Tech’s bigger role in pharma industry demands stronger security measures

For healthcare and pharmaceutical IT professionals, the launch of Amazon Pharmacy in late November signaled the acceleration of digitized pharma.

pharma security

But Amazon’s move into prescription fulfillment and delivery should be seen as part of a broader trend. As technology companies big and small move to disrupt healthcare, companies along the pharmaceutical supply chain will need to adapt in order to succeed (and keep succeeding).

With new data showing half of all baby boomers now ordering prescriptions online, there’s plenty of demand but also room for growth, so long as pharma IT can keep data secure. The same survey shows 84% of consumers have at least some fear that their healthcare data isn’t safe when shared online.

If you’re an IT professional in healthcare or pharma, it’s your responsibility to help prepare your organization to keep up with the standards, pace and high expectations these companies often have for downstream supply chain partners. This especially applies to security.

The prospect of bigger players digitizing the distribution of pharmaceuticals would spark excitement in an alternate business reality, but you’re likely more nervous about the additional security measures or protocols that might be necessary to pursue new partners. But as the COVID-19 vaccine nears distribution — and with hackers already trying to undermine the process — the steps you take now to shore up security can pay dividends later as more major new players enter the market.

Security best practices pharmaceutical IT should reinforce

As we enter the “vaccine available” phase of COVID-19, most processes are still remote and many IT budgets are on hold. It can be difficult enough to simply keep things running, let alone plan large-scale changes. In the process of adapting, some security best practices and universal rules have been broken or bent during the whipsaw disruption of early 2020. To get your organization back on track, and set yourself up to emerge a stronger and more secure partner in the future, consider how these best practices can get you there:

Automate parts of the security process: Automation helps companies track and monitor IT more efficiently — an extremely important tool to have especially now that teams are remote. Identity governance automation, for example, can help techs automate manual parts of the authentication and permissions process, allowing them to focus on higher-level security tasks. In pharma and healthcare, where data is often sensitive and highly regulated, having a strong system of access controls in place is critical. The future, however, features tools that can automatically perform these tasks as opposed to a tech manually setting new access rules every time a change is requested.

Focus on employee education: In the race to adapt business to the remote reality of COVID-19, organizations are likely to have lapsed on some of the basics of good security practices — and employee education is near the top of that list. Bad actors have multiplied during the pandemic. Nearly one in four Americans have received a phishing email that uses COVID-19 as bait, and with ransomware attacks on the rise, IT leaders are facing bigger and more numerous threats in an unfamiliar environment. Pharma and healthcare companies need to be vigilant — a misstep now that causes a breach or a publicly embarrassing ransomware incident may threaten their ability to work with larger players like Amazon as they enter the space.

Adopt a zero trust strategy: Zero trust strategies help prevent breaches by removing the concept of trust from technical architecture. These architecture structures better protect data because they feature strict access controls, application layer threat protection and easier network segmentation. Zero trust helps reduce the risk of privilege escalation and lateral movement within your security permissions — two common methods hackers use to deploy ransomware attacks.

Pursue holistic threat detection: Detecting real-time security events and threats is a requisite requirement of modern security practices. Without tools to do so, you risk serious compliance gaps and blind spots internally, which can put critical systems and data at risk. A holistic approach gives IT visibility across their infrastructure and includes annual risk analyses and periodic checkups of the maturity of your model. When future partners ask about your security strategy, a proactive approach like this will help put them at ease.

Amazon’s entrance into pharmaceuticals is just one of what will likely be many new opportunities for pharma and healthcare companies — as long as you have a carefully considered security strategy. This year provided the ultimate reminder of how closely we depend on a secure, safe healthcare system. Shoring up security is one of the best investments you can make going into the new year.

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