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Mitigating Supply Chain Risks Associated With COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

COVID-19 related restrictions and concerns repatriated business operations online for the foreseeable future; the need for a viable COVID vaccine is critical for normalcy. The development and distribution of said vaccine have captured the attention of nation-state cyber threat actors, who aim to disrupt the financial and political advantages associated with a viable vaccine. For healthcare organizations, hardening security vectors against supply chain security risks associated with the vaccine distribution is critical for the safety and security of humanity.

COVID-19 related restrictions and concerns repatriated business operations online for the foreseeable future; the need for a viable COVID vaccine is critical for normalcy. The development and distribution of said vaccine have captured the attention of nation-state cyber threat actors, who aim to disrupt the financial and political advantages associated with a viable vaccine. For healthcare organizations, hardening security vectors against supply chain security risks associated with the vaccine distribution is critical for the safety and security of humanity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked irreparable damages across every aspect of life, such that any recovery process would take decades to be enacted. As such, a viable COVID-19 vaccine happens to be one of the most valuable assets on earth at this moment

From uncountable ransomware attacks to intellectual property thefts, the healthcare industry has always been a major target for cybercriminal activities. However, COVID-19 heightened such a target by a thousand fold. Most of the threat actors interested in attacking the healthcare industry are nation state-sponsored groups, with unlimited resources needed to executive hundreds of payloads at a time. For many nations, racing to acquire a viable COVID-19 vaccine will garner socio-political advantages that are capable of being leveraged for domination on the global stage.

Therefore, the proprietary processes associated with the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is a critical target for threat actors. In this article, we highlight the cybersecurity risks associated with the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, and what healthcare organizations should be doing about it.

Supply Chain Risks Associated With The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

The complexities surrounding supply chain logistics for the COVID – 19 vaccines are enormous. In fact, it ranges from the secure transfer of pharmaceutical data to the storage of protected health information (PHI) in accordance with HIPAA regulations.

However, the problem aggravators are threat actors and their attacks on healthcare organizations focused on developing and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to the masses. Some of the supply chain security risks associated with the COVID-19 vaccine distribution include:

  • Third-Party Suppliers: Organizations with the best security controls can still end up being compromised due to the vulnerabilities associated with their suppliers/vendors. For primary entities that operate shared access control systems with suppliers, this is a major risk.
  • Compromised Software Solutions: Procured software from suppliers (often open-source) may be compromised, as threat actors are capable of exploiting the innate vulnerabilities present in said softwares. Oftentimes, these types of software-related attacks are conducted via watering hole techniques. Web developers and data aggregators also become risk factors when these attacks happen.
  • Lack of Awareness among Employees: Social engineering attacks, such as phishing, are significant causes of security incidents in the healthcare supply chain. While humans are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain, human-centric errors happen to be some of the easiest to exploit.
  • Endpoint Security Risks: the pandemic increased the number of virtual computing environments, with exploitable endpoints lacking robust security controls. Therefore, organizations have become more vulnerable to unauthorized behavior more than ever. This security risk can be used to leverage the healthcare supply chain via rogue applications, keyloggers, loss or theft of corporate devices, etc.

Steps To Mitigate Supply Chain Risks Associated With The Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines

To mitigate supply chain risks associated with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, we must first address the vectors of attack used by threat actors to compromise healthcare systems. It is no surprise that the healthcare supply chain sector is under attack. Oftentimes, these attacks are made possible due to software vulnerabilities; outdated legacy technologies; and the inadequate information security practices found within third-party infrastructure.

Below are some countermeasures and safeguards that healthcare organizations can implement today to help mitigate supply chain risks associated with the COVID-19 vaccine distribution:

  • Conduct Thorough Vetting of Vendors
  • Monitor Data Access Continuously
  • Provide consistent cybersecurity awareness training for all employees
  • Conduct robust vulnerability assessments (active and passive tests)
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity framework

In Closing

Understanding and mitigating cybersecurity risks, threats, and vulnerabilities in the healthcare industry can be overwhelming because of the dynamic nature of threat actors. For healthcare organizations to successfully and effectively muzzle the supply chain risks associated with the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, they must increase threat monitoring capabilities and implement a proactive approach to data privacy and security.

For small to midsize businesses with limited resources, it is important to form strategic partnerships with organizations, such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) as well as the Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center (H-ISAC). These organizations are plugged-in with competent managed security solutions providers such as Goldsky Security, to attain real-time intelligence gathering needed to facilitate the kind of rapid decision-making processes for effectively tackling supply chain risks within the healthcare industry.