How to Leverage RPA for Cybersecurity (With Use Cases)

How to Leverage RPA for Cybersecurity

From Macy’s to Yahoo, even the most well-established companies have fallen prey to cyberattacks. Unfortunately, many companies are vulnerable to data breaches – in the first nine months of 2023 alone, more than 4.5 billion records had been breached across 838 incidents, with each data breach costing an average of $9.48 million.

From setting weak passwords to forfeiting sensitive information to phishing emails, human error played a major role in these breaches, being responsible for as many as 95% of them.

The susceptibility of data systems to manual errors necessitates a rethinking of cybersecurity defenses, away from heavy reliance on manual processes to a greater emphasis on security through secure, automated technology. Robotic process automation in cybersecurity can address the challenges posed by traditional methods of defense, improving resilience to evolving cyber threats.

Read on to learn more about the common causes of cybersecurity failures, benefits of shifting to RPA cybersecurity, and how to get started with proven use cases.

5 Common causes of cybersecurity breaches

Before we get to RPA’s defensive capabilities, it’s important to understand the cybersecurity landscape, including common threats that enterprises face. These threats include:

  1. Phishing: According to Cisco’s Cybersecurity Threat Trends report,  phishing remains the most prominent cybersecurity threat. Through deceptive messages and websites, hackers use phishing to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, like financial data or login credentials.

  2. Crypto mining: In 2020, over 69% of organizations experienced at least one end-user instance of crypto mining, which involves using computer hardware to solve complex mathematical puzzles to earn rewards in the form of cryptocurrency coins.
    When performed using compromised systems or without required permission, crypto mining strains computing resources, leading to system vulnerabilities, and becoming a source of malware infections.

  3. Weak passwords and stolen credentials: As many as 80% of breaches can be traced back to weak passwords and stolen credentials. Easily guessable or stolen passwords can provide access to unauthorized accounts and systems.

  4. Application vulnerabilities: Hackers can access confidential data through loopholes in the system, which arise when businesses fail to regularly update and patch software. For example, the American credit bureau, Equifa,  experienced a cyberattack that compromised the data of 143 million people because they failed to install a recent software update.

  5. Malware: Designed specifically to harm, exploit, or infiltrate computer systems, malware can contribute to data breaches and other cybersecurity failures by infiltrating systems, stealing restricted content, disrupting operations, or providing forbidden access to cybercriminals.

How can RPA mitigate cyber security threats?

Some key features of RPA bots help organizations reduce their cybersecurity risks; these features include freedom from human error, automated responses, and encryption protocols built into the RPA software. RPA can thus reduce the likelihood of cyber-attacks by:

  1. Preemptively identify security risks: Manually collecting data and monitoring systems for changing consumes valuable manpower, and humans might miss important details. Instead of relying on humans, you can deploy RPA bots to collect data and identify potential risks.

  2. Rapid Incident Response: A 2013 Verizon study revealed that 84% of successful cyberattacks compromised their targets within hours, which means rapid threat detection and incident response to mitigate these attacks. By automating threat detection and response, RPA reduces the time it takes to deal with threats, reducing the associated risks and costs.

  3. Around-the-clock monitoring: Allocating human resources for 24/7 monitoring is neither necessary nor cost-effective with the availability of RPA cybersecurity options. RPA operates around the clock without tiring, ensuring that security incidents are dealt with promptly. Additionally, operating 24/7 means RPA bots can rapidly detect – and respond to – cyberattacks, potentially saving organizations from financial losses in the millions.

  4. Easy integration: RPA cybersecurity software can easily integrate with existing cybersecurity tools and systems, improving their capabilities and strengthening the security infrastructure.

Seven tested RPA cybersecurity use cases

Use case 1: Preventing unauthorized access

Robotic process automation prevents unauthorized access in two ways: 1) it automates many tasks, preventing the need to grant access to human resources to manage restricted data, and 2) it grants access to people with the right login information, restricting users without permission from accessing the data. RPA bots can monitor access, and track actions taken by authorized users to create a clear and verifiable audit trail of actions taken.

Use case 2: Securing sensitive data

RPA secures high-risk data by assisting in regulatory compliance and mitigating human miscalculations in managing it. By reducing manual interaction with data, RPA minimizes human errors like sending sensitive classified information to the wrong recipients, misconfiguring access permissions, and accidentally publishing confidential information.

