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Why Cybersecurity is Becoming a Top Priority for Drug Makers

Sonit Jain, GajShield Infotech
By: Mr. Sonit Jain, CEO, GajShield Infotech

In the last ten years, we’ve witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of novel disease outbreaks globally. Leading pharmaceutical companies have been working rigorously to develop newer drugs to effectively counter these threats. The relentless pressure to innovate and produce medicines has pushed major drug companies to embrace digital technology. And as the pharma industry moves towards complete digitalisation, the shadow of cyber threats now looms larger than ever. This is evident from the startling levels of sophistication in cybercrimes this millennium has seen already.

Pharmaceutical companies need to be vigilant and proactive to prevent the security breaches caused by external as well as internal actors. A failure to keep data security measures updated can prove disastrous for drug companies in several ways. The issues that can stem from weak or incoherent cyber protection include:

Patient Data Leaks

Pharmaceutical companies are gradually moving towards becoming more patient-centric. They store information about individual customers to serve them in a more personalised way. A Cambridge-based biotech company offers a good example of deploying a more patient-centric approach towards drug formulation. The biotech company had collaborated with Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), an advocacy group, and had used the latter’s patient preference study to get faster approval for the first disease-modifying therapy for the Duchenne muscular dystrophy. A compromise in the confidential data can be dangerous for the customer. Moreover, a data leak will end up having legal ramifications for the pharmaceutical company. The pharma company must, therefore, be extra careful with this data to maintain consumer relationships and avoid litigation.

Pharmacovigilance Audit Issues

Pharmacovigilance is the science related to collection, detection, monitoring, assessment, and prevention of adverse effects with pharmaceutical products. The pharmacovigilance audits are used to verify the quality of manufactured drugs for mass usage. Pharmaceutical companies are obligated to provide information about new drugs to regulatory bodies. From a security perspective, the sensitive and confidential data present in these audits is vulnerable to tampering by cybercriminals. It is important for the designated cybersecurity agency to make sure that the information from the pharmacovigilance audits is prevented from unauthorised alterations. Any tampering of data present in the audit reports poses significant threats to the company in a few ways. For instance, medicines not approved for commercial use by regulatory bodies pose health risks for potential consumers if they are greenlit for production.

Data Compromise by Employees

There is always a chance of employees becoming disillusioned with company management for some reason or another. Employees who are discontent with the way they are treated in the organisation could negatively impact the company from within. Pharmaceutical companies, especially, have a lot to lose if their confidential medicinal ingredients and formulation processes are exposed in the public domain. To sort this out, a few measures could be taken by the management. Firstly, the higher-level employees at any organisation must know about the prevailing issues within their subordinate ranks. The data leaks can happen by an employee’s negligence too. It is vital for the pharmaceutical company to play safe with regards to keeping their secret details hidden from the public view. It is the job of the cybersecurity team to ensure that the confidential details of the drug manufacturer are protected at all times.

Problems with Internet of Things

The Internet of Things could cause issues such as AI-driven security threats, cloud attacks, issues related to a lack of knowledge regarding it amongst others. The team responsible for installing such complex and synchronised systems must also undertake the training of the employees to ensure that malfunctions are avoided. Moreover, the cybersecurity team must ensure that data leaks and attacks from external sources are prevented. As mentioned earlier, pharmaceutical companies stand to lose much more than most regular companies when a data leak occurs.

Chemical Terrorism

Chemical terrorism is the utilisation of harmful chemicals to cause widespread damage. The emission of dangerous chemicals at any location can have adverse effects on biological and environmental levels. Drug-making companies utilise several elements to manufacture proprietary drugs. These companies store large amounts of confidential data related to pharmaceutical formulation in their databases. Modern cybercriminals possess the knowhow to breach security protocols and gain access to this data. Certain standalone elements in these drugs are extremely dangerous in an open environment. If they end up in the wrong hands, the perpetrators could use the elements to wreak havoc on large swathes of people and the environment. Although extreme to an extent, the possibility of such an attack cannot be overlooked by pharmaceutical companies. They must make sure to safeguard the formulation data by using the services of experienced and reputed cyber protection agencies.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other health-related issues have resulted in pharmaceutical companies being a hot topic of discussion globally. These drug makers possess vast amounts of essential information which is critical in the current scenario. As specified earlier, technology plays a big part in the drug producers’ operations. The threat of cyber-attacks makes it vital for such companies to adopt extensive measures for keeping their data secure.

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