Cybersecurity threats impacting the pharmaceutical industry

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The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have access to some of the most sensitive data imaginable. Not only do they carry protected health information (PHI), but also hold private data about health practitioners, patients and third-party vendors.

Strict privacy guidelines regarding the safeguarding of PHI have become commonplace, but the increased threat posed by malicious actors highlights the sector’s need for more effective cybersecurity management.

The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are increasingly partnering with third-party vendors to deliver the best service. They’re also adopting automation tools and outsourcing work to improve operations. Although these changes may seem cost-effective in the short-term, the long-term implications are often overlooked.

Due to the shift in online operations (potentially to the cloud) and a rise in outsourcing, a new wave of cyber threats has become all too familiar to the healthcare industry. Pharmaceutical companies are now under increased pressure to build stronger cybersecurity frameworks to protect sensitive data and to secure intellectual property.

Cybersecurity and risk management

As this newfound digital shift faces the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, cybersecurity and risk mitigation have become a top priority. The large amounts of data that these companies collect, and the sensitive information that they possess, including drug patents, PHI and data related to pharmaceutical technologies, means a breach could have serious consequences. Gaining access to a company’s network could lead to stolen clinical trial data and intellectual property, lost revenue, reputational damage, and even legal implications.

The data held by healthcare and pharmaceutical companies is extremely valuable, making cybercrime a very lucrative business. Hackers often sell private patient information that includes financial information, address history, and social security numbers, to be used by criminals to commit identity theft. Alternatively, data can be held ransom against the very company it was stolen from so that large sums of money can be raised to prevent it from being used in criminal activity.

The top five cyber threats facing the pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry is now having to navigate new obstacles as it faces an increasing number of cyber threats. Let’s take a closer look at the top five cybersecurity threats currently facing the pharmaceutical industry:

1. Third-party vendors

Third-party vendors are often used by pharmaceutical companies to carry out daily tasks and improve operations; vendors could include treatment centres, manufacturing facilities and insurance providers. Once associated with and/or connected to any third-party vendor, your company is open to possible data breaches and operations can be affected which, in turn, could lead to reputational and financial damage. It’s therefore fundamentally important to have full visibility across your entire network while continuously monitoring third-party vendors’ cybersecurity at the same time.

2. Ransomware

A recent  report from Comparitech  states that ransomware attacks on US healthcare organisations cost $20.8 billion in 2020. The report states that 92 individual ransomware attacks affected over 600 separate clinics, hospitals, and organisations, and more than 18 million patient records. Ransomware attacks have become extremely lucrative – criminals are increasingly looking to disrupt operations to leverage a ransom from companies in exchange for stolen data.

3. Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks – accessing critical information by posing as a trusted source – are on the rise. Compromised email accounts are becoming the number one source of how criminals are conducting phishing attacks. Hackers use company names or character substitutions to trick people into clicking infected emails. As the number of phishing attacks increase, so does the need for increased security measures – limited employee network access and multi-factor authentication are just two of the ways to beat them.

4. The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT), a system of interrelated devices and machines that have the ability to communicate and transfer data across a network, has become more evident in healthcare. IoT not only increases your company’s cyber risk, but increases its attack surface as well.

5. Employee negligence or error

Workers are the major cause of data breaches across most industries. High-level employees are not the only ones who should be wary of external cyberattacks, as it’s been found that the lower levels of staff are more likely to be targeted. Pretexting, baiting, and quid pro quo are the most common types of cybercrimes that leverage human behaviour to gain sensitive information. The best ways to combat these types of threats is by educating staff on the threats and to make sure they’re vigilant.

How RiskXchange can help

RiskXchange is one of the firms leading the fight against cybercrime, coming up with novel solutions to everyday problems experienced at the hands of hackers. We are a respected provider of cybersecurity ratings and can fully assess potential threats to ensure your business is protected inside and out.

With full visibility over your ecosystem’s entire attack surface in near real-time, you can regularly monitor and mitigate risks to prevent unnecessary exposures. Our passive data collection methods are effective and have no impact on your network performance. Using data-driven insights to prevent breaches is the best way to reduce an attack surface and prevent cyberattacks. 

About RiskXchange

RiskXchange provides a powerful AI-assisted, yet simple, automated and centralised 360-degree cybersecurity risk rating management approach. We generate objective and quantitative reporting on a company’s cyber security risk and performance, which enables organisations with evolving business requirements to conduct business securely in today’s open and collaborative digital world. 

RiskXchange is an information security technology company, which helps companies of all sizes fight the threat of cyber threats by providing instant risk ratings for any company across the globe. RiskXchange was founded and is led by recognised experts within the security industry, who have held leading roles within companies, such as IBM Security.