Use case 3: Running cyber threat hunts and penetration tests

AI-enabled RPA bots can run cyber threat hunts to thoroughly search through networks to identify advanced threats, which, if done manually, may take up to 170 days. These bots automate a tedious search for elements such as unexpected network traffic, anomalies in login, and unusual system file changes.

Use case 4: Performing threat simulations

RPA bots evaluate the strength of the cybersecurity infrastructure through conducting penetration tests. Bots interact with systems, scan for potential threats, and trigger responses. Based on the results, reports are generated to provide insights into making the security system more robust and addressing future threats.

Use case 5: Addressing web application vulnerabilities

Robotic process automation identifies important software updates and notifies the IT department about them. Alternatively, you can program RPA bots to automatically update the software.

Use case 6: Identifying and mediating attacks promptly

Time is of the essence when dealing with cyberattacks. While it takes about 205 days to identify a breach through traditional methods, research by Ernst & Young shows that RPA cybersecurity mechanisms can cut that time to a few weeks or days.

Use case 7: Protecting against viruses and malware

When inconsistencies are discovered in a system, RPA can automatically deploy security controls to address them. If the RPA cybersecurity system receives a threat notification, it can classify the threat into a defined category and trigger an appropriate response without the need of human intervention.

Preparing for potential RPA security concerns

While RPA can enhance your organization’s cybersecurity, internal leaders may have concerns regarding the vulnerability of the RPA software itself. And while we can’t claim that there is no basis for these concerns, organizations can mitigate these risks by following the best practices for RPA cybersecurity. 

Additionally, leading RPA vendors, like UiPath and AutomationAnywhere, incorporate security measures and encryption within their software, adding layers of security to their RPA bots and platforms. Thus, with the right governance in place, RPA offers more cybersecurity enhancements than risk. 

Potential security risks associated with RPA cybersecurity include:

  1. Cyberattacks on the RPA system: An RPA cybersecurity system includes several layers such as APIs, data exchange, and web, each of which, if left unprotected, is susceptible to cyberattacks. According to the Global State of Information Security Survey 2018, an attack on automation or RPA systems of a large organization has the potential to disrupt operations and compromise sensitive data.

  2. Misuse of access to data: Users with access to RPA bots can tap into sensitive data, which means there’s room for misuse, abuse, and leaks.

  3. Data leakage and theft: Critical data, such as passwords and consumer data, may fall into the hands of malicious entities if they gain access to RPA passwords. Because RPA passwords are exchanged so they can be reused, it is possible to intercept them – unless you have the right precautions in place.

  4. Bot downtime: As with other software, RPA bots can experience downtime for reasons such as lack of maintenance or unexpected network failures. If a bot experiences an outage, its privileged data may be exposed, posing a notable security risk.

Fortunately, these potential risks can be mitigated by:

  • Creating an audit trail by recording bot processes to maintain accountability.

  • Periodically running scans of the RPA system to identify and address any loopholes or soft spots.

  • Employing encrypted password management tools within activity sessions to ensure that passwords are not compromised.

  • Providing access to specific employees only for their assigned roles to facilitate tracking of actions taken by each person and therefore improving accountability.

  • Encrypting data to add an extra layer of security against external threats. Many RPA software vendors, like UiPath, leverage AES-256-bit encryption already to keep your data secure. 

Of course, to implement these practices regularly and consistently, you’ll likely need a dedicated body of governance – which typically takes the form of an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE). Enterprises establish RPA CoEs to drive digital transformation across the organization, by managing planning, strategy, process discovery and validation, change management, security, and governance. Thus, to ensure your RPA systems are properly secured, you’ll likely need to establish a CoE too.

Author

Feyaz Khan

Feyaz Khan is the Chief Operating Officer at M.M., overseeing Operations and Service Delivery. In a career spanning 25 years, Feyaz has managed Operations & Service Delivery for companies like Telefonica O2 (UK), Vodafone Group (UK), Capgemini (UK), Huawei (Europe), and Ooredoo Group (Middle East). Feyaz is an avid traveller and has a strong interest in the adoption of emerging technologies.
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