Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Security: The Complete Guide

Over the years, cyber threats have grown dramatically in diversity, volume, and consequence. From ransomware attacks to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, malicious hackers are using various forms of cyber assault to steal sensitive information. 

Cybersecurity used to be a hotly-debated topic when it came to business automation, but not anymore. Business owners are using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate manual cyber processes in an effort to speed up and enhance their cyber defenses.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the concept of RPA in more detail, along with how you can use it to add an important layer of automation to your organization’s overall cybersecurity workflow.

What Is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a system that allows organizations to securely automate tasks that are typically performed by human workers. IT teams can use RPA to create software robots (“bots”) to learn, mimic, and execute rule-based processes.

If applied correctly, RPA software algorithms can significantly improve productivity, accuracy, and quality of data adherence. In doing so, it empowers human resources to focus on more important tasks involving human interaction and work fulfillment. Most importantly, because it largely eliminates human error, RPA can greatly increase cybersecurity.

How Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Works

RPA in cybersecurity focuses on using RPA bots to protect organizations from malicious agents. 

The idea behind implementing these bots is to replicate human encounters with GUI elements and automate repetitive tasks, limiting errors caused by human intervention. In turn, this lowers human exposure to sensitive data and the adverse effects of a data breach.

RPA has four logical components:

  • A recorder to record UI-based human actions
  • A designer to develop and maintain RPA workflows
  • An orchestrator to run, manage and monitor RPA workflows and coordinate the working of robots
  • Robots who interact with apps and data to complete rules-based business tasks 

To automate a typical repetitive task with a software bot, you’ll have to first create a business process flow (this can be any single manual task), which will then be recorded by an RPA bot(s). If any exceptions are identified to this process, it’ll get automatically assigned to humans to manage.

Next, the robotic process is put into production on repeat and is continuously refined through a loop to maximize accuracy and efficiency. 

RPA can integrate with other applications through front-end integration to access information via legacy systems. This enables the automation platform to behave similarly to a human resource and carry out repetitive and mundane tasks, such as copy-pasting from one system to another and logging in and logging out.

These quick and simple front-end integrations can help organizations avoid costly mistakes when it comes to cybersecurity. 

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Case #1: Updating Software

Periodic software updates are significant to cybersecurity because they patch up security holes and software gaps in web applications and remove all vulnerabilities. 

RPA bots can identify pop-ups regarding software updates and notify IT departments about the update. In fact, AI-enabled RPA bots can be programmed to search for the latest software update online, download the file, and trigger an update workflow.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Case #2: Automating Data Enrichment Tasks

RPA bots can automate many data-related tasks to generate cybersecurity alerts. This includes looking up IP addresses, fetching URL Intel, analyzing domains, retrieving logs, and querying accounts. 

The good thing about RPA is it performs these tasks at scale, allowing humans to focus on more critical cases that are likely to be dangerous to an organization’s security.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Case #3: Preventing Unauthorized Access

With RPA bots running specific tasks, unauthorized users are automatically prevented from accessing your organization’s sensitive or private data. These bots also allow individuals with credentials to access designated sources, monitor access, and log each individual’s actions and data to create a clear audit trail, making the process even more accurate and efficient.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Case #4: Automating Privilege Data Management

Data suggests that 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused as a result of human error. From sending sensitive information to incorrect email addresses to misconfiguring assets to allow for unwanted access to mistakenly publishing confidential data on public websites, many organizations have suffered because of negligence on part of their human resources.

That’s where privilege data management comes into the picture, which involves manipulating or sharing sensitive data on an as-needed basis. 

RPA bots can manage privileged data entry, updates, and transfer via email or messaging apps, eliminating system gaps (caused by human error) that leave your networks prone to malicious attacks and vulnerabilities.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Case #5: Running Cyber Threat Hunts

Cyber threat hunting refers to the process of continuously searching and scanning networks to detect and isolate advanced cyber threats. 

When done manually, cyber threat hunting can be a tedious and time-consuming process because cybersecurity analysts have to skim through a significantly large volume of data to identify indicators of potential risks. For context, the threat hunt can take over 170 days to detect an advance threat, 39 days to mitigate the threat, and 43 days to recover.

