Wednesday, February 21, 2024

COVID-19 cold supply chains require a new approach

COVID-19 cold supply chains require a new approach

Grimes is CEO of the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute and associate vice president for institutional initiatives at UTSA.


JANUARY 4, 2021 — Editor’s note: This op-ed by UTSA’s Howard Grimes originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.

U.S. manufacturers are the top target for nation-state adversarial cyber-attacks from foreign nations. These adversaries aim to disrupt the nation’s economy and global competitiveness, reduce the ability of manufacturers to deliver goods and erode U.S. innovations in advanced manufacturing.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored several vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains. Notably, nation-state sponsored hackers have targeted the COVID-19 cold supply chain, which is critical to the transport of temperature-sensitive products like COVID-19 vaccines.

“As we plan COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution, the logistics and operation of cold supply chains is pivotal.”

The chief targets have been companies and organizations associated with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s Cold Chain Equipment Optimization Platform. Gavi is an effort to streamline and strengthen the cold supply chain.

At the start of this year, for example, China attempted to cyber-attack Moderna, a leading COVID-19 manufacturer. In July, officials from the United States, U.K. and Canada identified Russian hackers targeting vaccine development, presumably for competitive advantages.

Earlier this month, reports emerged that North Korean hackers cyber-attacked at least six pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., U.K. and South Korea, seeking critical information to sell or weaponize. These attacks are concerning, given the delicate and precise nature of vaccines.

As we plan COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution, the logistics and operation of cold supply chains is pivotal. Preventing an attack requires effective cybersecurity diligence at each step of the vaccine supply chain.

While there are specific steps being taken to prevent any harm stemming from these attacks, we must do more.

We need to develop supply chains that are “PURE”:

  • Pandemic adaptive, including operational modes that accommodate pervasive physical (social) distancing and remote work.
  • Usable and accessible to everyone, such as soldiers, factory workers, engineers.
  • Resilient, agile, and able to withstand physical-world challenges such as pandemics, electrical grid failures and cyber-attacks.
  • Economical so resiliency and security are maintained at all levels of the supply chain including small- and medium-sized manufacturers.

Universities including The University of Texas at San Antonio have partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to protect the nation’s manufacturers, including pharmaceutical manufacturers, from cyber-attacks through its Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or CyManII. The public-private consortium includes 59 industry, university and nonprofit partners — as well as three national labs and four Manufacturing Innovation Institutes.

One key innovation that this Institute will supply to manufacturers is the “cyber physical passport.” This passport enables cyber-physical identification, tracking, and verification of parts, compounds, and products in a uniform, hierarchical fashion with a framework that is extensible to variety of processes across sectors from petroleum refining to vaccine development and distribution.

By using the cyber physical passport in their supply chains, manufacturers will be able to reprogram their processes and adapt to the current state of the entire supply chain network with extreme granularity. To ward off cyber-attacks, CyManII will ensure this reprogramming can be done in hours, helping to nimbly protect and secure the nation’s manufacturing ecosystem in real-time.

Adopting a “PURE” approach to manufacturing and supply chains leads to an innovative digital architecture that enables pandemic adaptive, resilient and trusted supply chains. It is important that the vaccines developed by our nation’s researchers can be delivered to hundreds of millions and even billions of people without being compromised.

Each vaccine must be genuine, produced to its exact formula and not tampered with. Vaccine-producing facilities will benefit from a well-conceived digital architecture to become secure and significantly more efficient, flexible and resilient.

By having institutes like CyManII at UTSA, U.S. manufacturers will have the world-class resources they need to protect and secure the nation’s manufacturing ecosystem for decades.

— Howard Grimes

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