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Ireland – an Island of Safety Amidst Cybersecurity Threats to the Life-Sciences Industry

To Be Attributed to Tanaz Buhariwalla, India Director IDA Ireland

The pandemic brought out the best in a number of us, with healthcare workers rising to the occasion in treating patients, pharmaceutical companies working round the clock to find treatments and vaccines and everyone doing what they could to follow social distancing and other preventive steps to control the spread. However, a few were busy for the wrong reasons. As the world went online to work, to study, to shop, and to entertain themselves, hackers and cyber criminals around the world saw the opportunity to strike vulnerable sectors and extort money. A recent report released by McAfee, reported an average of 419 new threats per minute in the second quarter of this year. Another cybersecurity major Kaspersky has placed India in the sixth position in the list of countries most vulnerable to such cyber-attacks. In two separate incidences reported in October – November, two homegrown multinational pharma companies in India reported cyber-attacks on their IT systems. Thankfully, though in both cases the company’s core system and operations were reported safe, and thereafter the companies isolated their data centers and related services.

Since the start of COVID-19 pandemic, multiple cases of cyber espionage targeting the life-sciences sector have been reported from different countries. Earlier this year, Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI) reported cyberattacks conducted against its Spanish research laboratory working on the development of Covid-19 vaccines. The British National Cyber Security Centre in July this year revealed that there were series of cyberattacks targeting UK, US, and Canadian life-sciences companies working on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. And these are just the reported cases.

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Global life-sciences companies are undergoing massive transformation today, leveraging digitisation, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and automating operations with data in the digital space. This is leaving them more exposed and vulnerable to cyberattacks than ever before. This vulnerability extends to companies providing support services such as Contract and Clinical research, Contract manufacturing organisation (CMO) or the services companies managing crucial customer data and involved in Clinical Data Management, Biostatistics and Statistical programming, Medical Writing, Data standards and conversion, and regulatory services.

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The costs of such cyberattacks for Pharma industry in 2020 is expected to be around US$1.8 B. An IBM security report puts the global average cost of a data breach in 2020 at US$3.8 M with Healthcare having the highest industry average cost of US$7.13 M. Similarly, the average cost of a data breach in India is US$1.9M. Apart from the monetary stress in today’s world, a cyberattack impacts the connected supply chain, puts pressure on governments, regulatory infrastructure necessitating strong firewalls, governance and digitally safeguarded regulatory environment.

The Indian life-sciences sector, which is a major exporter of generic pharmaceutical products globally accounting for 20% of generics by volume, must be mindful of these recent cyberattacks and threats. Four Indian generic companies feature amongst the top 10 globally and recent cyberattack events have highlighted the increasing importance of securing their systems to protect their assets and proprietary data. Production needs to be secured and business continuity ensured with protection of information including Intellectual Property (IP) and patents.

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With cyberattacks getting more sophisticated, it is critical that pharmaceutical companies practice a holistic approach to cybersecurity. For life-sciences companies that are looking to manage their global cybersecurity function, Ireland offers a mature ecosystem of international cyber talent and partnering cybersecurity firms that deliver best-in-class solutions at the most competitive prices. A study by tech research firm ranked Ireland amongst the top four cyber-secured countries in the world, not surprising given the number of multinational as well as local companies that have formed a world-class cybersecurity cluster in the Emerald Isle with a cluster of blockchain companies working on the future of safe data storage technologies.

The National Cyber Security Strategy (2019-2024) adopted by Ireland aims to make the country a global leader in data management offering multinationals hosting their data securely and managing their security supported by world-class cybersecurity partners. Ireland’s neutral status and history of peace and geopolitical stability is also beneficial to companies setting up cybersecurity management functions. The future will see Indian healthcare and life-sciences companies transforming digitally, which could also lay them open to more cyberattacks. It is time for Indian businesses to evaluate once again how and from where to manage their data and cybersecurity strategies, as they cannot afford to risk critical business systems, disruption to operations or information being stolen. It is not only a financial loss but also the loss of image and investors’ confidence that is at stake. And for these companies, Ireland comes as an island of safety.

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