On the other hand, leveraging AI-enabled RPA bots can automate a repetitive cyber threat search for unusual network traffic and unusual privileged user account activity. The robots can also detect login anomalies, suspicious registry or system file changes, and unnatural increases in database read volumes.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Case #6: Extending Protection Against Malware and Virus

Cybersecurity analysts can leverage RPA bots to automatically deploy security controls whenever vulnerabilities or inconsistencies are identified in systems. 

In case the bots encounter an antivirus alarm or notification, they will automatically:

  1. Identify and classify the alert according to threat categories
  2. Trigger a security control based on the detected alert
  3. Generate reports relating to threats and forward them to the IT team

RPA bots can also be programmed to run penetration tests (also known as pen tests), which are simulations of cyberattacks run on system devices to evaluate system security and identify software gaps. 

The bots interact with systems in a specific manner, which involves scanning and capturing the necessary data, triggering appropriate responses, and generating reports from the obtained results (through the pen test simulation). 

How To Get Started With Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

One of the main foundations of robotic process automation is establishing proper security measures. Simply launching RPA bots without context will nearly always fail.

To help you avoid slip-ups, here’s a step-by-step rundown of how you can get started with robotic process automation before implementing the RPA execution tool.

Step 1: Identify Tasks Where RPA is Possible 

The best candidates for RPA are time-consuming and repetitive tasks and ones that deal with high volumes of data. However, automating each one of these tasks won’t be feasible.

Many eligible tasks for automation are part of a wider process, which is why evaluating all end-to-end processes running in your system is a must. Here’s how to go about this:

  • Used tools like process mining to identify bottlenecks and weak points
  • Identify business process analysis (BPA) to predict the potential impact of RPA on systems
  • Identify creative tasks or tasks involving complex decision-making. As these tasks fall outside RPA jurisdiction, they should be processed manually—or at least through assisted RPA

RPA needs clear-cut and structured steps, data, defined values, and documentation for successful implementation. Therefore, tasks dealing with unstructured data (free-form text, documents, images) should be left to human resources with the role of RPA limited to assisting the human agent.

Step 2: Identify Tasks Where RPA is Desirable

A common mistake that IT teams make is to automate all tasks because they can. This isn’t the right approach When choosing tasks, don’t limit your analysis to “can we automate this?“ and also ask “should we automate this?”

The idea here is to determine value over complexity. With RPA, prioritize tasks that give the most value to your organization when automated. This is also why automating a small process done daily is more valuable than automating a long and complex process that’s only performed once a month.

In case you’re facing difficulty when deciding desirable tasks, consider ROI and measure the impact of RPA on the workforce, company finances, and operational metrics. ROI can be direct, such as savings in operational overheads or efficiency improvements—or it can be indirect, like better customer morale or improved customer satisfaction.

Step 3: Analyze and Capture Process at Keystroke-and-Click Level

Before launching RPA execution boards, you have to analyze the targeted process, down to the click level. 

Why? Bots perform as instructed, and without the minute details feeding into their algorithms, they won’t perform as desired. This is particularly important in the case of ordinary RPA bots who cannot figure out the process over time as AI-powered bots.

This is where you have to put in the hard work. To create a structured process to automate via our keyboards, you must:

  • Conduct a detailed process assessment, followed by thoroughly examining and observing it
  • Interview SMEs
  • Conduct workshops to gain clarity of the process and identify pain points and gaps
  • Talk to the team and end-users
  • Use task mining or process mining to reinforce anecdotal input and prevent user bias 

RPA has its limitations, one being it cannot improve a broken process. If you don’t fix the process, it’ll only accelerate the delivery of a broken or flawed process.

Step 4: Pick an Implementation Partner

Successful RPA also needs a sound execution partner, who will supply the RPA bots.

Conduct a vendor analysis to find a reliable firm offering effective products, preferably one with a defined growth path for features and functions. Another excellent alternative is to test-drive vendors by signing up for product trials.

Step 5: Create a Follow-Up Action Plan

Partner up with your chosen RPA vendor to roll out RPA bots after capturing the process in detail and refining the developed automation model. Follow this up by setting up constant monitoring and follow-up post-implementation. This includes:

  • Offering hands-on training to team members who will be using executing the RPA bots
  • Monitoring automation to make required modifications as necessary to ensure smooth running
  • Developing technical and performance standards
  • Setting up a process to quantify the success of RPA and make adjustments as necessary 

Following the above steps will help you execute a successful RPA strategy that results in great cost savings and operational efficiency boosts.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
CIO of GitLab

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