AI Weekly: With RPA on the rise, security challenges remain

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Robotic process automation (RPA) is experiencing a watershed moment. Gartner estimates that 50% of U.S. health providers will invest in RPA over the next three years. Moreover, the overall RPA market is expected to grow by more than 7% annually over the next few years to reach $379.87 million by 2027, up from $182.8 million in 2019.

Switching repetitive tasks to RPA functions not only eliminates errors but garners significant cost savings. That’s because RPA addresses bottlenecks with workflows, data, and documentation while providing audit trails and reducing both compliance expenses and risks. RPA can also boost legacy integration and record digitization plus enable data-driven decisions and “path-to-cognitive” technologies, according to Technologent CIO and VP Mike McLaughlin.

“The definition of RPA can be simplified as the category of software that automates tasks traditionally performed by a human, using software robots that follow a specific set of rules and interact with existing systems via user interfaces,” McLaughlin explained to VentureBeat via email. “These software robots can replace repetitive tasks, do system integrations, and automate transactions from task level to enterprise level via scheduled orchestration.”

For example, San Jose-based RPA firm Automation Anywhere recently worked with a pharmaceutical company in Europe to accelerate the research and approval of COVID-19 vaccines by augmenting reporting. RPA startup UiPath has also assisted with efforts around the pandemic, for instance helping the U.S. Department of Homeland Security use software bots to perform coronavirus-related data analysis.

Deloitte reports that organizations that have implemented and scaled RPA see a return on investment within 12 months. And according to Everest Group, top performers earned nearly four times on their RPA investments while other enterprises earned nearly double.

This isn’t to suggest that RPA is without its challenges. The credentials that enterprises grant to RPA technology is an access point for a hacker. When dealing with hundreds to thousands of RPA robots with IDs connected to a network, each could become an attack vessel if identity-centric security practices aren’t applied.

“Without tracking the exact access being granted, organizations are allowing [RPA] workers to leave their most valuable asset out in the open — privileged credentials,” One Identity president and GM Bhagwat Swaroop told VentureBeat. “Bad actors are targeting privileged credentials to gain access and move laterally within the network. With 53% of breaches being linked to misused or overused privileged credentials, the unmonitored and unrestricted access of RPA makes it even more susceptible to a breach than its human counterparts. If the privileged access vulnerabilities of RPA aren’t addressed quickly, I predict there will be a significant amount of RPA breaches that occur over the next year.”

Part of the problem is that many RPA platforms don’t focus on solving security flaws. That’s because they’re optimized to increase productivity, and because some security solutions are too costly to deploy and integrate with RPA, Swaroop says.

Of course, the first step to solving the RPA security dilemma is recognizing that there is one. Realizing that RPA workers have identities gives IT and security teams a head start to securing RPA technology prior to its implementation. Swaroop recommends that organizations extend their identity and governance administration (IGA) to focus on the “why” behind a task versus the “how.” Through a strong IGA process, companies adopting RPA can implement a zero trust model to manage all identities — whether human, machine, or applications.

“Through IGA processes, enterprises have the correct access management controls to mitigate risks, such as privilege creep, orphaned accounts, and the exposure of passwords and secrets. By eliminating the gaping holes in companies’ current RPA strategies, IT and security teams can ensure cybercriminals can’t compromise the robot or, worse, infiltrate their network,” Swaroop said.

He also suggests putting in place a privileged access management (PAM) setup that can secure and govern RPA systems. PAM systems allow enterprises to secure, control, and audit credentials and privileges RPA technology uses without compromising the return on investment.

“When a digital worker needs privileged access, the robot can retrieve credentials automatically from a PAM system, without any exposure to the bot owners or developers,” Swaroop said. “This not only provides a full audit trail of which digital workers accessed what applications, but also provides individual accountability and proof that no one can obtain the password, in a noncompliant manner, without slowing down robotic operations.”

