Combating Cyber-risks in Life Sciences

The life sciences industry encompasses a wide range of businesses involved in the scientific study of living organisms. Such businesses help solve society’s most pressing problems by creating pharmaceuticals, testing medical devices, developing sustainable food sources and much more.

But all this crucial, life-saving work - the product of countless hours of persistence and scientific breakthrough - could be destroyed in a single instant by the numerous cyber-risks threatening the life sciences industry. It only takes one hacker or one employee carelessly handling sensitive data to cause lost profits, lasting reputational damage and/or crippling legal actions.

As reliance on technology and digital data storage continue to grow, it is more important than ever to guard your life sciences business against ever-expanding cyber-risks. Do not let your company get stuck in the past - use this guidance to keep your company safe from cyber-risks well into the future.

The main causes of cyber-risks for life sciences

 Almost all of the cyber-risks threatening the life sciences industry happen for the following reasons:

  1. Theft for personal gain is on the rise, as life sciences companies increasingly store more information, data and money online. The products developed are cutting-edge and invaluable - making them a tantalising target for cyber-criminals. To thwart them, companies must invest in enhanced cyber-protection and never let their cyber-security lag - even for an instant.
  2. Extortion is a common tactic used by cyber-criminals against life sciences companies with valuable, life-changing intellectual property. In this scenario, criminals steal information and demand payment in exchange for returning the data, or threaten to attack the company’s network unless they receive a ransom.
  3. Hacktivism, a hybrid of ‘hack’ and ‘activism’, is the use of computers and computer networks to promote political ends or protest. For example, activists could disable a company’s computer network to protest the company’s alleged abuse of animal rights.
  4. Accidents are far too common. Without the proper training to spot unsafe website attachments, employees can accidentally unleash a virus that extracts sensitive data and disables an entire computer network.
  5. State-sponsored cyber-espionage is a constant threat. As the world becomes more digital, wars are increasingly fought online. Governments around the world have departments to protect key assets from other countries and organisations. And for life sciences companies that develop these key assets with the potential to greatly boost our standard of living, this is a very real risk.

First-party Cyber-risks

The main cyber-risks for life sciences companies can be broadly separated into two groups: first- and third-party cyber-risks. First-party cyber-risks are related to a direct loss of money and any costs or fines associated with a data breach or involuntary system shutdown. First-party cyber-risks cause immediate financial or intangible damage - such as a tarnished reputation. The following are some of the leading first-party cyber-risks:


When hackers gain unauthorised access to your company’s system, they can steal proprietary data or customer information, which can potentially stop all business operations. Apart from the immediately negative financial impact and the valuable stolen data, any residual customer concerns or reputational damage could harm your organisation for years to come.

Computer system or equipment failure

Cyber-criminals could disable your computer systems or other equipment, making it impossible for your business to continue operating. This means your business may have to endure a lengthy period of little to no production, exacerbated by potential non-compliance fines for failing to safeguard your operations. For an industry that requires years of development to test and release a product, just a short period of reduced production could be fatal.

Intellectual property theft

Your business works hard to develop products at the forefront of the industry. A disgruntled employee or an act of espionage could steal years of hard work and sell it to the competition - undermining millions of pounds and years of research and development.

Loss of data

Losing data, whether it is proprietary data or customer information, can have lasting repercussions. Losing valuable data can hamper or even halt important projects that have taken years to develop, such as approving a pharmaceutical product for testing. And because intellectual property protection can expire, backing up your data is a critical safety net.

Reputational risks and electronic vandalism

When dedicated customers and the public learn that a company was breached by an unauthorised party, regaining their trust can be difficult.

Recovery costs

Any of the previous cyber-risks could entail whopping recovery costs, plaguing a business for many years.

Third-party cyber-risks

 Third-party cyber-risks for life sciences companies are less numerous, but by no means less threatening. They relate to a business’ responsibility for any damages or liability sustained by another party for which you are responsible, including:


Your third-party hacking risk is different from your first-party hacking risk since it causes damage to others for which your business is responsible. For example, gaining unauthorised access to a company’s computer system could cause software or medical device management malfunctions, resulting in medical misdiagnoses or incorrect pharmaceutical dosing.

Privacy breach

Your business must securely store its customers’ personal information. If you neglect to take the appropriate precautions and that information is compromised by hackers or an accidental privacy breach, your company may be liable to pay huge fines.

Adopt aggressive security measures

Cyber-criminals are constantly devising new strategies to infiltrate companies’ computer systems. Employing a poor cyber-security strategy and letting your company’s defences lax into stasis is tantamount to destroying your own business.

An ever-evolving and adaptive cyber-security strategy along with insurance protection will help ensure your business is prepared for whatever new cyber-threat is on the horizon.

Contact us for advice and guidance on managing your risk.