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Security Concerns in RPA: A 4-Step Guide to Address Them

/ ~ 8 minutes read

“Is automation secure for my business?” Cybersecurity is one of the most hot-debated topics among business owners when it comes to business automation and Robotic Process Automation, in particular. It makes sense, as it’s becoming more and more challenging to keep up with all the potential implications and security risks of ever-changing technologies day by day.

In this article, we’ll address the potential RPA security risks, discuss the best practices for secure RPA, and provide you with a step-by-step action plan.

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RPA Security: Areas of risks

While implementing RPA, there are four key areas where your business may be at risk. They mostly correlate with traditional cybersecurity risks:

  • Privileged access abuse;
  • System vulnerabilities;
  • System outage risks;
  • Disclosure of confidential information.

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

1. Privileged access abuse

The gloomy statistics show that 74% of data breaches start with privileged access abuse. 

The term is applicable to any company’s internal systems and databases, and is always associated with privileged accounts, i.e., accounts with higher access rights to company data. These can be IT team members’ accounts (e.g., system and local administrator roles) or accounts of employees who work with sensitive data, for example, financial managers.

In terms of RPA security, the risks associated with the abuse of privileged access by RPA bots are mostly the same as those related to privileged access abuse by humans. For example:

  • Privileged access given to an RPA bot account may be used by attackers to break into the system and steal or misuse your sensitive business information.
  • Attackers may train a bot to disrupt significant business operations related to clients, orders, or transactions.

2. System vulnerabilities

In simple terms, vulnerabilities are weaknesses in an information system that allow cyber attackers to illegally gain access to the system and perform malicious actions. 

One of the ways vulnerabilities may appear is when a staff member behaves imprudently by visiting an unsafe website. In this case, the website is a threat resource that triggers a vulnerability. Some of the most common examples of vulnerabilities are: 

  • Missing data encryption;
  • SQL injection;
  • Missing authorization; 
  • Cross-site scripting and forgery;
  • Weak passwords;
  • Upload of infected software.

Here are two potential risk scenarios in the case of vulnerabilities in RPA:

  • The vulnerabilities in the backend of the RPA system may provide cyber attackers access to the corporate network.
  • Even though most advanced RPA systems nowadays use encryption while transferring data, there are still low-security-level RPA tools where non-encrypted data transfer may cause sensitive data leakage.

3. System outage

System outage (or downtime) refers to the period of time when a system/network can’t perform its primary function. Downtimes can happen because of numerous reasons. Among the most frequent reasons are:

  • Human error;
  • Outdated or unstable hardware; 
  • Bugs in the server operating system;
  • Integration/interoperability issues. 

For instance, in 2018 on Amazon Prime day, millions of shoppers faced a high-profile outage on the Amazon “Deals” page because its servers failed to handle such a massive online traffic spike.

In RPA, there are two potential risk scenarios related to system outage:

  • Unexpected network failure may disrupt the bot’s operation leading to a significant loss in productivity.
  • A rapid sequence of bot activities may cause system failure or outage.

4. Disclosure of confidential information

Confidential information is any information related to a company’s business and affairs that is not available to the public and has commercial value. Unauthorized disclosure of a company’s financial information, marketing plans, upcoming projects, and any other materials marked confidential may have devastating consequences.

Sometimes even a mere call to a business partner during lunchtime, or someone impulsively sending an email from a corporate email box to a friend to share some company news, may be considered a disclosure of confidential information. This is in addition to a plethora of cases when such disclosure is done on purpose with the help of more sophisticated techniques.

In RPA, a risk scenario related to disclosure of confidential information may appear when intentional, negligent, or improper training of an RPA bot has caused leakage of confidential data, such as payment or credit card data, to the web.

Risk management & RPA security best practices

The examples and scenarios above testify that RPA security risks aren’t much different from the traditional cybersecurity risks which any company has to deal with. What’s more, RPA bots are surprisingly no more hazardous than humans. 

The good news is that, although the possible impacts of security risks may paint a rather dramatic picture in your mind, there are clear risk management steps and best practices that will allow your business to operate seamlessly.

Step 1. Software security

Providing software security is one of the essential steps on the path to ensuring the safety of a business. There’s no exception when it comes to secure RPA implementation. 

Basically, software security implies four critical measures:

  • Risk analysis: Make constant security checks on RPA processes at each stage of implementation, from creating RPA bots to launching and running them.
  • Flaws analysis: Analyze current security architecture weaknesses in the areas of authentication, virtualization methods, and connections of various environments.
  • Scanning: Implement back-end code scanning when creating RPA bots to prevent vulnerabilities.
  • Deployment scheme: Be sure to execute a secure and well-planned RPA bot deployment.

Step 2: Access management

  • Segregating privileges and bots’ activities: Implement a set of measures to manage users’ access privileges and segregate activities depending on the level of risk. You can build a specific secure structure that allows RPA bots to perform only the tasks assigned to them.
  • SSO and LDAP: Using single sign-on with a lightweight directory access protocol will secure the RPA system login process.
  • Encryption: Don’t neglect to use encrypted password management tools and enforcing passwords within RPA bot activity sessions.

Step 3. Data security

  • Data monitoring: Constantly monitor data processed by RPA bots to protect the system from possible malicious data manipulations. 

More importantly, a secure and well-established RPA system has an Orchestrator, a tool that tracks execution logs, providing RPA security and compliance for both the RPA bots’ actions and the people involved. 

Read more on Electroneek Orchestrator

  • Operational security: Scan the RPA bots for vulnerabilities and implement threat modeling to reveal system flaws and security risks.

Step 4. Governance framework

  • R&Rs management: You need to build and implement a system with clear roles and responsibilities for everyone in the department/team responsible for the automation process. 
  • Strategy and regulations: The company should clearly elaborate the rules and requirements set out in their current security regulations and provide adequate supervision to ensure compliance.
  • Awareness: Top managers should raise awareness of RPA-related risks and the potential impacts internally (within the responsible teams) and externally (among the RPA bots’ creators). 

RPA: It’s worth it

It’s true that implementing RPA is a meticulous process for any business owner. It includes re-evaluating the current business processes and regulations, building a new security system or reshaping the old one, revealing the weak spots, and identifying the critical control points. 

The reasonable question is: “Why do I need all this fuss?”

Cold statistics are most useful here:

  • According to research by Deloitte, intelligent automation has been proven to cut business process costs from 25% to 40% on average.
  • Gartner research has found that the average amount of avoidable rework in accounting departments can take up to 30% of a full-time employee’s overall time. This equates to savings of 25,000 hours per year at the cost of $878,000 for an organization with a full-time accounting staff of 40.
  • Research from ABBYY, the provider of Digital IQ, has revealed that a majority of RPA adopters saw improved efficiency (55%), getting ahead of the competition/increasing their market share (52%), and revenue growth (52%), with productivity gains (44%) and business transformation (40%) also realized.

This means that by implementing RPA to automate repetitive tasks, you’re investing in your business’s prosperity in terms of ROI, workforce productivity, and customer satisfaction.

To sum up

We’ve discussed the main security risks related to Robotic Process Automation deployment and considered the tactics to mitigate them. It all boils down to the fact that privileged access abuse, vulnerabilities, system outages, and disclosures of confidential information aren’t anything new, though in the context of RPA, the terms are used in a slightly different context. 

When it comes to RPA security issues, the key to success for any CISO is having a clear strategy for preventing any possible threats. We hope that this article made the process of building such a strategy easier for you.

The next step would be deciding on a trustworthy RPA system to help you implement your strategy. And here we have a solution for you as well. It’s simple: just try Electroneek!

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