The rise of robotics is raising a number of concerns. Many are overblown or entirely unwarranted, and others need to be addressed and mitigated. While job loss, the main concern associated with robotics, is getting much of the attention, in my field – robotic process automation (RPA) – robots are taking the mundane, repetitive, spreadsheet-centric tasks off employees’ hands, allowing them to do their jobs better and with greater satisfaction. However, security concerns that many businesses have when it comes to robots are not being adequately addressed.
Automation and robotics inherently minimize the risks associated with the human workforce by taking over the repetitive, error-prone processes that can create quality and security issues if not done meticulously. However, there are still measures that must be taken to ensure the technology is secure and protected from outside threats.
When implemented, robotics automates core processes across several areas of the business, leveraging platforms containing high volumes of customer and employee data. It can be nerve-racking to give a piece of software unbridled access to such sensitive information.
Without appropriate security measures in place to safeguard and manage this data, all the good that robotics are doing can be contradicted if a single vulnerability is exploited, leaving the organization at risk of being hacked or worse.
While any new technology implementation can feel like an uncertain gamble for IT, in the case of robotics, steps can and should be taken to ensure that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Organizations need to identify, understand and avoid these common security pitfalls when it comes to automation.
Robots and humans are not interchangeable
Automation technology has advanced to where it can take on processes that depend on human-to-bot interactions, but it is not yet ready to take on human user credentials.
These solutions tend to encounter security issues when bots are assigned human user credentials because they are hard-coded, meaning they cannot be altered without changing the program. The degree of security sophistication is entirely dependent on the developer, which may not be consistent enough to ward off all vulnerabilities.
To avoid needing to rely on developer consistency, utilizing encrypted protocols, independent credentials and change audit software are crucial for a robust security posture.
Know the complexities inside out
All automation and robotics solutions are not created equally. Different tools provide different levels of support and require varying degrees of prep work before implementation. Some solutions provide pre-built robots and support throughout their lifecycle, while others require third-party add-ons and in-house experts to deliver a comparable experience.
Those that require third-party add-ons introduce more risk. More connected solutions require greater oversight. The more complex the solution, especially as you extend process usage, the more effort required to keep it secure. Wherever possible, organizations should consolidate and help keep security simple. It is important to know exactly what areas of the various systems in use need to be protected, to ensure the proper measures are in place.
Prevent unintentional escalations from the outset
With traditional automation tools, human operators and dedicated developer teams are necessary to keep things up and running. However, avoiding breaks in segregation of duties is an inevitable part of this. With more operators and developers managing the software, risk of privilege escalation is heightened. This overall tends to increase the need for more third-party software to look out for fraud.
While it might seem simple, the most effective way to avert privilege escalation from these traditional solutions is to make sure that all bots have only the necessary access and capabilities required to complete their given processes.
Alternatively, businesses can look to implement pre-programmed automation solutions that arrive ready to be deployed with audit and compliance capabilities built in. This streamlines installation and limits the need for technical support, freeing up resources that typically would have been spent on in-house experts and training.
Rip a page from Software Development 101
Most software applications must go through several phases of development and testing to ensure they are ready to be put into production, with processes in place to help ensure quality and security at every phase. However, when building traditional RPA tools, setting up a secure 3-tier landscape creates significant overhead for the operations and developer teams due to the added complexity of connected systems that need to be managed.
The actual automation functionality of traditional RPA tools should be smart enough to be able to distinguish how to behave on development, testing and production systems. For instance, if you deploy a bot to register new business prospects in Salesforce, it must be able to distinguish between the addresses to get to your different Salesforce environments, be able to retrieve different credentials for those environments, and know which environment it is currently in.
To ensure this is mitigated at the get-go, RPA providers and businesses deploying tailored bots should take a page from traditional software developers, adopting the best practice of testing for quality and security from the ground up.
When in doubt, stick to the process
Some security risks associated with automation are entirely preventable. Concerns around a lack of process oversight, audit requirements, or undetected vulnerabilities can be addressed.
Automation is implemented to gain efficiency. Businesses are always trying to do more, faster, without compromising quality – and robotics is the enabler. Robotics gives organizations the power to simplify processes and increase productivity, but if the system isn’t secure and a breach occurs, the efficiencies gained start to matter very little.
There are security challenges in robotic process automation, but they can be mitigated through a strict, streamlined approach, rather than creating a fragmented patchwork of automation tools. By sticking to the processes, and simplifying where possible, security threats are diminished from the start.
When automation is leveraged in a secure environment with the necessary protective layers in place and given the right amount of attention, businesses can truly capitalize on the technology without compromising security.
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