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Security Threats in the Pharma Industry

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest targets for cyberattacks because of the amount of critical data organizations hold, the valuable technology they rely on, and the strict privacy guidelines they need to comply with.

Pharmaceutical companies are highly vulnerable to attack because of their use of automation tools, third-party outsourcing services, and a new wave of sophisticated attack vectors like malware and ransomware. As a result, pharmaceutical industries urgently need threat protection to safeguard patient data and their intellectual property.

Primary Security Threats to the Pharma Industry

Evolving security threats pose a significant threat to pharma companies. The following are some of the primary threats to the pharma industry:

Bigger Attack Surface

The pharma industry’s increased focus on new technologies is helping organizations be more innovative, but it also increases their risk and expands their attack surface

The Internet of Things (IoT) enables pharma firms to improve access to patient data and documents, monitor industry trends, and manage devices. However, the IoT’s mass of connected devices increases the attack surface and presents new privacy challenges that offer more opportunities for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in organizations’ systems. 

Industrial IoT (IIoT) also poses opportunities and risks to pharma companies, as it enables faster production, optimal processes, and energy efficiencies but further expands the attack surface and introduces new security threats.

Cloud Migrations

Pharma organizations are increasingly looking to move to the cloud to embrace the IoT and IIoT revolution. This growing reliance on cloud technologies, from hybrid to multi-cloud environments, further extends the touchpoints that companies need to secure, which increases the risk of a data breach.

Connected Medicines

The pharma industry is increasingly embracing connected devices that help them remotely monitor and analyze vital patient insights, such as blood pressure, respiration, and temperature. Failing to secure these devices can have life-and-death consequences, making it even more critical for pharma companies to secure them against attacks.

Endpoint Proliferation

The growing number of endpoints increases the risk of devices being insecure and presenting vulnerabilities to hackers. 


The growth in remote working expands organizations’ attack surface as users access data and systems from new locations and are more likely to use unapproved applications or programs. Employees are no longer behind the organization’s firewall, which gives attackers new ways to target users and vulnerable systems.

Complex Network

Many pharma organizations have been lumbered with highly complex networks that are difficult to maintain and pose a significant security risk. These systems typically lack visibility. This means security events are challenging to detect, and products struggle to communicate with each other, which slows down organizations’ threat response. IT teams need to be trained on the various management and reporting systems in order not to waste time separately managing security controls. 

Gap in Cyber Skills

The pharma industry’s need for security is hindered by the ongoing global shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Securing new technologies, like IoT and IIoT devices, requires expert security staff, who are not only very expensive but also in high demand. Failing to source employees with the necessary skills to protect systems leaves organizations vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

Distributed Networks and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions are commonplace throughout the pharmaceutical industry. The process leads to distributed networks and shared data across the two organizations. If this is not managed effectively, it puts data protection at risk and increases the chances of due diligence and best practices not being enforced.

Insider Threats

Pharma companies also need to be aware of threats from their employees. This often occurs because of disgruntled employees trying to disrupt day-to-day operations or sell customer data to a third party or competitor. Threats can also be caused by well-intentioned users not following corporate policies or through human error.

Compliance Requirements

Pharma companies need to comply with increasingly stringent data and privacy regulations. Achieving this relies on having complete visibility of their networks and the users and devices accessing their systems, which can be challenging. Compliance can also be problematic when networks contain disparate products that do not communicate or share reporting capabilities. 

Convergence of IT/OT and Aging OT Environment

One of the top cybersecurity threats pharma companies face is their IT environments being lumbered with legacy hardware and software. In particular, operational technology (OT) devices, networks, and the systems that support them did not have security in mind when built. These networks need to connect with IT networks, which exposes them to an organization’s entire threat landscape and creates new opportunities for cyber criminals.

Security Threats in Addition to Cybersecurity Threats

In addition to cyber threats, risks that pharma companies face include:

Counterfeiting of Drugs

Counterfeited drugs from foreign sources pose a significant risk to American pharma firms. They need to meet U.S. quality standards, meet regulations in other nations, and block the trafficking of counterfeit drugs. To do this, they need to meet stringent manufacturing and transportation standards.

Disruption of Supply Chain

Prescription drugs go through various distributors before reaching hospitals and pharmacies. The shipping and handling process goes through secure, regulated conditions, but each stage of the supply chain offers an opportunity for criminal tampering.

Practices To Follow To Manage Security Threats in the Pharma Industry

Pharma companies can address security threats by following these best practices:

Establishing a Line of Defense

Pharma companies can protect themselves from threats by deploying technologies that establish a direct line of defense. They can build a framework that helps secure data, restrict data access, improve data recovery, secure software, hardware, and physical equipment, and improve employee awareness.

Analyzing and Minimizing the Risks Now

Improving cybersecurity can start with instilling simple best practices like monitoring for and analyzing suspicious activity, as well as installing and updating antivirus, spam blockers, and data recovery solutions.

Putting Regulations to Work

Regulations exist to help organizations install a first line of defense and comply with standards. For example, the International Standardization Organization (ISO) offers widespread network and information security adoption. On top of this, organizations must proactively monitor resources and provide training for employees to help them recognize the signs of an attack.

Balancing Security Needs and Costs

Pharma firms can better protect their data and resources by devising an end-to-end strategy that balances security and costs. They should perform a risk analysis process that includes attack probability, the potential impact of an attack, litigation liability, and remediation costs. 

How Fortinet Minimizes Security Threat to the Pharma Industry

Fortinet helps pharma companies protect themselves against evolving cyber threats and secure their complex networks and systems. The Fortinet Security Fabric provides an automated, broad, and integrated architecture that secures all aspects of a pharmaceutical company’s IT environment, from connected systems to users and third-party providers. 

The Security Fabric safeguards organizations from threats to the pharma industry. It ensures centralized visibility, advanced protection of applications, data, and devices, and securing organizations’ entire digital attack surface from unauthorized access and insider threats.