The Rise of Bots IDPro Episode IX


Cast of Characters

        (In Order of Appearance)

Narrator/Inquisitor:                                                           George Dobbs

Rey:                                                                                 Marc Boorshtein

Kylo Ren:                                                                             Mike Kiser

          Yoda*: James Dodds

Lando Calrissian:                                                                 Jonathan Sander

Luke Skywalker:                                                                   Jeff Lombardo

Finn/Poe Dameron/BB-8/Unnamed Bot:                               Matt Topper

*Character not appearing in this film

Thematic visuals for “research purposes”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adzYW5DZoWs


Open to a black background, devoid of light or substance. The sound of heavy breathing, as if someone had just run a marathon after only training for a local 5K race. Proprietary logo reveals itself in an expensive Adobe after effect (may be out of current budget for this project.)

George / Narrator speaks slowly, with a rich, auto-tuned voice. Think James Earl Jones, but significantly more majestic.

George Dobbs / Narrator: What kind of entity is a robot?  Large enterprises seem to be on a phase of adopting “Robotic Process Automation”. This adds a layer to existing application sets by having a “robot” pretend to be a human that has access to the set of applications. The robot is a form of script that does a well-defined business process repeatedly. Unlike other types of integration this requires accounts that look a lot like human accounts, but are run automatically. Recently my company has decided that these should not be treated like humans – as in there should be no HR record. This leads me to IDPro to ask this group – are there “best practices”? My immediate concern is around the creation of the record for the instance of the robot, so we can send it to the credential system, to get the access rights started. If not done in the HR system, where are others seeing this handled?

Fade up to a breathless Marc / Rey, scanning desert planet. It’s not Tatooine, at least according to J.J. Abrams.

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: (Mysteriously and emphatically, just like you would expect a force ghost to speak; almost as if you had interrupted a vaguely important phone call.) We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.

Fade to black. White text fades in:

EVERY GENERATION HAS A LEGEND

. . .then fades rapidly back to black.

In the distance, a glowing speck on the horizon shimmers in the desert heat. You know it’s some kind of craft because you’ve seen this kind of movie before.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: (Quietly, but firmly) Why not treat them as service accounts?

Jump cut to interior of the approaching ship. Camera focuses in on the gloved hands steering. No face, no other identifying marks, just rich, Corinthian leather promoting grip and control of the craft. A voice, presumably of the pilot, echoes metallically in the cockpit.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Angry, but subdued) You could, I suppose, but I generally advocate treating them like contractors which means no HR, no benefits, but you DO need an authoritative repo for them. Then you can limit / track them like you would a contractor. (keep in mind that a contractor repo would be separate from this as well). There are a couple of reasons for this:

1)           they are replacing contractors, or potentially are

2)           they have some level of intrinsic access, which may involve access across apps

3)           contractor model reminds of the need to make everything time limited: entitlement, life cycle, carts, etc. You lose some of that tracking etc. with pure account model. 

James Dodds / Yoda: (Sagelly jumbling grammar): Recognize bots as new identity type you will, because it is important to differentiate bots from the rest of the worker population; bots do not need compliance training, to enter timesheets, get paid or have access to benefit plans. Have data consumers opt-in to bot data only if needed.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: (Emotionally fragile, but firm) Not sure I agree. Assuming you have a process for creating and tracking service accounts you will need the same thing in this instance. Then the account’s ownership can be delegated to someone responsible. Someone will need to be responsible for the “robot”. And if you don’t have a process for managing service accounts then this would be a good time to create one. 

James Dodds / Yoda: Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice. Both service and bot are nonhuman – difference is the privilege of the bot

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Angrily) Completely agree with oversight. I do think that the model needs room to expand beyond a simple account, though, to express the agency that bots / RPA have.  Also agree with needing a solid service account approach as well I think the contractor model also can encourage that oversight – by placing it more appropriately within the org.  With service accounts, for instance, there is always a danger of dumping them all under one overseer. That issue still exists with bots as contractors as well, of course ….

James Dodds / Yoda: Adventure. Excitement. A bot craves not these things, yet must access many things. Service and bot are nonhuman at core and may share the same birth.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: I think we are saying mostly the same thing. It’s more about the process then the tech.

Marc spins rapidly, igniting his pale blue lightsaber, and crouches as he stares down the insanely rapid approach of the TIE Silencer.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Rapidly and angrily) Agreed – I’m open to discussion. Another neglected side of bots is discovery in the first place – lots of innovation / independent adoption going on without notification of the identity program.

Marc / Rey breaks into a sprint as Mike / Kylo Ren overtakes him, certain to obliterate him as only a large metal object moving at ludicrous speed on a desert planet can.

Fade to black. White text fades in:

THIS CHRISTMAS

. . .then fades rapidly back to black.

[Note that this scene is not seasonally dependent.]

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: I think ultimately a service account should be treated like a regular account with one exception. There’s someone or a group responsible and accountable. Your robot needs access to an API? The responsible person requests access to that API on the service account’s behalf.  Well, I think lack of integration of Enterprise identity has much more to do with the difficulty of getting resources and agility out of most Enterprise identity teams. 

