Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a true game changer, allowing businesses to turn thousands of hours of manual, repetitive tasks into automated processes that can be completed in seconds. Unfortunately, automated processes – like most other technology advances – are subject to all sorts of outside threats, from hacking and data theft to viruses, malware, and other malicious actions.
Without proper security measures in place, an RPA bot could inadvertently introduce ransomware into the work environment, expose sensitive data, or reveal private credentials that a cyber-criminal could use to gain access to company systems and use to commit fraud. Given that, what questions should your organization be asking to stay safe and keep your RPA bots productive and running?
First and foremost, it is important for organizations to ask what systems, such as email, ERP, and SaaS solutions, its automations can access. It is essential for businesses to ensure that each automated process being used only has access to exactly what is needed to get its specific job done.
With that in mind, companies are well advised to conduct regular access audits of their RPA bots to determine exactly what solutions each bot has access to and what it potentially can do with that access. By ensuring that the principle of least privilege is in place, organizations can minimize any potential damage likely to be caused by bots which have been compromised in some way.
Regular access audits can also address another important question: Did the company cut any security corners when RPA was initially implemented? Because companies often moved quickly to automate everything they could when RPA initially came onto the scene, security measures were sometimes overlooked in the rush to leverage automation to lower costs and increase productivity.
To expedite the bot creation process, for example, some RPA developers created a single Windows Active Directory account that is used by four or five different automated workflows. While easy, this presents a major security problem by making it extremely difficult to pinpoint the point of entry after a security breach. It also amplifies any damage resulting from the breach since its exposes four or five bots, rather than just one.
Again, a security audit can reveal if such shortcuts were used in the past. It is important, though, to look back at older workflows to ensure that any shared access issues currently in use are updated. Organizations should also ask whether rigorous security processes, including the closure and deactivation of any previously required accounts, are in place for retiring RPA bots that are no longer needed or being used.
You only need to look back a few years to see the devastating impact an unused bot can have. In 2021, Colonial Pipeline, the largest carrier of jet fuel and gasoline in the southeastern U.S., was hit with a ransomware attack caused by one unused, yet active, VPN account being breached and posted on the dark web. The cyber-criminal gang DarkSide used that information to initiate the ransomware attack. Colonial Pipeline responded to the attack by halting all pipeline operations, which led to public fear of a gas shortage and panic buying throughout many southeastern states.
This leads to yet another question organizations should be asking with respect to security, namely who has access to the company’s RPA tools and how easy is it for them to login? Remember that whoever has access to the RPA tools may also have access to RPA bots. As a result, it is essential to make sure that only those people who absolutely need access have access. Security measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA or 2FA) or a secure password manager should also be deployed, while regular audits of RPA tools can be used to disable accounts that are no longer needed.
Access also should extend to any cloud-native, security-minded vendors being used for an organization’s RPA toolset. Before partnering with an RPA vendor, companies are advised to have a strong understanding of their security practices, backup procedures, auditing standards, and personnel accreditations. Third-party breaches are a common problem for enterprise organizations, which means that if a vendor being used gets breached, your organization could be breached too.
Fortunately, most modern cloud solutions offer far more security benefits than concerns. Top cloud solutions like Microsoft Azure have state-of-the-art physical security, data centers in multiple regions around the world. At these centers, data can be siloed for data residency, rigid backup procedures, and sophisticated security practices. These include 24/7 Security Operation Center (SOC) and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) monitoring software which can detect a potential security incident at its earliest possible point.
While RPA can make a significant difference in terms of workplace productivity and cost-effectiveness, even the smallest gap in security can bring those benefits generated by automation crashing to the ground. As a result, it is imperative for organizations to take RPA security seriously so their bots can stay healthy, running, and productive.
Tony Higgins is the Chief Product Officer at Blueprint Software Systems and is responsible for the vision and evolution of Blueprint’s platform, a powerful solution that helps large enterprises understand their RPA estates and automatically migrate them to intelligent automation platforms quickly and efficiently. Tony has a broad base of software delivery skills and experience ranging from start-ups to global enterprises and is passionate about building technology that helps organizations optimize their automation practice. For more information, visit https://www.blueprintsys.com/