All Covid-19 vaccine developers on hackers’ radar, say experts

HYDERABAD: Cyber security experts have cautioned that all pharmaceutical companies into vaccine development and production can expect a ransomware attack, if they haven’t faced one already. The warning has come from cyber security experts at a time when Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Laboratories is busy reviving its computer networks and data centre after an attack on Thursday.

Sources in the industry say that given the global expectations built up around the Covid-19 vaccine, hackers understand the critical nature of its data too well. In the past few months, vaccine developers in the US, UK, Canada, Spain and Japan have seen cyberattacks.

Telangana IT and Industries secretary, Jayesh Ranjan, told TOI that an advisory would be issued to all vaccine and developers companies involved in Covid-19 related work to step up cybersecurity. Several Hyderabad-based pharma companies have signed agreements with foreign companies and research institutions for a vaccine and are in various stages of development.

“Vaccine production is a sensitive activity and has the potential to impact the entire world,” Ranjan said. “These companies will definitely be a target. Although companies themselves will work on security, we will issue an advisory.”

Experts caution that ‘Ryuk ransomware’ attacks are most likely with attackers stealing encrypted data and demanding a ransom from the company. Umesh Thota, CEO of Authbase said, “India ranked second with an over 39% rise in ransomware attacks in the past year. Among the most aggressive attacks are those by Maze and DoppelPaymer, which begin exfiltrating data from hacked networks. The attackers threaten to release data on leak sites and can demand a ransom six times more than the average demand.”

Experts say the sort of attack Dr Reddy’s faced seems to be one where a group works together to target a particular network .They add that companies dealing in sensitive data need to have a clear and well-defined strategy to prevent, respond and recover from ransomware attacks. Rahul Agarwal, partner Cyber Security PWC, told TOI, “Review and limit the external connections, ensure all antivirus signatures and patches are updated and create regular employee awareness on cyber hygiene.”

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