Cyber stories to tell in the dark

Sept. 15, 2021
Pharma is facing a scary truth about cybersecurity

Confession: I was usually the kid at sleepovers who was responsible for giving all the other kids nightmares.

I’ve always had an insatiable appetite for scary stories. As a child, I was especially fond of urban legends: alligators populating city sewers via toilets, travelers waking up one kidney short in a bathtub of ice and of course, the woman who didn’t realize there was a homicidal maniac hiding in the backseat of her car.

Urban legends tend to stick with you. The good ones strike the perfect balance between inconceivably terrifying and yet concerningly relatable. The most compelling urban legends are usually cautionary tales — painful reminders of a worst-case scenario resulting from a friend of a friend’s failure to stay vigilant about what’s going on inside her own car.

Cybersecurity warnings can have a similar chilling effect. Back in 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a particularly dire speech, warning that cyberattacks had the potential to cripple the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government.

“A cyberattack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11,” Panetta said during his speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. He warned that such groups could “derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” “contaminate the water supply in major cities” or “shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Scenarios like those could prompt even the bravest of security professionals to sleep with the cyberlights on.

Yet, the cybersecurity field has always had a bit of a reputation for alarmism and threat inflation, consistently warning of the potential for catastrophic events. But cybersecurity experts’ affinity for doomsday talk doesn’t mean warnings should be haphazardly flushed like unwanted baby alligators.

Urban legends with the most staying power offer some level of plausibility in their threats. The “killer in the backseat” story has been kicking around in different forms since the 1960s. Despite the fact that the chances of being murdered in your own car by a serial killer are pretty low, muggings and car jackings are very real crimes and women, especially women alone at night, assume an inflated risk of such crimes.

While cybersecurity warnings can at times be hyperbolized, the threats are very real for pharma. As you’ll read in this month’s cover story, the pandemic has brought with it a 50% uptick in cyberattacks on the bio/pharma industry. Not only are attacks becoming more frequent — pharma companies are fending off multiple attacks on a daily basis — they are more targeted and sophisticated. And if you don’t want to take the word of private cybersecurity companies, look no further than the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, INTERPOL or the United Nations — all of which have been flashing their metaphorical high beams to warn pharma of lurking predators.

Though the pharma industry has placed a collective foot on the accelerator to get vaccines and treatments into the hands of patients as quickly as possible during a global pandemic, the industry’s continued efforts to stay aware of who is coming along for the ride are more vital than ever — and will help everyone sleep more soundly at night. 

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that b2b content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'