Digital Transformation in Pharma Introduces New OT Security Threats

Digital Transformation in Pharma Introduces New OT Security Threats

Digital Transformation in Pharma Introduces New OT Security Threats

Welcome to the Allari blog! As owners of Allari, Ravi & I look forward to using this medium to share current information about IT Operations, Cybersecurity, Software products & IT Management with our readers to help remove some of IT's complexity. We’ll report, analyze, and provide perspective & recommendations from some of the industry’s leading minds as well as from our direct experiences. We will strive to provide blogs that impart important information. These are the types of blogs that our team members prefer to read, and that’s exactly what we plan to provide.

John Mathieu​, Founder
* Allari provides IT Operations & Cybersecurity services to organizations using IBM, Microsoft, Oracle & SAP Products. We provide a True IT as a Service delivery model with Offices in US, Ecuador, Brazil & India. Customers located in 56 countries.

The increased use of automated control systems to manage drug formulations and product quality (particularly for combination drugs) is creating new security risks for the pharmaceutical industry. 

Examples of this new vulnerability surfaced in June 2017 when the pharmaceutical sector, along with healthcare and many other industries, were targeted by the Wannacry ransomware.

Many organizations were forced to halt operations and drug production. When we look back at what’s already happened, it becomes clear that going forward risks will likely increase as more pharmaceutical operations adopt IoT technology.

According to Grandview research, the global IoT in healthcare market size is projected to reach $534.3 billion by 2025 expanding at a compound annual growth of 19.9% over the forecast period.

Many analysts also cite the pharmaceutical sector as one of the top five industries adopting this technology.

While pharmaceutical operations networks were once siloed, today their connection to IT and anywhere access has created an environment that threatens the integrity of drug formulation control systems.

What’s more, the elimination of “air-gapping” enables bad actors to penetrate a pharma-based OT environment from either the IT or the operational technology (OT) network.


"Air gapping" is a network security measure employed on one or more computers to ensure that a secure computer network is physically isolated from unsecured networks, such as the public Internet or an unsecured local area network. *Wikipedia

Unlike other OT networks, pharma-based networks are not just mission-critical, they are life-critical. Because of this, it’s difficult to stop operations to perform routine maintenance or even apply patches when a vulnerability is discovered. 

[What is the difference between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT)? In short, IT deals with information, while OT deals with machines. ... Indeed, hardware (OT) and software (IT) now work hand-in-hand to monitor and regulate essential business processes outside of regular IT workflows. *Coolfire]

Furthermore, in remote drug trial facilities, it is difficult to maintain an up-to-date inventory capable of zeroing in on specific devices to perform the servicing needed to keep operations running smoothly and securely. The result is that vulnerability windows can remain open indefinitely and be susceptible to both known and unknown threats.

While pharmaceutical facilities are protected by perimeter security, once inside, third-parties (e.g. partners, contractors, consultants, etc.) can gain easy access to restricted areas. This is especially true in remote locations that may not maintain the same level of security as the main campus. 

From a compliance standpoint, few verticals have more exacting standards than pharmaceutical manufacturing.

One small deviation in a drug formulation can mean the difference between life and death. Furthermore, few industries are subject to as many regulations as the pharmaceutical sector.

As a result, protecting pharmaceutical OT networks from external attacks, insider threats and human error requires deep awareness of the state, configurations and changes made to every device.

This includes the ability to continuously monitor and compare the specific condition of devices with current vulnerability data to remediate threats and avoid false positives. 

If unintended changes occur, they must be captured and logged in real-time, as well as historically.

This should include the user that logged in, what processes were running, the code downloads initiated, as well as all changes in the environment. 

Capturing and maintaining this detailed audit trail not only accelerates incident response, it also enables pharmaceutical manufacturers to document and demonstrate compliance with organizational security policies.

Source:  ​​​​Barak Perelman

Related Articles: 

The Impact of Recycling on Industrial Cyber Security

Risks to ICS Environments From Spectre and Meltdown Attacks

Other Related Articles:

The Shortcomings of Network Monitoring in Fighting ICS Threats

Founded in 1999, trailblazer Allari is making a bold move towards providing IT operations and maintenance, as well as cost and efficiency conscious IT leaders via an innovative on-demand consumption-based service value model. IT leaders gain access to processes and expertise for scheduled maintenance, on-demand IT tasks and advanced IT projects.
All delivered as IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) via the Go.Allari platform for daily support and projects related to ERP, Database, Helpdesk, Security, and Vulnerability Management. Its breadth of platform coverage is extensive, covering all major platforms including JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, Oracle Database, MS SQL, Microsoft BI, Qualys IT Security and many more.
Allari supports its customers from locations around the globe 24/7.
To learn more visit: