for analysis and presentation of the survey data. As you’ll see, while Design Professionals rank mercifully low on this list, Construction Trades & Extraction Workers rank unfortunately high (17.4%), with “heroin as their most disproportionately used substance. Their widespread abuse of a powerful opiate may reflect the prevalence of chronic back pain and untreated injuries in the field.”

boxhouse

Signs of recovery in the American housing market–in architecture, engineering, construction, real estate–are increasing. Yet, in 2014, the market saw a new, disappointing record:

The number of homeowners under the age of 35 hit its lowest point ever.

Home ownership has long been synonymous with the American Dream. But where are the young people in this game? Some have turned to alternative housing solutions.

Pacific Standard magazine recently blogged the experience of Luke Iseman, a 31-year-old graduate of the Wharton business school, who lives in a white shipping container on a small lot in West Oakland. Driven from the traditional urban housing market as a renter by exorbitant rates in San Francisco, and holding more than $60,000 of student loan debt, Iseman is putting his burgeoning business savvy to good use for himself and others with the establishment of an alternative housing start-up called Boxouse. Continue reading “Boxouse: Young Americans Turn to Alternative Housing”

Blog Love: ArchNewsNow – Nuts & Bolts

nutes_and_boltsNuts+Bolts is a “an exclusive ArchNewsNow monthly series to provide A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.” All ten articles currently listed are worth a read, and we hope the series is slated to continue. The authors are architects, consultants, insurance professionals, and financial advisers, all of whom offer a timely perspective on the state of the design industry. After perusing the library, here are four posts with the potential to help you and your firm in a risk management capacity:

#1 Nuts + Bolts: Mission Possible: Increase Your Value Without Lowering Your Fees

In this economic climate – or even in a good market – it may be tempting to lower your fees to stay competitive. However, lowering your price is not something you should immediately consider when faced with reduced revenue. As an alternative, you should seek to inject as much value into your services as possible. This will allow you to increase the intrinsic worth of your services, encouraging your clients to pay an appropriate fee for quality, not just quantity. But if you’re convinced that lowering your fees is a solid strategy that will boost your bottom line, think again. Here are a few reasons not to.

#2 You Can’t SELL If You Can’t TELL

You went to architecture school to become a good communicator…right? I’ll take a risk and say that chances are you probably didn’t. But if you want to be a great architect, engineer – or any other kind of professional – you need to know how to communicate clearly and effectively. You simply can’t avoid it. You communicate every day, whether you are meeting with colleagues in your office, talking to a client on your cell phone, e-mailing a consultant, or tweeting your followers. While we live in the digital age, and communication may seem to flow easily, there’s a lot more room for error. We’ve all had that gut-wrenching feeling of hitting the “send” button on an e-mail that had the wrong content or went to the wrong person.

#6 Changing Habits: The Secret to Successful Time Management

No time to grow your business? Learn to set aside time, clearly identify goals, and change bad habits, and you’ll transform your business development efforts from a waste of time into a productive enterprise. Most budding architects are initially attracted to the design side, rather than the business side, of their profession. As a result, many architects never develop the skills necessary to build their businesses. But just as design and project management are part of your daily routine, you should set aside time for business development as well. How do you make time for business development when you’ve been avoiding it or aren’t sure how to fit it into your day-to-day practice? The trick is to fundamentally and permanently change your habits. This sounds daunting, but you can achieve it if you follow these practical steps.

#8 Best Friends Don’t Make the Best Partners

In popular culture (and at most architecture schools) the architect is often portrayed as a lone figure, from Howard Rourke in Ayn Rand’s seminal work, The Fountainhead, to Frank Lloyd Wright, to Frank Gehry. Most people perceive architects to be creators working alone in the dark. Contrary to popular belief, it takes more than a single artist to make a great building. Most architects know that. What’s less obvious is that, in reality, most successful architectural practices are not sole practitioners but partnerships.

About the Authors of the Nuts+Bolts Series:

Michael S. Bernard, AIA, Principal, Virtual Practice Consulting

Mary Breuer leads Breuer Consulting Group

Founder of integrated communications firm Hausman LLC, Tami Hausman

Donna L. Maltzan is a business development trainer, facilitator, consultant and coach

Michael M. Samuelian, AIA, AICP, vice president at Related Companies

Stanley Stark, FAIA, LEED AP, a New York City-based architect who has held senior leadership positions with major firms including HLW, HDR, and Francis Cauffman

Steve Whitehorn, managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., the creator of The A/E Empowerment Program®

“A hundred years after we began building with tall buildings, we have yet to understand how the tall, high-rise building becomes a building block in making a city… in creating the public realm,” says legendary architect and teacher Moshe Safdie of Safdie Architects in Boston. This is the driving force behind his TED talk on How to Reinvent the Apartment Building.

Emphasizing the importance of light, permeability, and nature, Safdie demonstrates how breaking the mold of the standard residential skyscraper could transform the urban environment and the experience of those living in high-density housing.

Tired of reading article after newsletter after white paper after blog post on risk management? (We hope not! But just in case…) Here’s another option:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2ioR9X05Qo]

Longtime a/e ProNet affiliate Kent Holland of ConstructionRisk, LLC has translated his impressive catalog of resources into a series of short videos available on the ConstructionRisk.com YouTube Channel.

“If you’re involved in the construction project, whether as a contractor, a designer, or a project owner, you will get real benefit from the practical ideas, suggestions, and law presented in these videos.”

A few of the playlists available now:

J. Kent Holland is a construction lawyer located in Tysons Corner, Virginia, representing design professionals, contractors, and project owners.

Don’t forget the popcorn!

why do i need an insurance brokerAt our fall meeting last month, a panelist asked an important question:

Why is an insurance broker necessary for design professionals? Shouldn’t architects and engineers be able to access insurance companies and purchase Professional Liability policies directly?

Members of a/e ProNet are professional, independent brokers who serve the insurance needs of design professionals. Membership in our association is by invitation only, and members must be experienced and have a minimum number of design professional clients, as well as a minimum amount of premium volume. Our members must also provide their clients with services beyond the sale of a professional liability policy.

In addition to knowing the professional liability marketplace, they negotiate the best product at the best price for their clients. That negotiation happens every year at renewal time, and because our members are independent—not obligated to any one insurance company—they are in the best position to compare and contrast policies. Often, the time and expertise this process requires is underestimated by A/E clients. With a specialist broker, the A/E can rest assured that they have an advocate annually, both in relation to their bottom line and their exposure as a professional in a demanding and risky environment.

Most importantly, though, that advocacy doesn’t end when the renewal has been processed. The rest of the year, our members’ clients can count on their specialist brokers to provide services such as contract review, accredited continuing education, and other risk management services. Continue reading “Why should Architects & Engineers use a specialist Insurance Broker?”