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How Robotic Process Automation Can Be a Vanguard Against Cyber Security Threats

CoCo Pierce

Sitting comfortably? You might feel differently by the time you finish reading. 

CEOs now believe cybersecurity is the number one threat to the global economy over the next five to ten years, a recent survey shows. Perhaps these CEOs are listening to their security workers - a whopping 74% of IT decision-makers think ransomware should now be considered a matter of national security. 

It's a bleak picture, but one many people aren't taking the time to look at thoroughly. There's a sense that, sure, cybersecurity is important, but the matter is mostly in hand. This is false. We're just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, to cyberattacks today than five years ago. Our adversaries are upping their game every year. 

So, how do we beat the bad guys in this increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse? Forward-thinking organizations are now looking to automation for cyber security. Robotic process automation (RPA) bots can minimize the risk of cyber exposure by reducing human errors, eliminating unauthorized access, increasing cyber threat detection accuracy, and reducing the time spent handling attacks. 

Cybersecurity Statistics to Lose Sleep Over

Before we dive into how to leverage RPA to safeguard our critical systems, it's essential to understand why urgent action is so badly needed. Crucially, there's a difference between sounding the alarm and being alarmist, and we're doing the former. 

Ransomware is the biggest global cyber threat today, according to the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) 

Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts files and blocks access to a computer system until money is paid, usually in cryptocurrency. The most common delivery system for ransomware payloads is phishing spam - malicious emails masquerading as legitimate ones. Often, the email will trick users into allowing administrative access, allowing the malware more control to wreak havoc. 

83% of successful ransomware attacks feature double or triple extortion tactics.

Not only are ransomware attacks more common than ever, but they've also become much more dangerous. Alternative extortion methods, like exposing the data on the dark web and using stolen data to extort customers, are becoming more common. 

Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CCaaS) is the new villain. 

CCaaS is the new baddy on the block. CCaaS offers a way for anyone to become an attacker. Essentially, fledgling hackers can pay a small fee to access cybercrime tools and knowledge from more experienced cybercriminals. For example, they might buy a ransomware kit capable of encrypting important files despite having no real coding skills or technical expertise. 

It takes an average of 287 days for security teams to identify and contain a data breach, according to the "Cost of a Data Breach 2021."

The longer it takes an organization to detect a breach, the more time bad actors have to harm customer, employee, and stakeholder data security. Taking a long time to catch a breach can also have significant, long-lasting impacts on the company's reputation. 

On average, only five percent of companies' folders are adequately protected, according to Varonis. 

How we store and handle data dramatically impacts the types of files cybercriminals can exfiltrate during an attack. You can only run off with the money if you can get into the vault! 

According to Accenture's "State of Cybersecurity Resilience 2021" report, cyber attacks increased 31% from 2020 to 2021, and the number of attacks per company grew from 206 to 270 year over year. 

Despite our best efforts, cybercriminals bypass security defenses and commit widespread attacks. 

Top 5 Robotic Process Automation Use Cases in Cyber Security

With cyberattacks increasing in volume and severity, organizations are struggling to keep up. However, RPA offers a better way forward. 

Did you know that 95% of data breaches are due to human error? One of the main advantages of robotic process automation is its ability to eliminate human error. RPA excels at repetitive, manual, multi-step processes. Processes with many steps are naturally prone to typos and miscalculations. And while these errors might be minor in scale, they can have a significant impact. 

Now let's look more at how RPA can help keep cybercriminals locked out. 

  1. Virus Defense and Threat Hunting 

RPA bots, especially those that leverage artificial intelligence, can monitor networks for abnormal behavior. Once the bot detects unusual activity (anything that deviates from the expected baseline), it can lock the network segment down, preventing the virus from traveling laterally across the network and causing more damage. This is a more sophisticated example of RPA in action, but more straightforward examples exist. 

