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A Guide to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Security

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RPA is revolutionizing much of how organizations operate. By streamlining many repetitive and routine everyday tasks that businesses have to undertake, RPA can make many processes more efficient and less error-prone. The upshot of this is increased productivity and reduced costs.

Tools that can achieve this are something of a holy grail for businesses, so RPA must be a good thing, right? In general, this is true, there are undoubted and numerous benefits to implementing RPA to increase efficiency. But some issues need to be addressed, security is paramount among these.

This guide covers what you need to know when considering how to implement RPA securely.

Understanding Robotic Process Automation

Let’s begin with a simple sentence that sums up RPA - Robotic Process Automation is a technology that uses software robots, or 'bots', to automate routine, standardized tasks that are typically performed by humans - automation thereby increases efficiency and reduces the likelihood of errors.

While there are limits to what automation can achieve, there is no doubt the RPA can play an integral part in many business processes.

Among common routines that RPA can perform are:

·       Data Entry: RPA bots can automate the process of entering data into systems, reducing the time and effort required for this repetitive task.

·       Invoice Processing: RPA can automate the entire process of invoice management, from receipt to payment, making it faster and more efficient.

·       Customer Service: RPA can be used to automate responses to common customer queries, improving response times and customer satisfaction.

·       Report Generation: RPA can gather data and generate reports automatically, saving valuable time and resources.

·       Email Management: RPA can sort and categorize emails, flagging important ones and responding to standard queries.

·       Scheduling: RPA can manage calendars and schedule appointments, meetings, or reminders based on predefined rules.

These are a sample of the tasks RPA can perform, basically if a task is rule-based or repetitive, RPA is up to the job.

Security in RPA: Why It Matters

These days a company can live or die on the security of its data. RPA implementations introduce data vulnerabilities that, if not properly managed, can lead to significant risks.  

Every technology poses specific security risks and RPA is no different. RPA bots often interact with sensitive and high-level data, as well as accessing critical systems. For security professionals, this “perfect storm” of vulnerabilities can be a real headache. In order to safeguard your organization from potential threats, it's important to take control of your data within RPA implementations. Proactive measures and robust security protocols are essential to mitigate risks effectively and ensure the safety of sensitive information and critical systems.

Specific Security Risks of RPA

Solid security begins by understanding the risks and threats that a given technology faces. As with any technology, the moment it becomes mainstream malicious individuals begin seeking vulnerabilities.

In terms of RPA, the main security vulnerabilities that security should concentrate on include:

·       Credential Exposure: RPA bots often require high-level access to systems and data to perform their tasks. If these credentials are not securely managed, they can be exposed and misused.

·       Lack of Monitoring: If RPA activities are not adequately monitored, any malicious activities or errors can go unnoticed, leading to potential data breaches or system disruptions.

·       Inadequate Access Controls: Without proper access controls, RPA bots could have more access privileges than necessary, increasing the potential damage if they are compromised.

·       Software Vulnerabilities: Like any software, RPA tools can have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals.

·       Data Leakage: As RPA bots handle sensitive data, there is a risk of data leakage if the data is not properly secured during processing and storage.

Understanding these risks and how they are likely to evolve is a critical first step to implementing robust security in RPA systems.

Best Practices for a Secure RPA Implementation

Understanding the threat is an essential first step. The next phase is to put procedures and mechanisms in place to mitigate these threats. It shouldn’t be a surprise to find digital safeguards on the list, but the importance of physical security measures shouldn’t be overlooked.

Here are some best practices to adhere to for a safe and secure RPA implementation:

Implementing Physical Access Control Systems

All the firewalls and VPNs in the world won’t protect your data if someone can just walk off the street and walk away with sensitive data. This is not as outrageous as it sounds, about 10% of all data breaches are physical and no risk management professional would find this an acceptable figure.

The implementation of physical, cloud-based access control software and systems can play a pivotal role in securing an RPA installation. Among the features of the latest generation of access control systems are:

·       Advanced Authentication: Modern physical access control systems often use advanced authentication methods, such as biometrics or smart cards.

·       Visitor Management: These systems can track and manage visitors, ensuring that they are only granted access to appropriate areas.

·       Integration with Alarm Systems: Physical access control systems can be integrated with alarm systems to provide immediate alerts in case of unauthorized access attempts, enhancing the overall security of the facility.

While the threat to RPA systems is mostly digital, smart or opportunistic malicious individuals will exploit whatever vulnerability exists and an unsecured facility certainly represents this. This whole section could be summed up in one phrase – “keep your door locked!”

Regular Monitoring and Auditing

The rapid evolution of technologies like RPA is inevitably followed by an equally rapid evolution of the threats they face. This is why regular monitoring of all aspects of an RPA implementation is essential.

Regular monitoring and auditing make sure that the security of RPA is capable of dealing with the latest threats, and that measures in place to protect against existing vulnerabilities are doing their job.

Among the factors that monitoring and auditing should evaluate are:

·       Bot Activity: Monitor the actions of RPA bots to detect any unusual or unauthorized activities.

·       Access Logs: Regularly review access logs to identify any unauthorized access attempts or suspicious patterns.

·       RPA Scripts: Check for any unauthorized changes to RPA scripts, which could indicate a security breach.

·       Security Measures: Evaluate the effectiveness of current security measures and update them as necessary to address new threats.

·       Compliance: Ensure that the RPA implementation complies with relevant regulations and standards.

Regular auditing is an essential component of a robust RPA security policy.

Secure Software Development Practices

The security of an RPA system is not just about how it's used, but also how it's built. Secure software development practices are crucial in minimizing vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Here are some key practices to consider:

·       Code Review: Regularly review the code of RPA scripts to identify and fix any potential security issues.

·       Principle of Least Privilege: Ensure that RPA bots are only given the minimum access necessary to perform their tasks.

·       Secure Coding Practices: Follow secure coding practices to prevent common security vulnerabilities.

Adhering to these practices can significantly enhance the security of RPA implementations.

RPA: Treading the Thin Line Between Security and Efficiency

Finding a balance between efficiency and security is not a problem that is unique to RPA implementations. But RPA does have specific issues.

However, by implementing a robust security policy that encompasses both digital and physical threats, organizations can safely harness the advantages of RPA, while avoiding the security pitfalls.

August 3, 2023
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