Feb 22, 2021

Canada’s vaccine strategy; a lesson in poor risk management

Laura V. Garcia
3 min
In the race to vaccinate populations, Canada lags behind as it awaits shipments from Europe and gives us a lesson in the costs of poor risk management...

Henry Ford once said quality is doing it right when no one is looking. The same can be said about risk management. It’s easy to do the right thing when calamity impacts your business, and all eyes are suddenly upon you, preaching the imperativeness of risk management and resilience. But when the headlines move on to the next big story and the impacts of the last disaster have finished settling upon your balance sheet, it’s easy to forget the value of risk mitigation tactics and opt to save the money instead.

Lest we forget, it’s why systematic and quantified risk management processes are imperative.

Canada’s vaccine rollout is a disgrace, and it’s putting lives and the economy at risk. And quite frankly, I’m outraged, as we all should be, as it seems, perhaps Canada simply forgot. Or worse, it chose to save the dollars instead.

As Trudeau himself pointed out, decades ago, Canada had vaccine production capacity, but this no longer remains the case, leaving the country reliant on importing vaccines from Europe. We all know well the threats that lay in global supply chains, not the least of which stem from geopolitics. And as governments tend to think about their own populations first, vaccine protectionism is on the rise, making the reliance on agreements signed across an ocean a high-risk move that has left people’s lives hanging in the balance.

Hedging Bets; Trudeau's last-minute risk mitigation efforts

As of Feb. 20, only 3.72 per cent of Canadians have received at least one shot. Comparatively, Israel, the world leader, sits at 82.4 per cent, the United Kingdom at 26.3 per cent, and the U.S. at 18 per cent.

In Canada, health care systems, including the managing and performing of vaccinations, are run by the individual provinces. However, the federal government is responsible for regulating drugs and vaccines and negotiating pricing and contracts. This means that Mr Trudeau inherited the responsibility for procuring the countries vaccine requirements along with the pandemic.

Hedging his bets, Trudeau placed orders with seven manufacturers for a total of $4.6 billion worth of vaccines, or up to 402 million doses. Although the number of vaccines on order perhaps makes for good optics and was an effort to mitigate risks, only two of the seven vaccines are currently approved. 

Dr Scott, a professor of medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the medical director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology, points out, “There’s never been a vaccine rollout where there weren’t shortages because of issues around working the bugs out of the manufacturing. So anybody who didn’t anticipate that there’d be some hiccups in the manufacturing process just wasn’t aware of the past.”

And, as was to be expected, shipments from Europe have been delayed. Last week Canada received about 70,000 doses from Pfizer, and another 168,000 are expected to deliver this upcoming week, both being smaller sized shipments than was initially planned.

And so, under pressure to pick up the pace on the vaccine rollout, the federal government withdrew 1.9 million doses from COVAX, an international fund fighting for equitable global distribution. The move drew sharp criticism from international organisations and opposition leaders.

Trudeau has defended his actions by highlighting that Canada is one of the top contributors to the program, and countries that contribute to the program are allowed to withdraw. The Federal Government has since pledged another $75 million to the fund, bringing Canada’s total contribution to $940 million (in comparison, Britain has pledged $971 million.) However, it remains the only country in the G7 to “double-dip” by withdrawing from the same program it supports.

The lack of any significant vaccine production capabilities in the country has left us at an extreme disadvantage when facing a global pandemic. So how did we end up playing a game of high stakes with Canadian lives, and what are we doing about it?

Head over to Mitigating risk; Medicago’s plant-based vaccine technology to find out.

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Jun 21, 2021

Google and NIST Address Supply Chain Cybersecurity

Elise Leise
3 min
The SolarWinds and Codecov cyberattacks reminded companies that software security poses a critical risk. How do we mitigate it?

As high-level supply chain attacks hit the news, Google and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have both developed proposals for how to address software supply chain security. This isn’t a new field, unfortunately. Since supply chains are a critical part of business resilience, criminals have no qualms about targeting its software. That’s why identifying, assessing, and mitigating cyber supply chain risks (C-SCRM) is at the top of Google and NIST’s respective agendas. 


High-Profile Supply Chain Attacks 

According to Google, no comprehensive end-to-end framework exists to mitigate threats across the software supply chain. [Yet] ‘there is an urgent need for a solution in the face of the eye-opening, multi-billion-dollar attacks in recent months...some of which could have been prevented or made more difficult’. 


Here are several of the largest cybersecurity failures in recent months: 


  • SolarWinds. Alleged Russian hackers slipped malicious code into a routine software update, which they then used as a Trojan horse for a massive cyberattack. 
  • Codecov. Attackers used automation to collect credentials and raid ‘additional resources’, such as data from other software development vendors. 
  • Malicious attacks on open-source repositories. Out of 1,000 GitHub accounts, more than one in five contained at least one dependency confusion-related misconfiguration. 


As a result of these attacks and Biden’s recent cybersecurity mandate, NIST and Google took action. NIST held a 1,400-person workshop and published 150 papers worth of recommendations from Microsoft, Synopsys, The Linux Foundation, and other software experts; Google will work with popular source, build, and packaging platforms to help companies implement and excel at their SLSA framework


What Are Their Recommendations? 

Here’s a quick recap: NIST has grouped together recommendations to create federal standards; Google has developed an end-to-end framework called Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA)—pronounced “Salsa”. Both address software procurement and security. 


Now, here’s the slightly more in-depth version: 


  • NIST. The organisation wants more ‘rigorous and predictable’ ways to secure critical software. They suggest that firms use vulnerability disclosure programmes (VDP) and software bills of materials (SBOM), consider simplifying their software and give at least one developer per project security training.
  • Google. The company thinks that SLSA will encompass the source-build-publish software workflow. Essentially, the four-level framework helps businesses make informed choices about the security of the software they use, with SLSA 4 representing an ideal end state. 


If this all sounds very abstract, consider the recent SolarWinds attack. The attacker compromised the build platform, installed an implant, and injected malicious behaviour during each build. According to Google, higher SLSA levels would have required stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult for the attacker to succeed. 


How Do The Proposals Differ? 

As Brian Fox, the co-founder and CTO at Sonatype, sees it, NIST and Google have created proposals that complement each other. ‘The NIST [version] is focused on defining minimum requirements for software sold to the government’, he explained, while Google ‘goes [further] and proposes a specific model for scoring the supply chain. NIST is currently focused on the “what”. Google, along with other industry leaders, is grappling with the “how”’. 


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