“Is automation secure for my business?”
When it comes to business automation, and, in particular, to Robotic Process Automation, cybersecurity issues are one of the most hot-debated topics among business owners. And that makes sense, as in the ever-changing world of innovations, it is becoming almost impossible to keep up with all the potential implications and risks of technologies day by day.
In this article, we will address this sensitive subject, identify the principal risks concerning RPA, assess the possible threats of the risks for the company operations, and provide you with a clear understanding of what measures to be taken to mitigate them.
Bots can destroy it, they said
Robotic Process Automation has never been so close to humans’ daily activities as it is now.
RPA opens up brighter prospects for the improvements, taking over repetitive tasks and benefiting in various aspects of business operations:
- Reduced time on labor-intensive manual activities
- Cutting costs and increasing return on investment
- Opportunities for humans to be mostly involved in high-value tasks
- Elimination of overtime spent on mundane tasks
However, we’re all familiar with the saying: ‘There’s no free lunch in this world’.
What does it mean for software bots? Of course, the security risks that are always associated with RPA deployment.
Let’s take a closer look at cybersecurity risks that RPA may bring to your company and the impacts of it.
Cybersecurity in RPA: Areas of risks
While implementing RPA there are 4 key key areas where your business may be at risk. In general, they mostly correlate with the traditional cybersecurity risks.
- 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.
Privileged accounts can be exemplified either by IT team members’ accounts (system, local administrators roles, e.g.), or by the accounts of the employees who handle company sensitive data in their daily routine (e.g., accountants, financial managers, etc.). The gloomy statistics is that according to a study by Centrify 74% of data breaches start with privileged access abuse.
In terms of automation, 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, i.e.:
- Privileged access given to a bot account may be used by malicious actors to break into the system and steal or misuse your business-sensitive information
- Malicious actors may train a bot to disrupt significant business operations related to clients, orders or transactions, e.g.
In simple terms, vulnerabilities are weaknesses in the information system that allow cyber attackers to authorize illegally into the system and perform malicious actions.
An illustrative example of how vulnerabilities may appear would be accidental or inadvertent improper actions of a staff member who has visited a suspected or an unsafe website. In this case, an unsafe website is a threat resource that triggers vulnerability occurrence. Some of the most common examples of vulnerabilities are as follows: missing data encryption, SQL injection, missing authorization, cross-site scripting and forgery, weak passwords, upload of infected software.
Here are 2 risk scenarios regarding the occurrence of vulnerabilities in RPA:
- The vulnerabilities in the backend of the RPA system may provide cyber attackers 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 a downtime) refers to the period of time when a system/network cannot perform its primary function. Downtime may be caused by a vast number of reasons and may occur in companies of various sizes. Among the most frequent reasons are: human errors, old or unstable hardware, bugs in server operating system and integration/interoperability issues.
For instance, in 2018 on Amazon Prime day, millions of shoppers faced high-profile outage on Amazon “Deals” page caused by the lack of servers able to handle such massive online traffic.
In RPA, the risk scenarios related to system outage may be represented as follows:
- Unexpected network failure may disrupt the controlling bot operation leading to a significant loss in productivity
- The rapid sequence of bot activities may cause system failure or outage
4. Disclosure of confidential information
In business relations, сonfidential information is any information related to the company’s business and affairs that is not available to the public. Unauthorized disclosure of a company’s financial information, marketing plans, upcoming projects, and any other materials marked confidential may have devastating consequences for an enterprise.
Sometimes even such a standard human error as a work-related call to a business partner during lunchtime, or an impulsive act of sending an email from a corporate email box to any third party to share some embarrassing company news, may be considered a disclosure of confidential information. It is in addition to a plethora of cases when such a 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:
- An intentional or negligent improper training of a bot has caused confidential data (such as payment, credit card data) leakage, to the web.
Risk management: How to address security issues related to RPA
The examples and scenarios above testify that cybersecurity risks within RPA implementation are not much different from the traditional cybersecurity risks which any company typically has to deal with in its daily routine. What’s more, the bots are surprisingly not more hazardous than humans.
The good news is that although the possible impacts of cyber threats may build a rather dramatic picture in your mind, taking clear and sound information security steps will allow your business to operate seamlessly.
Step 1. Software security
Providing software security is one of the essential steps lying on the surface of business safety. There is no exception when it comes to RPA implementation.
Basically, software security implies 4 critical measures to be taken:
- Risk analysis: make constant security checks on RPA processes on each stage of implementation from bots creation to their launch and running
- Flaws analysis: analyze the current security architecture weaknesses in the areas of authentication, virtualization methods and connections of various environments
- Scanning: provide with back end code scanning within the process of bot creation to prevent vulnerabilities
- Deployment scheme: check on the proper and secured bot deployment process.
Step 2: Access management
- Privileges and bots’ activities segregation: implement a set of measures to govern users’ access privileges and to segregate activities depending on the risk levels. You can build a specific security structure that allows the bots to perform only those tasks that assigned to them
- SSO and LDAP: the use of single sign-on with lightweight directory access protocol will secure the RPA system log on process
- Encryption: Do not ignore the use of encrypted password management tools and enforcing passwords within bot activity sessions
Step 3. Data security
- Data monitoring: constantly monitor data processed by robots to be secured from the possible malicious data manipulations
More importantly, a well-established RPA system has an Orchestrator, a tool that tracks execution logs, providing security and compliance for both bots’ actions and people involved.
Read more on Electroneek Orchestrator
- Operational security: scan the bots on vulnerabilities and implement modeling of threats to reveal system flaws and gaps
Step 4. Governance framework
- R&Rs management: you need to build and implement a system with clear roles and responsibilities within the department/team responsible for the automation process
- Strategy and regulations: the company should elaborate on the set of requirements and rules within the company’s current security regulations and provide with the adequate supervision of it
- Awareness: top managers should raise awareness on the RPA-related risks and the potential impacts internally (within the responsible teams) and externally (within the bots’ creators)
RPA: it’s merely worth it
There’s no denying that implementing RPA implies a meticulous exercise for any business owner, consisting of re-evaluating the current business processes and regulations, building the new security system, or reshaping the old one, revealing the weak and identifying the critical control points.
The reasonable question would be: “Why do I need all this fuss?”
Cold statistics would be 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 40 full-time accounting staff.
- The research from ABBYY Digital IQ provider has found 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.
It means that implementing RPA you invest in the business’s prosperity in terms of ROI, workforce productivity, and customer satisfaction. The efforts are well rewarded, aren’t they?
We’ve discussed the main cybersecurity risks related to Robotic Process Automation, and considered the tactics to mitigate them.
It all boils down to the fact that privileged access abuse, vulnerabilities, system outage, and disclosure of confidential information are not anything new, though the terms have been used in a slightly different context.
When it comes to security issues, the key to success for any CISO is having a clear strategy on preventing any possible threats. And 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 with your strategy implementation. And here we have a solution for you as well. It’s simple – just try Electroneek!