While cybersecurity is not an unfamiliar challenge for life sciences companies, what has changed, however, is the sophistication and intensity of attacks in recent years, particularly amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. With substantial investments being made in new drug therapies and life-saving treatments, intellectual property and proprietary research data have never been more valuable.
At the same time, cybercriminals are becoming increasingly more clever in their approach. This means that implementing a robust, well-planned cybersecurity strategy is more important than ever. A single security breach can wreak havoc on any business, compromising manufacturing secrets, exposing private information, and potentially damaging mission-critical systems.
Meanwhile, hackers continue to uncover new ways to monetize sensitive data, making these assets even more valuable and attractive targets. Life sciences and healthcare organizations collect an enormous amount of sensitive and highly confidential information. Losing control over that data can have catastrophic consequences, from data privacy violations and financial penalties to an erosion of consumer and brand trust.
Following are five core reasons why cybersecurity should be a top priority for life sciences companies of all sizes.
1 – Safeguarding Intellectual Property (IP)
One of the biggest risks for life sciences companies is the loss of intellectual property, including proprietary product formulas, clinical trial data, and drug pricing and marketing strategies. In fact, according to one study, the pharmaceutical industry is now frequently the number one target of cybercriminals around the world, particularly when it comes to IP theft1. Because of its intrinsic market value, this data can be quickly sold on the dark web or ransomed back to companies who are desperate to recover their sensitive data.
2 – Potential Exposure of Confidential Data
Cybercriminals stealing personal data from computers is nothing new. However, with growing digital connectivity and the emergence of the Internet of Things, network breaches and data theft have become increasingly more rampant in recent years. With more devices and more endpoints to manage, one of the biggest threats is the prevalence of new hard-to-detect malware capable of intercepting private information and personal data from customers, partners, and employees. Depending on the type of data and its inherent value, life sciences companies also face a growing risk from ransomware attacks, which can effectively block or freeze digital systems and databases so that owners cannot use them until they pay the perpetrators a ransom.
3 – Regulatory Compliance
While the loss of data and customer trust is bad enough, there’s also the potential for non-compliance and its associated penalties. Depending on where you operate, new stringent privacy regulations could mean that substandard security protocols could leave you vulnerable to legal litigation―on top of the loss of valuable data. The digital nature of today’s business environment elevates your risk of experiencing a cybersecurity breach and can create confusion and uncertainty around the chain of controls that define how and where data is generated, how it is accessed and shared, and ultimately where it ends up.
4- Operational Performance and Business Continuity
While building an effective data protection strategy and business continuity plan can be challenging, the effort can deliver immense business value on multiple levels. Transactions involving mergers and acquisitions are a good example. While these events are part of daily life of many life sciences companies, they can pose unique challenges from a cybersecurity perspective. During the normal course of shuffling resources and personnel, cybersecurity protocols and practices can lapse, creating an opening for savvy criminals. It also means that if your company’s data is compromised, you’ve not conducted enough due diligence to protect their assets before a merger or acquisition is completed. That alone could threaten the deal and leave your company vulnerable to costly legal issues.
5 – Smart Governance
Powerful innovations in digital technologies and new uses of big data have caused life sciences companies (like other industries) to be swept up into a wave of transformational changes. These disruptive forces have accelerated the need for more robust security protocols – beyond simply updating your anti-virus software and making sure the latest security patches are in place. It requires implementing a proactive, top-down operating and security model, with well-defined roles and responsibilities, rigid protocols in dealing with third-party integrations, ongoing monitoring, effective communication, and properly trained employees.
Best Practices for Life Sciences Companies
While there is no silver bullet to protect against all threats, there are some proven best practice measures and techniques that can help protect sensitive intellectual property and proprietary assets.
Conduct regular risk assessments to assess strengths and weaknesses around data protection best practices and security protocols. Gain a deeper understanding of the increased risks that digital systems and interconnected devices and networks bring to the business and IT environment. Define and update policies and procedures based on corporate data use requirements and mandates for your particular market.
Monitor lifecycles. Network monitoring tools can help confirm the health of software and firmware throughout system startup, operation and during sensitive upgrade periods. Software updates and security patches should be delivered automatically by default. Stay updated on the liability and regulatory directives impacting cybersecurity in the life sciences sector.
Implement higher-level controls. These enterprise data protection and security tools help protect data when it’s being accessed or used. Strong access control and user authentication methods help ensure only approved users can obtain access to your networks and data. Encryption is also critical to safeguard data and provide additional reinforcement barriers to network-based attacks.
Create a culture in which people talk about security, and make security a clear priority. The users who interface with IT systems must also be educated and instructed in how to perform their tasks. Teach users about secure online practices such as how to recognize potential threats and phishing attempts. Check their security awareness with in-house hacking attempts and interactive security activities.
Deploy updated anti-malware to help prevent malicious software such as ransomware and viruses from sneaking into your network, and make sure your anti-malware software is consistently updated with the latest definitions.
Make backups of all your data and software on a storage device that is not attached to your network or computer. Confirm that all your backups are operating properly and test them on a regular basis to make sure they will perform when you need them.
Making Security a Strategic Priority with BACS IT
Every IT environment is different, and hackers are constantly refining their techniques. The good news is that with the right mix of defensive measures, smart policies and sound technology planning, life sciences companies can create a business and IT environment that is secure, cost-efficient, and sustainable. To find out more, reach out to us here at BACS IT today. We can help keep your business data secure.