Cyber security is a hugely important topic for business owners and IT Departments and when it comes to business automation and specifically Robotic Process Automation, the potential security risks are no different than with any other IT layer, especially in a new and changing technology such as RPA.
We have, during our initial talks with companies been asked the question, “how secure is automation?” In this article, we’ll go through some of the RPA cyber security risks, and show 4 best practices ways to secure an RPA bot project.
RPA cyber risks
There are 4 areas where your business may be at risk when implementing an RPA project and to be honest, they are really no different than with any new software-based technology that will be interacting with databases, servers, networks and client/company data.
1. Account access abuse or compromise
This relates to a company’s internal systems and is associated with privileged accounts, for example, accounts that have access to sensitive company data such as admin, system and local admin accounts or staff who have access via their account privileges to sensitive systems and data.
With RPA, the security risks relate to the abuse or compromised access by an RPA bot to these systems via the account assigned to it and is essentially no different than if a human was given access via an account with higher privileges which then caused security issues afterwards. For example:
Access given to an RPA bot account that could be used by attackers hack the system and steal or misuse sensitive data.
Cyber threat actors may re-program a bot to significantly disrupt business operations.
2. Vulnerabilities and security weaknesses
Vulnerabilities and weaknesses in networked systems that may allow cyber attackers to gain access to the system and perform malicious activities. One example is when a staff member visits an unsafe website (accidentally or intentional) and the website then triggers a cyber security attack on the local network. Ransomware being a good example of this.
In the case of vulnerabilities in RPA, the potential security threats are:
The vulnerabilities in the backend RPA system may provide cyber attackers access to the network.
RPA systems transferring data with low or no encryption which could lead to data leakage or data interception.
3. Outages and downtime
System outages and downtime is when a system or network can’t perform its primary function either on a short term (outage) or long term (downtime) basis. The most common reasons for system outages or downtime with RPA are:
Unanticipated network failure that will stop the bot’s primary operation leading to a significant loss in productivity.
A rapid sequence of bot activities may cause system failure or outage due to decreasing system resources available.
4. Unintended access to confidential information
With RPA, a security risk scenario related to the accessing of confidential information may occur when intentional, negligent or improper training of an RPA bot has caused confidential data leakage such as payment data, personal data or commercial data to the internet.
RPA security best practices
RPA security risks are no different from traditional human-related cyber security risks which all businesses have to deal with. To reduce these risks, is achieved through implementing cyber security "layers" to deter cyber threat actors, together with user training and cyber security awareness.
The same cyber security "layering" strategy applies to RPA bot development and deployment to ensure your business can function effectively with intelligent automation technology:
Best Practice 1. Software security
Ensuring software security is in place is one of the essential steps to ensuring the security of a company. This includes, monitoring RPA processes, analysing weaknesses in account authentication, virtualisation and cross-network connections, scanning back-end code to prevent and intercept vulnerabilities and ultimately deploy a secure and well-planned RPA bot.
Best Practice 2: Access management
Ensure access privileges, accounts and permissions are given to users and RPA bots dependent on the level of risk and requirement. Segregation of accounts and permissions will ensure you only allow RPA bots to access certain systems and perform the tasks assigned to them. Using single sign-on and two-factor authentication is also sensible. Finally always ensure passwords are encrypted (not plain text) within RPA bot activities.
Best Practice 3: Data and bot monitoring
Continuously monitor and manage data processed by RPA bots to protect the system from possible malicious data changes. A secure and well-established RPA platform usually has an Orchestrator which tracks logs and provides security and compliance for both the RPA bots’ activities and the human staff involved. Ensure on-going scanning of the RPA bot and environment to identify quickly any suspicious activities, security vulnerabilities or security threat instances.
Best Practice 4: Training and awareness
Its absolutely vital to implement a system with clear roles and responsibilities for the staff responsible for the automation process. They should all be trained on the rules and requirements relating to access and data security, how to spot security issues and how to escalate to appropriate staff members. Provide the necessary supervision to ensure compliance. Any changes to the systems and processes should be documented and all staff updated with any further re-training to compliment and uphold alterations. On-going management of training is critical to ensure staff are aware of RPA-related cyber or local infrastructure security risks, new and emerging vulnerabilities affecting systems and platforms (such as zero-days) and the potential impacts of not calling out a problem! It's always better to flag a problem to then investigate and rule out a security issue than ignoring a problem which then grows into an incident. Knowing what to do in a low, medium and critical security situation is vital by following a service level response process.
With IT and technology there will always be a cyber security risk but if you put in place security measures and training, like with all new platforms, RPA is worth adopting.
Implementing RPA is a detailed and complex technical process for any business, hence investing in an RPA Company or RPA Consultant to advise, plan, deploy, support and manage is crucial to the success and security of any automation project.
With the enterprise automation software that we use for our RPA projects, data and documents stay inside your network whether that be your your local desktops or virtual machine network. Only bots status, scheduling, licenses and updates transmit externally to our Orchestrator. And the Orchestrator itself is protected by Amazon GuardDuty Intelligent Threat Detector, one of the most advanced threat prevention systems on the market that continuously monitors for malicious activity and unauthorised behaviour.