Recent advancements have helped push the pharmaceutical industry into the spotlight worldwide. For example, the development of mRNA vaccine technology holds promise not just for current pandemic concerns but also in the fight against diseases such as malaria, cystic fibrosis and cancer.
While this is good news for pharma companies at scale, it also comes with potential drawbacks: Increasing market value goes hand in hand with growing cyber threats to pharmaceutical industry operations that could potentially derail research, compromise key data and create legal challenges.
Here’s a look at five frightening threats to the pharma industry — and what companies can do to defend their critical IT assets.
- Expanding attack surfaces: Many pharmaceutical companies have expanded their operations into the cloud to help manage resource demands for research and growing storage requirements for patient and trial data. Yet this also creates a larger attack surface for malicious actors with more potential paths to compromise. Third-party vendors are one of the most common: Companies partner with outside agencies for services or software. If those agencies are compromised, attackers could move laterally into more secure pharmaceutical networks.
To reduce the risk of expanding attack surfaces, companies need to adopt a zero-trust security model designed to verify users and resource requests rather than assuming their authenticity based on frequency or familiarity.
- Improving phish fakes: Phishing attacks are on the rise, especially as more companies adopt hybrid working models that see employees splitting their time between home and corporate networks. Along with increased volume comes increased sophistication. Many hacker groups are now capable of creating emails that look legitimate and convince users to take specific action — such as forwarding their login and password details or clicking through to malicious webpages. As a result, pharma networks may be compromised for weeks or months before breaches are detected.
Here, it’s critical to deploy next-generation security tools capable of detecting and containing potential threats before they make it to employee inboxes.
- Rising ransomware volumes: Ransomware remains the most worrisome pharmaceutical cyber attack. If hackers can gain access to critical corporate networks with ransomware code, they’re able to encrypt key data and demand millions in payment for its release.
This creates a three-fold problem for pharmaceutical companies:
- First is the ransom itself. Amounts demanded are steadily rising and can significantly impact operational budgets.
- Next is decryption. Even if companies pay, decryption keys may not work as intended.
- Last but not least is privacy. Given the massive amount of personally identifiable information (PII) stored and handled by pharma companies, ransomware breaches carry the risk of creating HIPAA non-compliance scenarios that could see organizations fined or sanctioned — even if they’re able to limit the damage caused.
It’s impossible to completely avoid ransomware risk. That said, pharmaceutical companies can mitigate potential impacts by deploying robust encryption for data in storage, in transit and in use — and verifying that anyone attempting to access this data passes multiple authentication checks.
- Growing skills gaps: The cyber security skills gap is growing worldwide — from technology companies to education to finance and health care, there are more infosec jobs available than skilled professionals to fill them.
While pharma firms have some advantages in recruiting and keeping talent as the industry continues to push the leading edge of research and development and firms can afford to pay IT staff members what they’re worth, even market leaders are struggling to hire enough staff to stay ahead of the security curve.
To address this issue, pharmaceutical companies are often best served by leveraging managed security service providers that can help target key security concerns through risk assessments, penetration testing, sensitive data scanning and third-party risk management (TPRM).
- Increasing legacy liabilities: With Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) operations on the rise, pharmaceutical manufacturing companies now face the challenge of merging next-generation sensors and autonomous devices with legacy technology and solutions that were never designed to work as Internet-connected applications. The result is a growing patchwork of services and solutions that traditionally relied on air gaps to provide effective defense — and may not integrate well with new technology deployments.
To mitigate this risk, pharma companies must first find and map the current location of all legacy technologies. Real-time monitoring and management solutions come next. Early detection of potential threats goes a long way to reducing their potential impact. Finally, companies need agile and adaptive incident response programs to help limit these legacy liabilities and demonstrate due diligence across security operations.
HALOCK Can Help
Better pharma cyber security starts with HALOCK. With experience helping health care organizations navigate the triple challenge of complexity, compliance and cybercrime, HALOCK teams can empower pharmaceutical companies to proactively identify potential threats, reduce total network risk and better ensure data security — without compromising performance.
Discover how HALOCK can enhance your threat management program. Let’s talk.