Security Risks in Robotic Process Automation (RPA): How You Can Prevent Them

Key benefits of RPA

Using robotic process automation helps companies minimise the error inherent in human work, thereby greatly improving accuracy and quality of work. It also allows for fine-grained monitoring of business processes, since all actions of a live robotic process can be recorded, analysed and optimised.

Perhaps the most important benefit is that RPA renders businesses much less process labour dependent and, consequently, more efficient. Companies often find that with the increase in job satisfaction as a result of RPA, there are less labour issues resulting from disruptive disputes, time and attendance issues and/or wage issues, etc.

All in all, automated processes are easier to manage, control and predict.

3Gem Research ran a survey on 250 heads of department in the US and the UK, in various sectors such as business services, finance, banking and manufacturing. According to the respondents, “productivity and 24/7 availability ranked 1st and 2nd highest in terms of the benefits (62% and 61% respectively), followed by 58.4% of respondents agreeing ‘the end of repetitive work’ as a top benefit.”

How widespread is RPA?

According to the same survey, “across all US/UK businesses, 94% responded that they either embraced robots, or felt a robotic future would be inevitable. Almost half (49.2%) of respondees believe 10% - 30% of their business to be immediately automatable.” Moreover, in the US at least, only 12% of businesses aren’t currently considering any form of automation.

More facts about business leaders’ perception of RPA

❏     More than half of the global business leaders embrace robots, and 94% are open to a robotic future.

❏     One third of business leaders envision a fast change in terms of automation and plan accordingly.

❏     Around half the businesses (47% in the UK and 57% in the US) embrace the idea of men and machines working together.

❏     Almost half the respondees (49.2%) believe that up to a third of their business is automatable. 

What are the most prominent RPA security risks and how can you prevent them?

Depending on the type of business, there are various procedures that can be efficiently automated. Some generic processes amenable to automation are regular business procedures like file transferring, order processing, payroll running, etc. All these require that the automation platforms have access to confidential information (inventory lists, credit card numbers, addresses, financial information, passwords, etc.) about a company’s employees, customers, and vendors.

Consequently, the management of security risks is a top-priority issue for the development of RPA. The most ardent problem is to ensure that the confidential data is not misused via the privileges attributed to software robots or those that develop the workflows for the robots.

The issue of data security can be broken down into two highly inter-connected points:

·         Data security. The target is a fully confidential, proper use of the data. Privacy, such as, well-protected personal and corporate data, is a natural concern for business leaders who are prone to working “hand in hand” with machines. 

·         Access security. The aim here is to eliminate unauthorised users’ possibility of accessing and manipulating private data dealt with by robots. This further prevents the misuse of automated platform functionalities. Security of access is needed to safeguard RPA businesses from employees’ unintentional error as well as hacker attacks.

Fortunately, there are several ways to mitigate RPA security risks. Factors that help achieve enhanced security levels deal head-on with the two points mentioned above. Because, as security technologist Bruce Schneier put it, “Security is not a product but a process”.

How to prevent RPA security risks

1.    The most prominent security factor is segregating access to data based on assigning different roles in an RPA team. Each member’s activities are constrained by the assigned role, thus maintaining fraudulent activity under control. For instance, no change can pass into the live environment before achieving consensual approval, as required by the protocol. All users, processes or persons, must utilise login credentials in order to access the environment (the so-called credential vault). Therefore, only specific authorised users may reach sensitive data in the system.

2.    Active directory integration is used to assign roles, by centralising team credentials for management. It provides a control centre for login credentials. Tracking the activities performed by robotic processes allows better and more direct control over potentially troublesome actions than third-party platforms. An important consequence is the configuration and enforcement of the division of labour within the team. An RPA environment strictly customised via active directory integration thereby increases business efficiency. This clarifies why enhanced security levels of RPA map onto the enhanced efficiency of automation, another of its key benefits.

3.    Encryption complements active directory integration as a means towards security of data use. If role-based access reduces internal security risks, encryption deals with protection of the company from external malicious attacks. High level encryption protocols protect the management details of the credential vault.

4.    Other factors that contribute to enhancing RPA security are: working on scheduled tasks, having a clear desk policy, or ensuring protection against malware and Trojans.

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How RPA reduces risks previously existent in business operations

Once you minimize RPA security risks by implementing role-based access or encryption, robotic process automation will render business operations less hazardous overall.

Overall, RPA actually lowers security-related efforts associated with training employees and teaching them security practices (e.g. password management, applications of privacy settings) because it ensures a zero-touch environment. By eliminating manual work, automation minimises security risks at a macro level.

Besides security risks, the zero-touch environment of RPA also helps mitigate other human-related risks in business operations. An automated environment is free from biases, prejudices or variability, all of which mar human work with the risk of error. Because of this RPA ensures less risky and consistent work with trustworthy data.

The lack of randomness and variability in automation further guarantees increased uniform compliance with the company’s requirements, which are built into the RPA platform.

On the other hand, flexibility and intrinsic adaptation to change of RPA platforms ensure scalability of the automated processes, or their capacity to adapt to change and increasing complexity. RPA is thus better able to deal with the risks inherent in the dynamic world of business.

Conclusion

An all-encompassing reason to use robotic process automation in companies is its capacity to reduce the risk of error inherent in human work. However, RPA itself must deal with security risks. This is to say that concerns regarding both data and access-security risks are justified in the rapidly evolving global context. Nevertheless, the risks are manageable.

To this end, RPA should be wisely implemented. ‘Wise implementation’ basically amounts to a choice of a stable RPA product or provider, backed by proper, constant monitoring of security measures. Providing role-based access to confidential data and data encryption are the most salient means to deal with security risks.

Security risks are presumably the most significant ones that RPA helps mitigate. But as we saw, automation can significantly reduce other risks as well, by increasing consistent compliance to business norms, by being adaptive and ensuring dependable data.

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