Top 5 Cyber Threats Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences Industry Should Worry About

Yogesh Potdar   

By virtue of nature of its business, the pharmaceutical industry works with the most valuable data. To this add the industry’s stringent guidelines on privacy, and the need to safeguard protected health information (PHI) establishes the sector’s necessity for most efficient cybersecurity management programs.

The life sciences industry is rapidly embracing outsourcing, automations, dealing with third-party suppliers, to improve operational efficiency and the demands of scaling up the business. These changes, however, make them more attractive a target for cyber criminals that were previously focusing more on other industries like banking and finance.

Pharmaceutical enterprises bear an urgent need to implement evolved frameworks and strong cybersecurity programs to secure extremely sensitive patient, clinical data and its intellectual property.


Cybersecurity and the pharmaceutical industry

As digital transformation is taking place in the industry, pharmaceutical companies need to have a serious look at its Risk mitigation and Cyber Security. These companies collect, store and process large amounts of critical data and usually need access to sensitive information, including PHI, patents, and data related to pharmaceutical technologies. This means that an incident of breach in an organization’s systems can have disastrous outcomes such as stolen clinical trial data, stolen IP, often resulting in loss in shareholder value, loss revenue, and even enormously expensive litigations.

Why are healthcare and pharmaceutical companies the target of cyber criminals

As digital acceleration often lacks coupling with security strategy, several industries without the exception of pharmaceutical companies are left to suffer a spate of cyber-attacks emanating from cyber-crime syndicates, from state actors as more and more critical data are being processed in B2B and B2C transactions.

The data stolen from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies is extremely valuable, as hackers can sell personal patient information on the dark web that includes historical, financial information, and social identities, which can easily be used to commit identity theft. At the same time, attempts are made to demand ransom, with increasing success, from the companies it was stolen from so that critical data such as trial results or clinical data can continue to be available for business continuity.

Top 5 cyber threats pharmaceutical industry should worry about

The pharmaceutical industry is virtually at cross roads having to make those critical decisions as the business demands rapid scaling up right from its supply chains to R&D efforts to manufacturing to its downline distribution channels, becoming agile, thus throwing up constant hurdles and challenges of securing and ensuring smooth enabling of its business without interruptions. Time to market is extremely critical success factor.

Let us ponder on these 5 cybersecurity threats impacting pharmaceutical organizations:

Supply Chain gaps

Many pharmaceutical companies need a strong supply chain usually comprising of third-party vendors to carry out daily operations and improve efficiencies, such raw material manufacturers and other input item suppliers. With digital advancements, most likely the suppliers work on integrated supply chain management systems. In the unfortunate event of any of your vendors within your ecosystem were to experience a data breach, your organization would be adversely affected operationally and have to pay a heavy price. It is super important to have a complete protection, complete visibility from across your connected networks that allows you to continuously monitor suppliers’ cybersecurity posture.

Ransomware threats

There has been a 50 per cent increase in the daily average of ransomware attacks in the third quarter of 2020, compared to the first half of the year in countries such as India, the US, Sri Lanka, Russia and Turkey. The top ransomware types were Maze and Ryuk and the latter now attacks 20 organizations a week. And this is only accelerating.

To add to the above, with growing cooperation between different ransomware species, threats will only become smarter and more frequent. With a majority of the victims, across several regions, having paid up despite being advised against doing so, is only encouraging the perpetrators.

According to Gartner,  it is important to conduct initial ransomware assessments, enforce ransomware governance,  maintain consistent operational readiness, back up, test, repeat ransomware response to secure from this threat

Ransomware hackers are looking to interrupt operations to demand a ransom from organizations in exchange for stolen data and intellectual property.

Targeted Phishing attacks

The velocity of phishing attacks - the fraudulent attempt to access critical information by posing as a trusted source or entity is on the rise. Phishing attacks are a way to carry out an attack using compromised email accounts. Hackers use organizations’ names or character replacements to exploit the basic human curiosity by giving them attractive even lucrative links and trick them into clicking on infected emails. To avoid such fraudulent activities by internal teams, enhanced security procedures are highly recommended such as the multi-factor authentication and limited employee network access. What works in the organization’s favour with such procedures is the principle of least privilege.

The IoT factor

In recent years, the pharmaceutical companies and healthcare organisations in delivery of healthcare have adopted Internet of Things (IoT) which refers to a system of interrelated computing devices that can communicate and transfer data across a layered network, especially useful for their manufacturing units. This helps to streamline access to critical documents and patient information as well as use big data to monitor industry trends and trial successes. The unique privacy challenges that the industry is required to navigate, IoT can increase an organization’s cyber risk and present additional vulnerabilities by increasing the attack surface and creating more opportunities for hackers to gain access to the network and even bring networks down.

Employee negligence

A major driver of data breaches across nearly all industries is their internal users.  Attackers have long realised that it’s not the C-level employees are not the only employees who should be wary of external cyber-attacks, as lower-level employees are more likely to be soft and ready targets. Common types of cybercrimes that take undue advantage of human behaviour to gain sensitive information. Employee education and sensitising them to the traps of social engineering is crucial for staying diligent against hackers.

Cymune is helping pharmaceutical organizations become cyber secure

Increased privacy regulations such as GDPR and with new developments in technology, the pharmaceutical industry has stringent responsibilities regarding data protection and cybersecurity. The Cymune Team takes those extremely important targeted actions to prevent, detect and neutralize the most complex, sophisticated, and virulent cyber-attacks that endanger your businesses. The ability to proactively identify and mitigate threats, continuously monitor third-party vendors, and automate compliance with privacy regulations helps organizations to stay alert and aware of their IT network’s cybersecurity posture. As hackers and their methods become more advanced, Ransomware Shield enables the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry to safeguard privacy and healthcare provider infrastructure to more effectively avoid expensive breaches, lost data, and lost trust with their customer and partner ecosystem.