RPA security and risks: how to protect automation systems

5 min

When we embark on digitalizing a single process or our entire business, are we sure we have properly assessed all the cyber risks we may be running? By moving data and information from internal servers to external clouds, we cannot lose sight of cyber security, especially when we activate bots that read confidential data. So let’s analyze what the risks of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) might be and how we can ensure that RPA-related systems are adequately secured.

RPA: the importance of process security

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the use of software bots to record tasks performed by humans and then repeat them without human intervention. Specifically, bots are deterministic software that simulates simple human activities. Properly programmed, a bot is capable of inputting data, processing images, automating communication between digital systems or responding to standard requests and information, as in the case of chatbots.

Bots are not intelligent without Artificial Intelligence. They are fundamentally incapable of learning on their own, but that does not make them any less useful. Underlying complex business processes are a multitude of simple, repetitive actions that automated will free up resource time and drastically reduce errors. The main advantage of RPA is the simplicity of implementation that, in some cases, requires little or no coding.

Organizations looking to embark on a process digitalization journey cannot avoid integrating bots and considering automating processes that do not require human cognitive input. However, they also need to be properly informed about the risks involved in this scenario.

In the various articles published on the process automation blog, we have identified how it works, the benefits and the evolution, but it is also time to talk about the risks related to cybersecurity.

What are the risks of RPA?

Robotic Process Automation deals with data. It enters it, copies and pastes it, and transfers it from one system to another: in short, it accesses information and handles it in the same way as a human. Of course, unlike humans, bots are not aware of the sensitivity and danger of their tasks. It will have to be the programmers, properly supervised by security and risk managers, who define an appropriate plan of action.

The management and movement of data expose corporate systems to two main risks: fraud and data loss, both due to a failure in the management of information access credentials. But let’s take a look at some of the more specific computer security issues and how to protect robotic processes.

security RPA

Unauthorized access: limiting the spread of credentials

In order to function and interact with the applications and systems involved in a given process (ERP, CRM), RPA requires privileged access credentials that often open the door to sensitive corporate data. If access to RPA robots is not properly protected and controlled, there is a risk of allowing unauthorized persons to access, manipulate or steal sensitive information.

What should be done? First of all, limit the access of bots to activities that are strictly necessary to perform a certain action that you want to automate. For example, if I need to fill in some fields with customer information in a database in order to write an email, I need to limit the bot’s access to that database to read-only, not write. It is also useful to identify the bots and their RPA processes using specific credentials. This way, in the event of a breach, we can immediately find and replace the compromised credentials. With this in mind, strict access policies should be implemented to ensure that only authorized individuals have privileged access to RPA bots. Finally, another suggestion is to use multi-factor authentication to protect access to RPA bots and strengthen the blocking of unauthorized users.

Data manipulation: constantly monitoring bots’ activities

One can never be too careful when talking about software that manipulates large amounts of data and could cause millions in damage. If an RPA bot is compromised or manipulated by cybercriminals, it could alter, corrupt or destroy large amounts of data. The severity of such a risk would also impact other business operations related to the automated process and business continuity.

What should be done? The first step is to continuously monitor bot activity and perform data integrity checks to detect any anomalies or suspicious behavior. It is, therefore, essential to frequently change the access credentials of bots, which are often shared and reused, and most importantly, to store them in a central encrypted location. Keeping the same credentials and not protecting them adequately risks allowing intrusion not only by experienced hackers but also by internal employees with administrative privileges who wish to cause damage to the company (as in the case of internal threats).

RPA manages and moves data, exposing enterprise systems to two main risks: fraud and data loss. For this reason, it is essential to have a computer security plan in place. Share on X

Vulnerabilities of RPA systems: updating security systems

When we proceed with the evolution of RPA systems in the corporate network, perhaps by automating other related processes, we must never forget to also update the security plan implemented during the RPA implementation phase. After the automation of a process, I will have to customize the software so that it is able to detect anomalies specific to that process through alarms that signal the compromise of data in real-time. Every time the RPA software is modified, I will have to follow up with an update of the related computer system that monitors it. The obsolescence of computer security software makes RPA systems vulnerable and slows down the response time to a malicious intrusion.

What should be done? Always start by flanking the RPA software implementation plan with an IT security plan. Then plan for ongoing updates to include new automated processes and those already in place. In addition, it is essential to conduct regular security testing as systems are integrated. This is the only way to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place for process concatenation. Finally, when reviewing RPA scripts, pay particular attention to vulnerabilities in the business logic.

Phishing and social engineering attacks: the importance of recognizing them

RPA bots, like any other system, are at risk of being infected by a computer virus. Malware that attacks a single process can quickly spread throughout an organization’s IT infrastructure. What are the most common threats? Phishing or social engineering attacks. Let’s take an example. A hacker could send fake emails or messages that appear to come from RPA robots in order to gain access to a database. The untrained or distracted employee might not notice a slight anomaly in the message and enter the requested data, giving the hacker on duty the keys to access the data.

What should be done? The first step is always to keep computer systems updated, as cyber threats are constantly evolving. Next, train employees to recognize and report phishing attacks. Finally, implement security measures such as multi-factor authentication, the simplicity of which greatly reduces the risk of data compromise.

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Security failures in RPA systems: Ensuring record integrity

What happens when the security of an RPA system fails? IT security managers will need to conduct a thorough analysis of RPA logs to understand where a breach has occurred and remediate it as quickly as possible. Typically, organizations feed RPA logs into a separate system designed specifically for their archive. This increases the level of security and reliability. A second, equally important step is to ensure that there are no gaps in the RPA logs. Only then, in the event of a security system failure, will the risk manager be able to identify the problem with certainty by analyzing the logs automatically generated by the RPA.