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Jan 10, 2018

With the rising adoption of robotic process automation (RPA), organizations now have access to cost-effective, scalable, and easy-to-implement automation technology capable of performing simple, rules-based processes as good (if not better) than any human. But as organizations strategize to develop and grow their digital workforces in the years to come, they must take steps to effectively control, govern, and manage these new types of workers.

How the digital workforce will impact cyber security

Since the advent of the Internet, organizations have sought to protect their hardware and network resources through varying forms of employee identity management—namely, identity authentication, authorized access, and management of descriptive information. Human employees are given unique login user names and passwords—and often require authentication codes to access certain information or perform specific tasks. The same, however, can’t be said for the digital members of most workforces.

There are many reasons for this. For one, while the digital workforce—and the technology that surrounds it—is evolving at a breakneck pace, it’s still in its infancy. Many early-adopting organizations are approaching it as a pure technology implementation, rather than seeing these new systems as “employees”. Of those organizations that understand the potential security risks surrounding this new workforce, many are still struggling to find effective ways to control, govern, and manage them.

“While we’re certainly entering uncharted waters when it comes to RPA and AI, it’s essential to do so with our eyes open,” says Umang Handa, a Senior Manager in Deloitte’s Cybersecurity practice. “Keeping in mind that autonomous bots are capable of interacting with one another and independently making decisions, security is not something that should be taken lightly, or treated as an afterthought.”

Without a robust security framework in place, organizations are leaving themselves open to a whole new world of risk—from malfunctioning bots that independently run off-course, to hacker-initiated tampering, to nefarious internal human operators.

“A poorly-defended digital workforce presents countless risks. If, for example, digital employees are responsible for moving data around a particular department, a hacker could tamper with them to move data from a higher-trust area to a lower-trust area, making it easier to steal,” Handa explains. “Such tampering could be an inside job too, if a disgruntled or financially-motivated employee modifies a program’s code to delete certain files or gain access to confidential information to pass on to criminals.”

To prevent these scenarios, and ensure security is at the core of every RPA implementation, organizations must take a holistic approach to adoption. This means implementing an end-to-end identity management solution for the digital workforce, adopting formal cybersecurity processes to monitor digital employees, developing a system management strategy to oversee the digital workforce across its lifecycle, and mapping all digital “employee” roles and functions so deviations are easy to flag. In essence, the key is to ensure the digital workforce is subject to the same identity and security management principles as any other employee.

While today’s digital workforces are just starting to take shape, given the exponential rate at which they’re evolving, they won’t remain in this infancy stage for long. Now is the time to proactively identify and mitigate emerging risks, so you can reap the benefits of this technology for years to come.

To discuss how digital workforces might affect your organization, please reach out to Umang Handa at [email protected], or contact me directly.

Paul Skippen

[email protected]