A Call for ‘PURE’ Supply Chains in a World Where Some Play Dirty
It’s one thing when consumers have to drive a little further to purchase toilet paper. But it is a supply chain and public health concern of an entirely different caliber if they have to worry whether someone has tampered with the COVID-19 vaccine that they and their loved ones desperately need.
The cold-chain rollout of the vaccine that began late last year drew attention to the safety of the medical supply chain — particularly since it also gained the interest of some of the usual suspects in global cyber-meddling: China, Russia and North Korea.
“Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored several vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains,” warned Howard Grimes, CEO of the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII) and associate vice president for institutional initiatives at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “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.”
In a recent op-ed, Grimes wrote that “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.” He advocated for a new approach to supply chains that he identified with the acronym “PURE.” That stands for:
- Pandemic adaptive, “including operational modes that accommodate pervasive physical [social] distancing and remote work.”
- Usable and accessible to everyone, including factory workers and engineers.
- Resilient, agile and able to withstand disruptions such as electrical grid failures and cyber-attacks.
- Economical so that small- and medium-sized organizations can maintain resiliency and security at all levels of the supply chain.
Grimes said the public-private consortium CyManII is working on a “cyber physical passport” that will permit the identification, tracking and verification of parts, compounds and products in the cold chain as well as other sectors where safety and security are high priorities — food and petrochemicals come to mind. “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,” he explained. “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.”
A “PURE” approach, Grimes wrote, will lead to “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.”