For example, RPA bots can trigger virus notifications if they spot vulnerabilities or inconsistencies in the system. The bot can then classify this alert and send it to the relevant cybersecurity team or trigger a response itself. And then there's threat hunting. Cyber threat hunting involves repetitively scouring the network to detect and isolate cyber threats. Done manually, this process is incredibly time-consuming because cyber analysts need to shift through a large volume of network data to identify risks. Adding to this, it's common for even experienced and skilled analysts to miss threat indicators. 

RPA bots combat these issues by searching network traffic and scanning user account activity logs for things like unusual access to files, login anomalies, suspicious file changes, and so on. Bots can scan data in a fraction of the time humans can, and spot inconsistencies without fail, every time. 

Moreover, RPA bots can generate comprehensive reports on historical or current cyber security threats. This allows cybersecurity teams to make better decisions about the future of the network and the policies that protect it. 

  1. Protecting Sensitive Data

Limiting unauthorized access is one of the most critical elements of cybersecurity. Sometimes unauthorized access means that an attacker has gained entry to the system using fraudulent means. Other times it means a legitimate user is accessing resources they don't have permission to use. Maintaining strict, granular, and appropriate access control is crucial to:

Data confidentiality: Ensuring sensitive data doesn't end up in the wrong hands. 

Data integrity: Ensuring sensitive information isn't modified or destroyed. 

Data availability: Ensuring information systems are available for the users who need to access them to do their jobs. 

RPA bots can prevent privilege misuse by blocking access to sensitive files or alerting security teams when sensitive files are downloaded. Additionally, RPA bots can monitor and log access to create a clear audit trail of how data is handled within the company. 

  1. Improved Response Times and Automated Deployment of Security Controls

Every hour a cyber threat goes undetected increases your risk of data loss, encryption, or theft. Relying on manual threat detection doesn't work in the modern cyber landscape. Data analysts are busy people, and hackers relentlessly pursue increasingly sophisticated and stealthy attack methods. 

As we discussed in the virus section, RPA bots can help detect threats even in colossal volumes of log data. But detecting threats is only one part of the equation. Once a threat is detected, companies need to act quickly. Part of the problem here is that threat alerts can become so voluminous that they start to look like background noise. This phenomenon is called alert fatigue - the idea that an overwhelming number of alerts desensitizes the people tasked with responding to them. 

Luckily, RPA provides a solution. Robotic process automation bots can be designed to categorize alerts on a granular level before sending them to the appropriate team with the most relevant information. This way, busy analysts can decide quickly which alerts need the most urgent attention. This can drive down response times. 

Moreover, RPA bots can be configured to automatically deploy security controls, freeing up the security teams' time. For example, bots can deploy role-based access control rules, encrypt files, schedule backups, and provide audit logs. In addition, RPA bots can be extremely useful for managing cybersecurity in inflexible legacy systems that may only integrate partially with modern security solutions. 

Keeping Applications Up to Date

The vast majority of cyberattacks exploit known vulnerabilities - those holes in software that allow hackers to do things they shouldn't be able to do. Typically, companies release security patches very quickly once they discover these holes. However, not everyone installs these patches straight away. For example, Equifax was the victim of a cyber attack that exposed the data of 143 million people because they failed to install a software update that patched a web application vulnerability. 

RPA bots can search for the latest software updates, even for small and lesser-known solutions, download the file, and install it. 

Penetration Testing

Penetration tests are simulated cyber attacks against your computer system that check for exploitable vulnerabilities. They form a crucial element of proactive cyber defense. RPA bots play a massive role in penetration testing, automating 80% of the grunt work. For example, pen test bots can handle repetitive tasks like recon, password auditing, full web scanning, and searching for known artifacts. 

These pen test bots mean security teams spend less time creating and maintaining custom scripts and can achieve higher rates of consistency and quality across testing projects. 

Final Thoughts

Robust cybersecurity isn't a nice-to-have; it's a must-have. Companies of all sizes are lucrative targets for cybercriminals, so all companies need to take action. This is particularly crucial for companies in the US, where the average total cost of a data breach is vastly more expensive than in other countries - more than double the global average. Robotic process automation offers a high-impact and low-cost solution to many cybersecurity challenges companies face today, so why wait?

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