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How to reduce your RPA security risk

Robot process automation (RPA) — software robots that perform repetitive tasks — has expanded dramatically in recent years to meet the needs of the modern remote and hybrid workforce. In fact, the RPA market is expected to grow from $1.23 billion in 2020 to $13.39 billion in 2030.

By automating repetitive and tedious processes, RPA is transforming many legacy processes, making it easier for workers to perform repetitive tasks. From call scheduling to task creation, RPAs are becoming an embedded part of the new era of work. Unfortunately, however, RPA is inherently insecure and can put the sensitive data it touches at risk.

What is RPA?

RPA enables users to create software robots (bots) that can learn and execute basic and repetitive (but accurate) tasks, such as filling out forms, copying and pasting data, updating banking information, or performing calculations. As a result, RPA can save organizations time and money.

RPA is especially popular in financial institutions, as well as in the industrial sector, which still uses older applications that do not support automation APIs.

What are the security issues with RPA?

There are two major security issues with RPA. First, RPA tools are so easy to implement that users can deploy them without involving the IT team. As a result, RPA is often part of the “shadow IT” problem. Because the IT team doesn’t know about the technology, they can’t monitor it, properly secure it, or update it.

But the bigger problem is that RPA, even when deployed through proper IT processes, is still insecure for the following reasons:

  • Activity cannot be monitored properly — Although RPA bots need to use their own access codes, creating specific privileged accounts for each bot is time-consuming so they use human privileged accounts. However, distinguishing bot actions from human actions using the same credentials is too complicated to enable effective activity monitoring.
  • MFA is impossible to execute — The bot does not have a mobile phone to receive an authentication request, let alone a fingerprint or other biometrics. This removes the security of using multifactor authentication (MFA) account verification.
  • Bots’ actions cannot be encrypted — Since bots act on the user’s screen on behalf of the user, any activity done by the bots can be easily recorded and replayed. This makes it easy for RPA activity to be “stolen” or used by threat actors who want to use a user’s account.

These insecurities make companies using RPA technology particularly vulnerable. Knowing that RPAs are implemented in a company, a hacker can target a privileged bot instead of trying to compromise an employee’s privileged credentials. Infiltrating an RPA solution makes it possible to find the credentials used or even modify the bot’s actions to arrange money transfers, for example, while remaining discreet in the IT infrastructure.

How can organizations stay secure when using RPA?

To mitigate these types of risks, certain processes and policies are in place.

  • First, it is essential to educate all employees about cyber hygiene and the serious risks of deploying RPA without the knowledge of the IT team. Emphasize that the IT team must be able to track all activity in the environment, by both humans and machines, to ensure security and compliance.
  • Second, organizations should conduct regular audits to assess the level of security and ensure that applicable mandates are being followed.
  • Finally, if RPA bots are deployed by service providers, they must ensure that the project is properly secured.

RPA is more of a technology to automate processes and make life easier for employees. But organizations should be aware of the security concerns inherent in RPA and take steps to mitigate them to protect their critical systems and data.

About the author: Anthony Moelick is Director, Solutions Engineering, EMEA and APAC Netwix. He has over 20 years of security and IT experience with particular expertise in cyber security, data governance and Microsoft platform management.

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