Reducing Risk with “Smart” Tech

Reducing Risk with

“Smart” Tech

“Alexa, what’s today’s weather?” “Alexa, how is traffic on the highway?” “Alexa, do you detect a water leak inside the house?”

Alexa can do that! Perhaps, not yet…. but the concept is not a far-fetched as it might seem. There are smart sensors which do monitor for water leaks. And, according to a survey conducted by Nationwide Insurance, only 7% of survey respondents use such technology. Contrast that figure with the 66% rate of smart device penetration into households.

What is very interesting is most homeowners are unaware that smart technology can actually save money on insurance, by reducing the risk of costly home problems.

Smart Technology Price Barriers

Much of the smart tech inside homes of today is intended to increase security and make homes more energy efficient. The most common smart tech is video doorbells, home security cameras, and thermostats. The smart home product sector is expected to grow 25% over the next five years.

However, many homeowners are reluctant to install a device due to cost. Other reasons include a lack of knowledge on what sensors and tech is available as well as concerns about security. The fear of technology that is always “on” (listening for the keywords “Alexa” or “Hey Google” especially after seeing news stories of hackers able to reprogram home video cameras.

While cost is still an objection, over 60% of consumers have said they would be interested in installing smart devices as long as they helped lower premiums, according to the Nationwide survey.

Preventing Water Loss Incidents

Alexa may not be able to lower premiums, but smart sensors can detect water-loss incidents caused by pipe, fixture, or water heater leaks and have the most potential to reduce homeowners’ risks. Interestingly enough, 27% of survey respondents were aware of products that monitor for water flow and leaks. Less than 25% of respondents reported being aware of the availability of smart tech which can close water valves, in the event of a leak.

As average water damage or pipes freezing can cause more than $10,000 in damage, these sensors can provide a layer of protection, especially in winter months when many folks are vacationing away from home. Many homeowners take precautions to secure the home from theft and fire and typically don’t consider water damage risks until it has become a problem.

Insurers are aware of the cost impact of water losses and will offer discounts to homeowners to take appropriate precautions ahead of time.

Check with your insurance agent and see how increasing your home intelligence might save you money on premiums and increase your peace of mind.

Trust me: coming home from vacation to a waterfall on your inside staircase is not a pleasant end to a great vacation.

Aspen Insurance Agency is a family-run business in Denver, CO servicing clients nationwide. We work with multiple insurance carriers to offer our customers a wide variety of risk reduction coverage at the lowest possible cost. We offer a wide range of personal, auto insurance, commercial and professional insurance to residential and commercial insurance customers enabling the cheapest rates available. Call to speak to one of our insurance professionals and see how painless insurance shopping can be.

Home Computer Security – History of the Password

History of the Password

Over the last 20 plus years, widely available personal computers, tablets, and smart phones have revolutionized our interaction with almost everything. With a few clicks of a mouse, or swipe of a finger, we can order clothing, book flights, reserve a hotel, deposit a check, pay a bill; there isn’t anything we can’t do from the comfort of our own home, or the neighborhood coffee shop.

Our personal information is stored, somewhere, by a seemingly uncountable number of vendors, institutions, marketing companies web sites. Unfortunately, criminals, adept at using software to invade our home computers or smart phones are also aware of the vast amount of information available. Criminals search for security weaknesses to extract our personally identifiable information, such as credit card or social security numbers, birth dates and more to able to set up false identities or deplete our online accounts. Criminals also seek to install ransomware, locking corporations and users from accessing computers.

Just as we secure our homes with a lock on the front door, we also need to secure our online identity, our most basic protection is the humble password. The password in combination with an email address or username, identifies the authorized user of frequently accessed sites or apps and any retained personal information.

Too often, we underestimate the importance of passwords, selecting something easy to remember rather than difficult for an attacker to break.

In this multi-part series, we examine various security threats from personal computing and techniques to best protect yourself from the dangers of criminals wandering the internet looking for victims.

History of Passwords

Passwords are secret data, typically an arbitrary string of characters which include letters, digits, or other symbols. If the permissible characters are constrained to be numeric, the corresponding secret is sometimes called a personal identification number (PIN). A key attribute in picking a password is to select something which is hard to guess, so a password may be composed of multiple words, separated by spaces: a passphrase.

