Cybersecurity in Pharma Industry

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

The pharmaceutical industry needs to prioritize cybersecurity to stay safe. Learn more about why cybersecurity is important in the pharmaceutical industry, the issues faced, cybersecurity careers, pharma jobs, and more.

[Featured Image] Two pharmacists stand in a pharmacy and discuss the need for cybersecurity in the pharma industry.

The pharmaceutical industry handles important data daily, from classified research to sensitive patient information. Because of this, the industry is also a favorite target of hacking attempts and data breaches. The threat of data loss to cybersecurity issues is severe because the consequences sometimes involve loss of trust, financial penalties, and litigation. A robust cybersecurity strategy is key to protecting the pharmaceutical industry from these threats and keeping important data safe. Read on to learn why cybersecurity is important in the pharmaceutical industry, the issues faced, cybersecurity careers and pharma jobs, and more.

Why is cybersecurity important in the pharmaceutical industry?

Cybersecurity is important in the pharmaceutical industry because of the severe consequences that may arise from data breaches and successful hacking attempts. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry has experienced an immense increase in hacking attempts, often centered around stealing sensitive data for financial gain. When successful, these hacks have far-reaching consequences that affect the company, its clients, and consumers. Product delivery runs the risk of compromise, studies, and research may be hindered, and litigation slows down processes.

With the right cybersecurity strategy, pharmaceutical companies can protect important information from hacking and breaches, preserving their reputations and better serving the clients who rely on them.

What’s it like to work in cybersecurity in pharma?

As a cybersecurity professional in pharma, you’ll likely be responsible for designing and implementing IT security systems and processes to protect sensitive information. You could also be responsible for monitoring the IT system and addressing any hacking attempts or suspicious activity that may arise.

Types of cybersecurity jobs in pharma

Some examples of cybersecurity jobs in pharma include entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level positions. The following salary figures reflect the average annual base salaries in the US for each position according to Glassdoor. 

Entry-level jobs

These careers are entry points for the industry and often don’t require experience before hiring. Examples of entry-level cybersecurity jobs in pharma include:

  • IT support/help desk: Responsible for providing technical support to clients, often through a chat tool or over the phone. The average annual salary is $49,971.

  • Analysts: Use collected security data to draw insights and recommend stronger cybersecurity strategies. The average annual salary is $79,680.

  • Auditors: Help track cash flow and identify issues that might indicate security breaches or attempts at fraud. The average annual salary is $71,002.

  • Systems administrators: Create and maintain a company’s computer system. The average annual salary is $80,655.

Read more: How to Become a Help Desk Technician in 3 Steps

Mid-level jobs

These jobs are typically for professionals with several years of experience or more education. Examples include:

  • Software engineers: Write, implement, and maintain software programs used by different organizations. The average annual salary is $114,692.

  • Operations managers: Oversee the multiple components of an organization’s projects and budgets. The average annual salary is $82,084.

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): Ensures the safety of a company’s security frameworks and processes. The average annual salary is $34,424.

Senior-level jobs

Senior-level jobs tend to require both advanced education and experience. Examples of senior-level jobs in the pharmaceutical industry for cybersecurity professionals are:

  • Senior risk specialists: Analyze, plan, and troubleshoot security risks that may occur at a company. The average annual salary is $115,125.

  • Cybersecurity senior consultants: Experts in their field, consult with companies about the optimal security frameworks and processes to maximize safety. The average annual salary is $121,353.

What are the issues with cybersecurity in the pharmaceutical industry?

The pharmaceutical industry faces many cybersecurity issues, including third-party vendors, ransomware, Internet of Things (IoT) vulnerabilities, phishing attacks, and human errors. Take a look at each example in more detail below.

Third-party vendors

While necessary for pharmaceutical companies to successfully create, sell, and distribute products or research, the use of third-party vendors makes it difficult to completely secure data. Using multiple platforms means employees might upload or access information to applications that aren’t fully secure, which exposes them to potential hacks or leaks.


Ransomware is a category of malware that takes the victim’s data hostage and refuses to give it back unless the hacker is paid a large sum of money. The threat of ransomware has grown exponentially in recent years, going from a single extortion for money to multiple extortion attempts that include leaking sensitive information online or using stolen data to harm clients.

Internet of Things vulnerabilities

The Internet of Things, or the connected network of hardware, such as smart devices and computers, that can share data among themselves, brings with it its own security concerns. Many of these devices don’t have the physical infrastructure needed to support the right security frameworks, and often, the security they do have, such as a single password, might be weak and easily cracked.

Phishing attacks

Phishing is a hacking attempt where fraudulent emails are sent to employees that encourage sharing classified or sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. These emails often look like they’ve been sent by real people or authorized accounts, but they’re not. The best way to defend against phishing attacks is to train your employees to identify the signs of a phishing email.

Human element

If employees need training on how to avoid phishing or are unfamiliar with the correct security protocols, they might be the ones to expose sensitive data to hackers inadvertently. Insider threats like disgruntled employees may also threaten the cybersecurity of pharmaceutical companies.

How to get a job in cybersecurity in the pharma industry

To pursue a career in cybersecurity in the pharma industry, the typical first step is to gain a bachelor’s degree in a related field. It’s also an option to choose to pursue certification or an associate degree, but the required education will depend on what type of role you are pursuing. Entry-level positions often have opportunities for people with limited to no experience, which means you can develop the needed skills to advance in your career. Another option is to move into a cybersecurity role from adjacent positions, such as software development. You’ll have the chance to learn foundational knowledge before moving into a more specific cybersecurity role.

Read more: How to Get into Cybersecurity: 2024 Career Guide

Learn more with Coursera.

Learn more about pharmaceutical cybersecurity with Specializations and Professional Certificates on Coursera. With options such as New York University’s Introduction to Cyber Security Specialization and Google’s Cybersecurity Professional Certificate, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the foundational components of effective cybersecurity strategy and how to take the first steps toward a career in this growing, in-demand field. Explore cybersecurity and all the other fields that spark your interest with courses, degrees, and certificates from top-rated universities and companies, all on Coursera.

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