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Top 5 cybersecurity challenges & threats to keep in mind


With the digital shift in the pharmaceutical industry came great advancements but also concerns, mostly around cybersecurity challenges. 

Most operations have been transferred to digital platforms. Therefore, it is important for companies to have a cybersecurity plan in place to prevent data breaches. These can be highly damaging, compromising not only a company’s reputation but also patients’ safety. 

Pharma is home to some of the most sensitive data concerning research and drug development, but also patients’ personal information. And so protection plans must be crafted around the main challenges and threats you ought to keep in mind

What are the cybersecurity challenges?

1 – Human error

Everyone makes mistakes. They are an integral part of day-to-day life but are also one of the main contributors to cyberattacks. According to IBM, 95% of the data and security breaches that happen are due to human error. 

human error means unintentional actions – or a lack of action – by employees and users that cause, spread or allow a security breach to take place.” – Usecure

The accidental share of data on unapproved apps and software is a gateway into cyberattacks. Such is dangerous, as pharma companies are a household of some of the most sensitive information:

  • Personal patient data;
  • Patented drugs;
  • Clinical trials;
  • Research projects that are still in development…

There are two different types of human error. The first is skill-based. Meaning, professionals know the protocols and actions to follow. Nonetheless, momentary lapses happen, leading to minor mistakes. The other is decision-based. These are errors that originate from decisions founded on a lack of knowledge or information on the actions being taken. 

So human error rates are reduced, companies must invest in security software training and ensure staff is properly aware of protocols to follow.

2 – Cybersecurity professionals shortage

The shortage of cybersecurity professionals is one of the challenges of 2022. There is a gap of professionals in the field worldwide that ranges around 3 million. This has led to more than 400,000 cyber jobs in the US being currently unfilled. 

Even though having trained staff on the subject is the right step forward, pharma companies must invest in specialized professionals. These are of value as they can lay out the foundation for a strong cybersecurity plan that can guarantee the safety of held data and research. 

Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand. And so, it is important companies hire the right talent to integrate their teams and invest in them as part of long-term success. 

3 – Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that attacks a user’s data, threatening to publish it in exchange for a paid ransom. This can either make one’s private information available or block access to it indeterminately. In 2020 alone there were more than 17,000 devices reporting ransomware. 

The life sciences and pharmaceutical industries have become one of the main targets of cybercriminals in the last year. With COVID-19 vaccination launch plans, came a greater circulation of sensitive data and the generation of revenue. And so, cybercriminals saw here an easy target. This has led the CISA (US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) to consider it an “increased and imminent threat” (KPMG).

To fight against ransomware is important that pharma companies are aware of the guides on how to respond to attacks already published by CISA. It is also important to understand the dynamics of these activities and their lifecycle so they can be prevented by identifying the first signs of threat in time. 

4 – IoT-focused cyberattacks

IoT, also known as the internet of things is a network of physical things that are embedded with software and other technologies to connect them with other devices and systems over the internet. And, is one of the targets pinpointed of cyberattacks in the pharmaceutical industry

By the year 2019, 80% of healthcare organizations had experienced an IoT-focused cyberattack. Operational downtime is one of the most common impacts of these specific attacks. For that, these mainly compromise the end-users’ safety, in other words, patients’ well-being. 

As the integration of internet-connected devices is becoming more ubiquitous in the industry, one must be prepared to prevent cyberattacks of this nature. 

5 – Remote Work

COVID brought changes to the workplace, making remote work a reality in most industries, including the pharmaceutical. Despite newfound benefits in this different dynamic, pharma companies had to face a bigger threat. The greater exposition to cyberattacks and data breaches. 

In 2021 26% of the American workforce was expected to be working remotely throughout the year. And a further 22% (around 36.2 million Americans) to be working from home by 2025. Within these numbers are included pharma industry professionals.  

Remote work implicates a distributed network and software that is more vulnerable to outside threats. Which cybercriminals capitalize on stealing research and other important information from a company’s “intellectual property”. That is why from 2020 to 2021 attacks on health plans increase by a whopping 35%

And so, with remote work being a looming reality, pharma companies must find the right tools and protocols to ensure the safety of their data. Some of the solutions to consider are:

  • VPN – a tool that allows you to encrypt data in transit, helping workers to ensure the cloud is secure. 
  • DLP (Data Loss Protection) – is an especially important tool for teams that work with sensitive data. 
  • Analyze malware regularly – understand where the threats might come from and identify them before they can become a data breach. 
Want to know more about pharma and its current state in the US?

Download now for free our “US Healthcare Report – HCP and Patient Engagement”, to learn more about the industry and what to consider in your future strategies.