For AI coverage, send news tips to Khari Johnson and Kyle Wiggers — and be sure to subscribe to the AI Weekly newsletter and bookmark our AI channel, The Machine.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle Wiggers

AI Staff Writer


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Tech News

Huawei devices disappear from Microsoft Store and Best Buy, but remain on Amazon, Newegg

Microsoft appears to have pulled Huawei’s Matebook X Pro from its online shelves, and Best Buy, too, has followed suit. Huawei phones and devices are still available from Amazon and Newegg as of this posting, however.

Neither the Huawei Matebook X Pro nor the Huawei Matebook 13 appear on Microsoft’s Store site, though at least the Matebook X Pro appeared previously, as the Verge noted. The only reference to Huawei on the site is via third-party apps that reference Huawei services, none of which appear to be authored by Huawei.

microsoft huawei storeMark Hachman / IDG

Searching for “Huawei” at the Microsoft Store yields this result.

Fueled by a Trump administration executive order, Huawei, a leading global smartphone maker, faces being cut off by Android OS supplier Google and other component vendors, including Intel, Microsoft and Qualcomm. So far, that’s only impacted Huawei’s supply chain. Microsoft, as a supplier to Huawei of Windows updates and other security features, has yet to comment publicly on whether it’s enforcing the ban. (Though Huawei is still banned from buying U.S. technology, it has a 90-day reprieve from the Department of Commerce to service existing users.)

Microsoft’s retail division, however, appears to be on board. Major electronics retailer Best Buy seems to be as well, as the retailer is simply selling a pair of “open box” Huawei smartwatches. Searching for a Huawei Matebook, for example, brings up a list of competing products, beginning with Apple.

huawei best buyMark Hachman / IDG

Best Buy’s supply of Huawei devices.

Amazon, however, still appears to be selling both Huawei phones and PCs, including the Honor 8X, Mate SE, and Matebook X Pro and Matebook 13.

amazon huawei edited Mark Hachman / IDG

Amazon is still selling numerous Huawei devices, both phones and notebook PCs. 

Many of these are listed as coming from Huawei itself, although third-party resellers are free to resell goods and services through Amazon’s marketplace, using either their own delivery systems or Amazon’s. An Amazon representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Retailer Newegg was offering several Huawei Matebook PCs and tablets at press time, as well as Huawei-branded phones

newegg huwei phones Mark Hachman / IDG

Newegg still has a healthy stock of Huawei devices.

It’s unclear whether these other retailers will follow Microsoft’s lead, or wait until the Commerce Department’s 90-day reprieve expires. It’s probably safe to say, however, that if you want to buy a Huawei device, you’d better act sooner than later. 

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Nintendo increases profit expectations as sales remain strong

Nintendo has announced that it is increased its earnings forecast for its fiscal year ending in March. The latest increase marks the second time in the last three months that Nintendo has increased its earnings forecast. With the latest increase, Nintendo now expects a record net profit of ¥400 billion, about $3.8 billion.

The latest increase in its earnings forecast comes thanks to the Switch game console’s strong sales and robust sales of popular software like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Nintendo’s latest estimate is that its net profit for the full year will increase 55 percent compared to the previous year.

The last increase in its profit forecast came in November when Nintendo announced it expected net profit to surpass ¥300 billion, which would beat a record set in 2009. Demand for the Nintendo Switch game console has increased significantly during the coronavirus outbreak when people have been stuck at home with little to do. Nintendo also saw brisk sales during the holiday shopping season at the end of 2020.

Record profit during the year is underpinned by a 22 percent growth in revenue to ¥1.6 trillion. Nintendo also said it expects operating profit to increase by 59 percent compared to last year to ¥560 billion. Monday Nintendo also posted its best-ever net profit for the April to December quarter. Net profit for that period rose 92 percent to ¥376 billion compared to 2019.

Its previous record for the nine months through December was back in 2007 at ¥258 billion. While the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted millions of businesses worldwide, gaming companies and streaming companies have flourished as more people at home looking for things to do to pass the time.

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