The longer the password (or phrase) the harder it is for software password-breakers to reveal the actual password.

Passwords have been in use for much longer than the internet or computers. There are historical references to the use of “watchwords” in the Roman military. Sentries challenging anyone wishing to enter an area to supply a password or watchword, only allowing entry upon hearing the correct password.

Passwords were used by the military over the years, evolving to include both a password and a counterpassword. During World War II, GIs would challenge any individuals entering an area with a password, to be replied with a counter password.

The first time a password was used in computing was 1960 at MIT. The university had a large mainframe computer to be shared by numerous researchers. Each shared not only the mainframe but a single disk file as well. The password was developed so users could access the computer for their allotted time (in 1960, computing resources were severely limited) and only have access to their own specific files.

The first time a computer password was hacked was also 1960, when researchers started using others’ passwords to gain more computer time.

Though the password is a less than perfect approach to security, it went on to become the go-to method for computer security due to its simplicity, which is also a disadvantage.

Attempting to reduce the password disadvantages, a cryptographer at Bell Labs devised a technique called “hashing” where the entered password values were converted to numeric output which could be used to compare to an entered value to validate the passwords but could not be used to reverse engineer the password.

With hashing, the actual password is not stored, only the numeric values to validate the password entered matches. Hash functions used in cryptography have the following key properties:

  • It’s easy and practical to compute the hash, but “difficult or impossible to re-generate the original input if only the hash value is known.”
  • It’s difficult to create an initial input that would match a specific desired output.

Thus, in contrast to encryption, hashing is a one-way mechanism. The data that is hashed cannot be “unhashed”.

Additional layers of security include “salting”. Modern password databases to further protect a password by inserting random data with the password, then hashing the resulting values.

Another security technique is “encryption”, where a key is used to convert a set of entered values to something which appears to be meaningless, but which can then be unencrypted. This technique is only used when the password or pass phrase must be known and reviewed for validation.

In our next installment we discuss how customers can increase their security.

Aspen Insurance Agency is a family run business in Denver, Colorado servicing clients nationwide. We work with multiple insurance carriers to offer our customers a wide variety of risk reduction coverage at the lowest possible cost. We offer a wide range of personal, auto insurance, commercial and professional insurance to residential and commercial insurance customers enabling the cheapest rates available. Call to speak to one of our professionals for home or business insurance and see how painless insurance shopping can be.

Coastal Flooding

Changing sea levels are an integral part of global climate change. Melting polar ice, raises sea levels, which inundates both low-lying wetlands (historically a high tide barrier to storm surge) and dry land. The shoreline erodes (reducing the effectiveness of the low-lying wetlands) contributing to coastal flooding increasing the flow of salt water into estuaries and nearby groundwater aquifers.

Higher sea levels also leave coastal infrastructure, such as homes, boardwalks, parks, more vulnerable to damage from storms.

“Relative sea level change” refers to the height of the ocean relative to the land at a particular location. As relative sea level rises due to climate change, one of the most noticeable consequences is an increase in coastal flooding.

Flooding typically occurs during seasonal high tides and storms that push water toward the shore. In recent years, however, coastal cities are flooding more frequently outside of extreme tides or high winds, due to rising sea levels. This type of coastal flooding is expected to increase in depth, frequency, and extent in the United States during this century.

Compare the number of flood days between 1950s and 2010s. According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

City                  Flood days between 1950 and 1959:             Flood days between 2011 and 2020:

Key West, FL                           0                                                                      5

Charleston, SC                        0                                                                      6

Atlantic City, NJ                       1                                                                      10

Bar Harbor, ME                       2                                                                      10

Seattle, WA                             2                                                                      3

This does not include “nuisance”, or high tide flooding when tides push water levels temporarily higher than the normal tidal line. This flooding has minor impacts, flooding some streets or overwhelming storm drains.

Recurring coastal flooding can cause frequent road closures, reduced stormwater drainage capacity, and deterioration of infrastructure which was not designed to withstand frequent inundation or exposure to salt water.

