By Michael Radford, Head of eCOA Technologies Customer Experience
The healthcare industry is leading the fight against COVID-19. Pharma companies, academic institutions, and public healthcare agencies have joined forces to develop safe and effective treatments as quickly as possible. But those efforts are facing yet another challenge – the increasing threat of cyber and ransomware attacks.
In September, eResearch Technology (ERT) suffered a malicious ransomware attack that locked staffers out of clinical trial data, some of which is being gathered for COVID-19 vaccine trials. Fortunately, no patient safety was put at risk, but the attack forced the company to take their system offline for roughly two weeks, which meant researchers had to temporarily track patients via back-up modalities, including, pen and paper documents. This impacted the data collection process and potentially delayed progress on vital research. And this is just one recent example.
Cybersecurity attacks on healthcare institutions and pharma companies have become alarmingly common in recent years, and the pandemic has only heightened the risk. Through this pandemic, cyber-attackers have been more inclined to take advantage of the “new normal” and the trend towards more virtual settings and exploit cyber-attack vulnerabilities across organizations.
Early in 2020, FBI cybersecurity experts reported an increase in COVID-19-related phishing scams and efforts to exploit weak passwords and unprotected virtual private networks. In July, the agency issued a warning that ransomware attacks were occurring against health agencies, private companies, and governments during the pandemic as criminals attempted to profit from holding critical patient data hostage.