Five Cybersecurity Risk Management Ideas for Research Labs

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As life science and materials science researchers rely more heavily on technology for data storage and analysis, it is essential to take action to protect valuable information from cybersecurity threats. Image Credit: Flickr user Joshua Davis

If you’re doing research in life science or materials science today, digital data storage and sharing is unavoidable. The rise of technology has opened up enormous opportunities for scientific collaboration both within labs and across organizational lines. At the same time, the rise of big data has empowered scientists to extract insights from enormous datasets that would have been impossible to generate–much less analyze–in even the highest-tech labs only a few decades ago. Put simply, computer technology has revolutionized the fields of life science and material science over the last few years–but the benefits to innovation have also come with significant risks. Namely, as researchers are relying more heavily on computer technology for R&D, cybersecurity issues are becoming increasingly prominent.

While it is true that advances in technology have given rise to the increasing prominence of cybersecurity risks, the latest software can also provide solutions. Using sophisticated data management technologies, you can take action to secure your intellectual property, prevent data loss and theft, and protect the privacy of patients and other research subjects. Here are five risk reduction tips that research labs can use to manage and minimize inevitable cybersecurity threats:

  1. Back up your data in the Cloud through an Electronic Lab Notebook.

For materials science and life science researchers, malware and ransomware attacks designed to acquire or destroy data are some of the most concerning. For instance, in the WannaCry ransomware attack of May 2017, a wide range of computer users lost all of their stored information–from private individuals to FedEx to the UK’s National Health Service. From the perspective of a researcher, this kind of attack is devastating, because it could mean the loss of weeks, years or even decades of relevant data.

At the same time, regularly backing up your data on a separate hard drive can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially if your lab is working with massive datasets. One solution is to dispense with paper lab notebooks and switch completely to electronic lab notebooks that can be connected to the Cloud. If you’re relying on paper notebooks that reference files in computers that are vulnerable to cybersecurity threats, the information in those notebooks will be useless if your computer system is targeted in a malware attack. However, electronic lab notebook technology enables you to store all your data in one place and back it up in the Cloud, eliminating the chance that you will lose significant amounts of work in a single cybersecurity attack.

  1. Choose a Cloud service provider that regularly backs up its data.

Of course, just like personal lab computers, Cloud-based data storage centers must also recognize the potential risk of malware attacks. Therefore, when you are choosing a Cloud-connected electronic lab notebook, you should make sure that the provider runs regular data backups–ideally, at least once every 24 hours. That way, you won’t have to worry about losing any more than a day’s worth of work to a malware attack.

  1. Make sure the Cloud service you use is encrypted.

When it comes to choosing an electronic lab notebook that is connected to the Cloud, one of the most important features to look for is a strong encryption system. By encrypting all traffic between the client and the information in the Cloud, today’s software can prevent unauthorized information access and disclosure. When you use a Cloud-connected electronic lab notebook, a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) system encrypts the data through a server certificate as it is sent across the internet, which prevents interception from unauthorized third parties.  

  1. Choose digital platforms that are constantly monitored

You can also minimize your cybersecurity risk by choosing a data center where traffic is monitored at all times. Often, the most successful hacks and malware attacks are those that go unnoticed for hours or even days after the perpetrators gain access to the system. If your data is backed up in a data center that is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, you can feel confident that any breach will be noticed and investigated immediately–minimizing the chance that your data will be lost or stolen.

  1.  Stop using insecure platforms for data-sharing.

It can be tempting for colleagues within a lab to share experimental protocols, images or small datasets on popular platforms that are easy to use, but not fully secure, such as email, which is insecure but nonetheless is often used to transmit and share R&D data. For instance, a researcher may send out a link to a shared google doc with an experimental protocol, which everyone in the lab can access when they need it. While this practice may seem harmless–and maybe even useful, since it improves communications within the lab–it can significantly increase the lab’s risk of data loss or intellectual property theft. If your lab makes the switch to electronic lab notebook, you no longer have to worry about making the choice between information protection and efficient communication, because the software supports both. Researchers can quickly and easily share experimental results, protocol templates, and other relevant research information–all within a highly secure environment.

BIOVIA Electronic Lab Notebooks offer a highly secure information storage and sharing system for life science and materials science researchers. Contact us today to learn more about how this software can support security and productivity in your lab!