Ransomware Attack on a Clinical Trial Software Provider

Company eResearchTechnology based in Philadelphia that is selling software for clinical trials, such as the clinical trials involving Covid-19 vaccines had a ransomware attack on September 20, 2020. The attack affected a number of its clients, which include at least an organization doing Covid-19 vaccine trials. Because of the attack, some clinical trial researchers had to use pen and paper to monitor their patients. Although there was no risk to patient safety, the attack had an impact on the clinical trials and slowed down the progress.

The attack affected IQVIA, the research institution performing AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial. But there is no certainty yet up to what severity the attack impacted its Covid-19 vaccine trial if any. The ransomware attack also affected Bristol Myers Squibb, the company that is leading the efforts to create a rapid test for the coronavirus. The two companies mentioned that the impact was minimal because they had backup copies that could be utilized to recover data files. IQVIA released an announcement that it wasn’t aware of any confidential information associated with the clinical trials being exfiltrated before the ransomware encrypted the files.

After the attack, eResearchTechnology shut down its computer systems. Third-party cybersecurity specialists helped with the breach investigation and data restoration. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also received notification about the attack and is investigating it. Selected systems were offline for about two weeks and were only brought back online on October 2, 2020, reported by the New York Times. The company is expecting to bring back the rest of its systems online in the next couple of days.

There is no information regarding which threat group executed the attack, the ransomware variant used, and if the company paid the ransom demand to get the keys for file decryption.

eResearchTechnology’s software program is widely employed in clinical trials. In 2019, about 75% of all clinical trials that ended in drug approvals utilized the software of eResearchTechnology.

The attack was publicized several days after Universal Health Services encountered an alleged ransomware attack that impacted all of its U.S. zones and had to shut down its systems offline and bring patients to substitute healthcare providers. Statistics from Emsisoft indicate that so far healthcare providers in the USA had at least 53 ransomware attacks in 2020. Those attacks affected over 500 hospitals and clinics.