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Attacks are Common - But Why "Pharmaceutical Companies"?

Open-CISO

Attacks are Common - But Why "Pharmaceutical Companies"?

"Data is the new oil" was indeed a metaphor used widely up until 2019. However, in 2021, "Data is no longer the new oil. It is, in fact, the most invaluable resource on the planet". Data-driven analogies have skyrocketed in recent times with the surge in groundbreaking technologies in data analytics and big data. Enterprises have invested heavily in strategies based purely on data. Business models have begun to depend solely on data workload stored in huge repositories to be analyzed for good. Innovations at many companies worldwide are now blessed with machine learning and artificial intelligence mechanisms that help organizations grow multi-fold by realizing the potential of mere data.

With that said, unsecured data is constantly a growing risk for many enterprises throughout multiple continents. Experiencing the sudden expansion of data in use, it was inevitable that cybercriminals would consider data as a soft target. The world is now sensing unanticipated shocks when Sunday morning news sounds like "Pharmaceuticals - the new target for cyberbullies." The merciless cyber attackers have shifted their focus from financial sectors to the Pharma sector to gain confidential data and ask for almost anything in return. The damage can be endless.

Well, cyberbullies have gone past the idea of hacking a company just for money. Undoubtedly, money is an insignificant factor in hacking large organizations, but it's no more the only thing. For example, hackers are pivoting the pharmaceutical sector of late, and it is because the data stored within these organizations are worth millions or maybe billions of dollars worth of cash. For instance, imagine a hacker sneaking into pharmaceutical biggies like Pfizer or maybe Johnson & Johnson and getting hold of COVID-19 vaccine formulae. Now, if you ask me what would the hackers do with these formulae, they aren't scientists for sure. Yes, but think about if these formulas are sold on the dark web to third-world countries that can steal potential data and develop a faulty vaccine. How about they steal confidential information regarding company mergers or acquisition details that could be used to manipulate the stock market? How about financial information of all employees that could be a potential threat to their life savings? Sounds terrifying.

Indispensable value of Healthcare Data

Pharmaceutical organizations hold highly confidential and private data. It includes data related to drugs, cutting-edge technologies used to produce revolutionary drugs, proprietary information about patents, or even a nation's healthcare details. Losing such data can be catastrophic both for the organization's business and the general public. Businesses can go south in no time if their data is exposed, leading to the destruction that can go beyond financial implications. Considering a company getting walloped by a data breach, not only is its reputation enervated, but the firm's stocks may take a hit. This is usually followed by a consecutive loss for investors, the firm's stakeholder trust, and a plausible regulatory fine as well. This list can continue depending upon its nature of business, growth prospects, and the regulations it is obligated to adhere to. The company's valuation can dwindle its market reach, which may be enough to bring the entire business down to zero.

COVID-19 is the "GAS Catching Fire"

COVID-19 is undoubtedly accelerating cybercrime without any hesitation. Organizations are busy focusing on keeping the business running with a minimum workforce in play, social distancing, and a range of different restrictions in every country. Enterprises are immersed in strengthening their business posture. Unfortunately, they forgot that their nemesis, aka cyberattackers, were waiting to grab this opportunity, which they now have served on a silver plate. A recent study by one of the leading survey companies clearly articulated that cyber hacks have peaked 400 percent from March 2020 up until now, and it is not stopping. This unprecedented growth in cybercrime can outperform world inflation, the world economy, and even a nation's GDP and push them back many years back to the stone age.

In 2020, various cybersecurity communities across different continents claimed a high chance that such cyber attacks initiated from countries like Russia to steal secret vaccine codes and formulas to get ahead in the race to invent the world's first COVID-19 vaccine. However, some claimed this news was fake, and some discovered Russian-based IP addresses trying to intrude on pharmaceutical companies.

Protection against cybercrime

After a series of data breaches, forced intrusion attempts, and an overabundance of cyber insurance claims by a staggering number of pharmaceutical organizations, most of them agree that losses due to cyberattacks can result in multiple clinical trials, loss of proprietary information, and an endless list of havoc. Although pharmaceutical firms are outdated by a few years, business executives and leaders have started to comprehend that security is an element to be considered with a keen sense of urgency. As a result, organizations have begun to think beyond brand image and stock prices.

Here are a few ways through which pharmaceutical companies can plan ahead of time to secure their businesses:

  • Data Classification: First and foremost, all the architects within an organization must gather together to collate, consolidate and comprehend what data flows in and out of the organization. How the data flows in and how it flows out. Note down how and where the sensitive information is stored within the firm. This includes data-at-rest and data-in-transit. A fine-tuned data labeling activity usually follows data classification to identify which data is sensitive. This is often useful, especially when large organizations form a mountain of unstructured data knowingly or unknowingly.

  • Identify different types of Attack Vectors: The next step would be for all the security experts within the firm to identify all possible attack vectors. Depending on the nature of the business, enterprises must shortlist a few striking attack targets like intellectual property or a niche technology that their organization may patent. Next, bring in threat intelligence to understand the intent of the adversaries. An excellent place to start can be to look at the Mitre attack framework and list down organization-wide strengths and weaknesses.

  • Protection against Insider Threats 24x7: A disgruntled workforce is a common and well-known cause for insider attacks for most pharmaceutical enterprises worldwide. This often leads to multiple organizational challenges in identifying them and mitigating them before any damage is done. A good investment in Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools with a user behavior analytics feature can do wonders for organizations that are heavily dependent on emails.
  • Identity Management: Effective privileged account management within an organization is by far the most crucial aspect to be looked at. If any external adversaries find out unwanted credentials to confidential files or even the whole account, they can laterally move within the network in no time. Privilege account management teaming up with effective identity management can help monitor and protect unauthorized privilege escalation attacks. Unmanaged privileged accounts are often used as a backdoor to evade any detection.

  • Develop a Network/Cloud Security Framework: A well-defined network security architecture or a cloud security architecture must be developed before the architecture can work for good. To begin restructuring them, security experts within the organization must visualize the current state of architecture and plan to improve it based on a multi-layered secure architecture.

  • Workforce Education: Pharmaceutical teams must encourage all staff members to educate themselves with plausible threats to the company and all individual lives that are also at risk. This can be done with periodic training, and even team bonding activities are a great way to spread and educate all employees.

How can Pharma Companies benefit from adopting Cybersecurity?

The ongoing pandemic can be blamed for a need to adopt digital transformation and a sane security posture for every organization around the planet. Unfortunately, due to a shift in the attack focus, pharma companies are deemed the soft targets for cybercriminals. This only means that the pharma sector is at risk like never before. Therefore, now is the time for such companies to take a stand and invest a portion of their valuable time building a security-centric approach to safeguard their businesses. An enriched future state of pharmaceutical infrastructure is the need of the hour that can only be possible with the help of a strategized sense of security. To conclude, benefits can range from various aspects like protecting intellectual and proprietary information, protection against unauthorized data exfiltration, stock manipulation, or even protecting one's organization from signing its death certificate.

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