Report finds 10% of pharma manufacturers at high risk for ransomware

By | May 19, 2021

The cyber risk platform Black Kite released a new report this week finding that one in 10 global pharmaceutical manufacturers are at a high risk of suffering a ransomware attack.  

The report, published on Tuesday, evaluated the cybersecurity posture of the 200 largest global pharmaceutical companies and 166 associated third-party vendors.  

“We have seen how ransomware attackers can shut down a gasoline pipeline in the past week. Imagine if a ransomware attack halted a manufactured COVID-19 vaccine hostage or stopped the production of vital chemotherapy drugs,” said Bob Maley, Black Kite’s chief security officer, in a statement.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

Billions of people worldwide rely on the pharmaceutical industry, sometimes for daily medications.  

“An interruption in manufacturing lifesaving drugs or therapies would be catastrophic for many. A cyberattack on a pharmaceutical company could mean life or death for consumers,” noted the Black Kite report.  

The organization used open-source intelligence sources, in combination with machine learning, to evaluate companies’ susceptibility to ransomware attacks on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0.  

Nearly 10% of companies were over what Black Kite considers a “critical” threshold of 0.6, indicating high susceptibility.  

Medium-sized pharmaceutical companies had the highest average susceptibility.  

Security issues included out-of-date systems, phishing vulnerability, publicly visible critical ports, credentials in lists shared on the deep web and past data breaches.  

Vendors are also vulnerable: 12.2% of IT solutions are above the critical threshold, and nearly 5% of software vendors are – but the report flagged data management vendors as the riskiest.  

“The people you do business with matters, more so now than ever,” said Maley in the report. “Supply chain continuity is everyone’s responsibility, especially amidst today’s evolving cyber landscape.   

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“That said, your risk management obligations are never entirely fulfilled, not even after you’ve achieved a ‘good’ cyber rating. Your suppliers, partners, vendors and third parties all open other gateways to your network,” he added.  

So what makes pharma such a rich target? The report outlined several reasons, including digital transformation, data access, widely adopted medical technology and complex supply chains.  

“The pharmaceutical industry is the world’s third-largest industry, following the finance and e-commerce sector. With a predicted compound annual growth rate of 13.7% through 2027, it’s no secret that pharmaceutical organizations will become a more valuable target to cyber criminals,” read the report.

THE LARGER TREND  

As Maley mentioned, ransomware attacks have been in the news since they led to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline earlier this month. 

But for the healthcare industry, they’re nothing new. Just this week, Scripps Health marked two weeks of a network outage following what was reported to be a ransomware attack – while Ireland’s national health service faced a shutdown of its own.  

And when it comes to the pharmaceutical supply chain, one major effort stands out: the COVID-19 vaccine. Experts have warned that the process of manufacturing and distributing the vaccines presents a number of vulnerabilities – and hackers have already begun to take aim.  

ON THE RECORD  

“Billions across the globe rely on pharmaceutical manufacturers. Ransomware attacks on 10% of the globe’s pharmaceutical companies could have an immense impact,” said Maley.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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