40 percent of Americans live near the coast, and more than $1 trillion of property and structures are at risk. Flooding is the costliest natural disaster in the United States, accounting for more than $268 billion in damage in 2017. Make no mistake, flooding is not just a coastal problem. In the past 10 years, every state has experienced at least two major floods.

Protecting Your Coastal Home

Given that so much is at stake, what steps can a coastal homeowner take to protect their investment? Homeowners insurance policies don’t routinely cover flood-related damage.

Instead, a separate policy is required from the National Flood Insurance Program. Purchasing flood insurance at all could prove to be a challenge for homes severely damaged in a flood, or for those that have experienced repeated flooding. And without flood insurance, it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a mortgage from a bank or lender, or to sell your property.

To be eligible for coverage through the program, there are four possible approaches.


The first approach is elevating a flood prone home.

In elevating, wooden pilings are sunk deep into the soil with the structure raised to sit on top of the pilings. Where raising is unfeasible, the structure is torn down and rebuilt on pilings. The objective is to raise the living quarters and essential services (heating and air conditioning, for example) above the what’s called “the 100-year flood,” or, what FEMA refers to as the Base Flood Elevation (BFE).

The higher the lowest floor is above the BFE, the lower the risk of flooding. Lower risk usually means lower flood insurance premiums.”

Statistics show that the coastal bottom lands of the East and Gulf coasts are most likely to experience this kind of flooding. But 90% of natural disasters in the U.S. involve flooding, which also hits homes near lakes, rivers, and small streams. Even dry areas of California, scorched by wildfire that has destroyed trees and vegetation, are vulnerable.

FEMA’s BFE yardstick means many coastal homes (or homes in flood prone areas such as rivers, lakes, and small streams) must be raised 7 to 9 or more feet, with the ground level either left open, or enclosed only for storage, workspace, or a garage.

The cost of raising a house onto pilings isn’t cheap: first the structure must be lifted off the old foundation and placed into a “crib” temporarily. Then, the home is raised again, now onto the pilings. Once on the pilings, walls frequently need to be repaired and stairs must be built to enter the raised first floor.

Given what appears to be a high dollar ticket project, why elevate?

One reason is your homeowner’s insurance will not cover future flood damage. If your home has already flooded, it may be easier to get insurance to pay for the elevation.

Your flood insurance policy could cover up to $250,000 of loss to the structure and up to $100,000 of personal property. Filing an Increased Cost of Compliance claim may enable you to receive up to $30,000 (check with your insurance agent for your specific coverages).

FEMA also has a Hazard Mitigation Program called Flood Mitigation Assistance which may help you cover the cost to elevate. Also, elevating or flood-proofing your home will lower your flood insurance rates. Without it, your rates could climb 20% a year over the next five years. Since FEMA is $20.5 billion in debt from continuing hurricanes and other disasters, cheap flood insurance—which still averages less than $1,000 a year—could be a thing of the past.

The other approaches:


The reality is some homes are too damaged to elevate or restore or, due to erosion, it is too dangerous to rebuild on that location at any level. For those homes or structures, the only real option is to tear down and remove the home or structure.

Not ideal, and it may be easier and cheaper to rebuild in a not-so-flood-prone location and elevate, rather than restore in place.


Relocation is recognition that it is impractical to rebuild or elevate. Doing so will just put off the inevitable. So, here, the home, business or structure is removed from the site moved to a less flood-prone location.


Floodproofing is typically an option for non-residential buildings. In floodproofing, the building is made watertight through a combination of adjustments or additions of features to the building. The intent is to reduce the potential for flood damage.

“If you don’t have a mortgage, you’re not required to have flood insurance,” says spokesperson Mark Friedlander, of the Insurance Information Institute. You can still have regular property insurance, but as any home insurance agent will tell you, it doesn’t cover a flood, whether it happens in a hundred years . . . or this one.

Aspen Insurance Agency is a family run business in Denver, Colorado servicing clients nationwide. We work with multiple insurance carriers to offer our customers a wide variety of risk reduction coverage at the lowest possible cost. We offer a wide range of personal, auto insurance, commercial and professional insurance to residential and commercial insurance customers enabling the cheapest rates available. Call to speak to one of our professionals for home or business insurance and see how painless insurance shopping can be.