The Top 9 Cybersecurity Challenges Pharma Companies Need to Overcome

By Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine

Pharmaceutical companies represent a trillion-dollar industry. In 2021, the global pharmaceutical industry was worth $1.42 trillion U.S. dollars. It makes sense that hackers, scammers, and bad actors want a piece of that pie. What are some top cybersecurity challenges the pharmaceutical industry needs to overcome?

1. Phishing

Phishing is deceptively simple. You receive an email that looks official, with a bogus link. Someone can click that link and enter their information as they usually would, delivering it right into the hands of a hacker. Around 36% of all security breaches result from phishing attacks. Overcoming these attacks isn’t always easy because fake emails are designed to look as convincing as possible.

Banning all external emails from a pharma system isn’t always possible. Strict security policies regarding external emails are the only way to overcome these cybersecurity challenges.

2. Ransomware

Ransomware is one of the biggest challenges to cybersecurity in the pharmaceutical industry. A virus encrypts all your files, leaving you at the mercy of hackers with the decryption key as they hold your data for ransom. Ransomware attacks doubled in frequency in 2021, which may continue to climb.

A corrupted email attachment delivers most ransomware attacks. It isn’t possible to block all attachments, but all unsolicited or unexpected attachments should be treated with suspicion. Frequent backups are also essential in case of a ransomware attack. Keep these backups separate from the rest of the network or you risk having them encrypted.

3. Information Sharing

Information sharing is one of the foundations of the pharmaceutical industry. Creating new drugs, treatments, or therapies would be nearly impossible without it. Unfortunately, each person added to an information-sharing network creates one more cybersecurity challenge.

The best way to overcome these challenges to cybersecurity in the pharmaceutical industry is to keep information-sharing networks small whenever possible. Everyone involved should be held to the highest security standards and cybersecurity policies must be strictly enforced.

4. Outdated Hardware or Software

Updating old hardware is expensive, but as the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) found out in 2017, neglecting those updates could cost you. Outdated hardware allowed a ransomware attack to run rampant through NHS networks in 2017, with the virus eventually infecting more than 250,000 machines in 150 different countries.

When designing an IT budget, ensure that money is set aside for upgrades and maintenance. Don’t rely on old and unsupported hardware or software that could leave you open to an attack.

5. Third-Party Vendors

Doing everything yourself in-house sounds excellent, but it isn’t always feasible. Pharmaceutical companies rely on third-party vendors to complete many of these tasks. If one of these companies experiences a data breach, it will also impact your company.

While you can’t always prevent these cybersecurity challenges, enforcing full transparency and visibility across your entire network can reduce the impact of these potential breaches. It means you’re monitoring their cybersecurity practices as well as your own, but it could help prevent security breaches in the future.

6. The Internet of Things (IoT)

The internet of things has expanded far beyond smart appliances in your home. Nearly every industry relies on these networked devices.

In medicine, doctors can use them to monitor patients remotely, tracking vital statistics from a distance. This application is also valuable in the pharmaceutical industry, allowing researchers to track study participants. Unfortunately, as with any networked system, there is always the potential for a breach.

Ensure you follow the best practices when using an IoT device, including changing the default password, updating the software when patches become available, and utilizing multi-factor authentication. Using the devices on secure and encrypted Wi-Fi can make things even more secure.

7. Employee Negligence

Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, especially in high-risk industries like pharmaceuticals. One misclick on an infected attachment or phishing email could risk the company’s entire network. There is no foolproof way to eliminate the risk created by employee negligence, but you can reduce it.

Start by providing comprehensive cybersecurity training for everyone who might ever touch a computer in your organization. This training should be repeated regularly to keep it fresh in everyone’s mind. Pair this training with strict cybersecurity rules and protocols and the associated actions for infractions. It sounds harsh, but it’s the only way to mitigate risks you can’t eliminate.

8. Telemedicine

Telemedicine began gaining momentum before the pandemic, but after COVID-19 started to spread, the industry exploded. This sector includes pharmaceutical companies, many of which found it necessary to switch to remote models to prevent the spread of the virus. Each person added to a networked system increases the risk that it could be breached.

Start by ensuring all applications are HIPAA compliant, especially if they’ll be discussing or transmitting confidential patient data. Other tools to improve cybersecurity in telemedicine or remote network access are similar to IoT precautions, including multi-factor authentication and encryption.

9. Scams

It’s not always the direct attacks you need to worry about regarding cybersecurity in the pharmaceutical industry. Hackers and bad actors are master manipulators, tricking users into compromising their networks with promises of free goods or services. Social engineering attacks, like phishing, baiting, pretexting, or quid pro quo, are easy to pressure or trick someone into giving up their credentials or leaving the door to your network wide open.

Overcoming this cybersecurity challenge is similar to preventing phishing attacks. Focus on strict and comprehensive cybersecurity training and protocols. The first step to avoiding a trap – or in this case, a scam – is knowing of its existence. It’s harder to trick someone who’s already aware of how the game is played.

Protecting Your Systems

Cybersecurity will continue to be a significant concern for companies in every industry for the foreseeable future. As long as there are networks to target, hackers and bad actors will try to make their way in. Cybersecurity in the pharmaceutical industry is essential, as you’re protecting intellectual property and privileged patient information. Understanding the risks makes it easier to make the changes necessary to overcome these challenges.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. A regular contributor to Brilliance Security Magazine, she has over four years of experience writing articles in the industrial sector.



Follow Brilliance Security Magazine on Twitter and LinkedIn to ensure you receive alerts for the most up-to-date security and cybersecurity news and information.