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Top 5 Cybersecurity Threats in Pharma Industry

Understanding the Pharma Cyber Attack

The pharmaceutical (pharma) industry is home to some of the most sensitive data and highly valuable technology, making it a major target for cyber criminals. Cybersecurity in the pharma industry is at risk as organizations host sensitive information about patients, patented drugs, clinical trials, research projects, and advances in technology. 

The pace of technological change, the increase in automation tools, and the use of third-party vendors pose major cyber-security challenges to pharma companies. A key challenge for information security in the pharmaceutical industry is to implement security protocols and comprehensive, robust strategies that safeguard digital assets and reduce cyber attacks on pharma companies. This will help avoid a catastrophic loss of data that could damage pharma companies’ consumer and patient trust, tarnish their brand image, and see share prices plummet.

Despite this, the pharma industry has not been at the cutting edge of cybersecurity, but because of high-profile attacks, pharmaceutical industries have begun to prioritize the need for better security.

Why Cyber Criminals Target Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Companies

Cyber threats to the pharmaceutical industry makes them prone to identity theft and evolving attack vectors. As organizations put more focus on digitization, more of their valuable data gets stored online, which makes them a bigger target to cyber criminals.

Pharma companies also have a huge number of devices collecting health and patient data that is stored online. They use tools like big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). This increases the risk and makes it more important for organizations to introduce security and privacy by design. 

Privileged access is the process of designating higher access levels to certain files or systems. It enables organizations to secure applications and IT infrastructures, run their business more efficiently, and ensure their sensitive data and most critical infrastructure remain confidential. Privileged access can be applied to both human users and non-human users, such as applications and machines.

The Pharma Cybersecurity Challenges To Be Aware Of

Pharmaceutical cybersecurity is at risk from a wide range of threats and attack vectors, including:

Third-party Vendors

Pharma organizations are heavily reliant on third-party vendors to carry out daily activities like research and development. Many companies rely on clinical research firms to advise them on the medical areas they should be investing in, while others use third-party logistics organizations to receive, store, and fulfill their medication orders.

Any breach suffered by a third-party vendor can damage the pharma organization and result in their data being lost. Healthcare cybersecurity relies on having processes and practices in place to ensure they meet strict regulatory compliance requirements. 


Ransomware hackers look to interrupt and disrupt business operations in an attempt to hold organizations to ransom. These financially fueled malware attacks see cyber criminals send malicious attachments that, when downloaded, freeze and encrypt files and computers. The attacker then demands a ransom fee with the promise of restoring access to data and devices upon receiving payment.


The pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest proponents of the emerging IoT, which improves understanding of and simplifies access to important documents and patient data. IoT increases the risk of a cyberattack and presents additional vulnerabilities, such as uncertainty around where data is created and ends up. 

Furthermore, the industrial IoT (IIoT) is also crucial to providing the analytics-enabled data management that pharma firms need to ensure the seamless exchange of data across their supply chains. IIoT technologies can enhance the efficiency of complex processes but require significant cybersecurity processes to prevent the damaging compromise of data.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks can easily reach the inboxes of millions of people and have damaging effects on users and organizations. A phishing attack aims to encourage people to click on a malicious link, which then enables them to compromise an email account. 

Attackers create a spoofed website and send an email message that aims to dupe recipients to click a link that directs them to the website. The site will either request and steal the user’s username and password combination or download malware onto their device automatically. This enables attackers to steal data, intellectual property, and money from banking accounts. 

Employee Error or Negligence

Human error and negligence remain a major driver of data breaches and cyberattacks across all industries. Users accidentally sharing data or using unapproved applications and software offer an open door for cyber criminals to intercept or steal information. 

To prevent pharma cyber attacks, companies must ensure employees are not able to duplicate or delete data and follow protocols around safeguarding corporate information. 

Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions are common in the pharma industry and pose a major risk to confidential data if the process is not managed effectively. When two companies merge or one acquires another, there is a high risk of compromise through a lack of data protection and due diligence.  

New Technology and Governance

New technology carries inherent security risks for pharma organizations. Therefore, they need to ensure all new technologies are properly secured and do not present vulnerabilities to hackers. Pharma companies require flexible but robust cybersecurity practices and protocols that protect their new technology from attacks, enabling them to monitor threats, spot vulnerabilities, and secure intellectual property.

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet cybersecurity solutions enable pharmaceutical organizations to address their key security concerns, including their expanding attack surface, insider threats, network complexity, and the cybersecurity skills gap.

The Fortinet Security Fabric provides centralized visibility of a pharma company’s entire IT environment. The high-performance platform offers a rich, open ecosystem that protects an organization’s digital attack surface and enables self-healing to protect applications, data, and devices. Its network access control (NAC) solution protects against unauthorized access and insider threats.

Fortinet’s customer experience is enhanced through cybersecurity solutions that provide automation, which is crucial to rapidly detecting and responding to advanced attack vectors. This enables pharma security teams to comply with industry regulations while providing real-time protection against cyber threats.