Market seeking solutions for vaccine cyber threats

There are growing fears that the world’s ability to fight the COVID pandemic may be severely affected by cyber attacks.

As the US approved a second vaccine for use across the county and the World Health Organisation said members of its COVID taskforce have  secured 2 billion does of a range of potential new vaccines a leading broker has warned of the risks that cyber threats pose to the ability of the vaccines to be effectively distributed.

Shannan Fort, Head of Cyber at McGill and Partners told Emerging Risks that the insurance industry had to step up to find ways to the cyber risks that vaccine manufactured may face as the production of the vaccines ramp up.

“From production through distribution, the entire supply chain can be rife with cyber risks,” she warned.  “To provide the scale necessary to treat the world, vaccine production will rely on automation leaving it potentially vulnerable to cyber-attack.  Indeed, the data behind the creation of the vaccine will be the prized jewel that nation states or other threat actors will try to steal in order to improve chances of recreating the vaccine.

“A priority for the vaccine creator will be to ensure the vaccine maintains an appropriate temperature, is not significantly delayed and is received by the rightful owner. This involves the coordination of multiple networks and systems, of which there will not be a singular point of oversight. And the distribution chain is only as strong as its weakest information/ technology security link.”

Ms Fort added: “The challenge for those transporting the vaccine then is to ensure they are covered in the event of a cyber-attack. However, traditional lines of insurance tend to remove cyber incidents from their policies, which means they need to take out a specialist policy specifically for this risk. Fortunately, there are specialized products in the market that can be tailored to unique cyber risks.”

While there are markets that are willing to consider the risks Ms Fort agreed that the global nature of the vaccination efforts coupled with the value of the vaccine to the global economy did create a capacity demand that at present would be a challenge.

“Capacity at present it a challenge but that may change,” she explained. “The market needs to work together to meet the needs of the clients.”

She added that the cargo market had a huge amount of data and expertise in the movement of such products and that data can be used as the foundation of the industry’s response.

Ms Fort said the threat of cyber attack in what is a complex supply chain was real and the reasons behind those attacks could be varied.

There may be some nation states which might see the disruption of the vaccine’s distribution to certain countries as attractive. There is also the threat from criminal organisations either to steal the vaccine for resale elsewhere, or to use a cyber attack to hold the distributors to ransom.

“All of the scenarios are viable,” she added. “The complexity of the supply chain offers a myriad of point at which the distribution of the vaccine can become vulnerable and each sig le step needs to be risk managed.

“This may require the creation of a cover which combined elements of the current logistic and cargo solutions offered.

“Firms like McGill and Partners are working on ways in which a solution can be structured and the capacity sourced.”