Marc leaps, unnecessarily, off of his back foot, and spins into the air. With apologies to Douglas Adams, he hangs in empty space much in the same way that bricks don’t. He is now at about eye level with the pilot, and enters the expected slow motion to make sure that the producers get the maximum value out of their special effects team.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Angrily surprised) I would mean to use PAM for service accounts and then have the bots go through PAM process to get access as needed.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Potentially. Not sure I’d want to go through a PAM process for everything a bot may need. But I’m sure some things deserve that level of scrutiny. 

James Dodds / Yoda: When you look at the bot side, careful you must be. For the bot side looks back. Controls apply to the privilege granted, not the type of account.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Accelerating angrily) Likely depends on the use case, as always. Guidelines are suggestions until you actually understand the circumstance.

Marc, blatantly continuing to deny the reality of gravity on this arid planet (but to be fair, we’re not really given its mass, so maybe it is completely realistic), continues his rapid rise. He is now upside down, facing the oncoming transparent cockpit, ready to use his weapon which historically would not be useful for high-velocity combat.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Agreed

Cut to black. Fade up on a mysterious dark planet. It is night, clouds mysteriously obscure much of the view. Lights twinkle in an opulent landscape, which beckons to the viewer but is shrouded in mystery. What is potentially an A-Wing zooms past cliffs and jagged peaks and descends towards the city. Mysteriously.

Narrator (George Dobbs) still speaks slowly, with a rich, auto-tuned voice. He’s left the James Earl Jones vibe behind, and is rapidly approaching what can only be described as “Morgan Freeman in a Nature Documentary.”

George Dobbs / Narrator: Thanks for the discussion. A little more background. Today it is handled like contractors. Contractors are passed into the HR system so they get treated like EE’s (mostly) for things like org charts and access control. One odd thing is that the robots now end up in the org charts. Ha! My initial concerns are extending SoD to the robot “owners” and managing the owners as they come and go.

James Dodds / Yoda: Simple classification will keep the bots in their place. So certain were you. Go back and closer you must look.

George Dobbs / Narrator: One thing that is different with these accounts is they have to handle the password rotation exercises and somehow fudge any MFA setup. The ideal solution would not allow the robot operators to inspect the credentials.

George Dobbs / Narrator: So, my sense is similar to service accounts but not identical.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Yes. Thing is, you need to have the management of account owners regardless (at least until the machines take over and then the management issue is solved).

George Dobbs / Narrator: Right, then we just flip it on its side and the machines manage us! 

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Agree on the human owner not knowing the creds. Whether it’s something like Vault/Conjur or Spire some kind of short-lived one-use token is needed for robots. That way you manage the risk of it becoming a vulnerability. Ah, what bliss that will be! Although knowing my luck I’ll be stuck in meetings with cyborg executive officers explaining for the 10 millionth time that storing a password as clear text in a database table is a terrible idea. 

Jump cut (again) to Jonathan / Lando sitting beside Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. They jump to lightspeed as Jonathan / Lando laughs, handsomely.

Jonathan Sander / Lando Calrissian: (Cachinnating confidently, without a care in the world but certainly not without a thesaurus) Many of our customers have “bots” and “service accounts” (both ill-defined terms/concepts in my mind), and the strategies to manage them vary to a degree almost equal to the number of them I’ve spoken to about it. One thing they all have in common, though, is the agreement that the biggest difference between service accounts and bot accounts is that service accounts do things on behalf of a thing and bots do things on behalf of a person. That specific idea does often clarify which roads they ought to go down in whatever internal processes they may already have. My bots do things for me. The department’s service accounts do things the department needs to have done. The latter is diffuse accountability and responsibility while the former is very specific. And this typically implies a great deal of delegation discussion – which for us has driven all the requirements for our OAuth 2.0 rollout.

George Dobbs / Narrator: If HR dept. owns records for employee-humans, and Procurement dept. owns records for contractor-humans, who owns records for so-called robots? 

James Dodds / Yoda: Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future nonhuman id. Judge me by my size, do you? <Kick into the air>

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: (Speaking from everywhere and nowhere at the same time) Ops? DevSecOps (for what that means)? RPA is just the grand-child of Automated Testing being used for more than just fuzzing the UI with random data. Now we are fuzzing intelligible and legit data as part of a workflow, event, scheduled tasks.

Cut to Finn and Poe as they stare out from a rock outcropping. Poe stands behind Finn from an elevated position. The framing for the shot is perfect, as if they are about to release their first studio album together as the world’s smallest boy band.

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As Finn) I’m still struggling with why bots aren’t treated like service accounts. If service accounts are doing things on behalf of an application that application still has an owner responsible for the access. I don’t see how a bot account is any different. In most cases these bots are recorded, fed data and executed on a centralized server not locally on each person’s machine

Rapid fade to shot of Matt (BB-8) and also Matt (“Unnamed Bot.”) Both droids (bots) are completely unaware that the entire movie has centered around how to govern them appropriately.

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: As BB-8 and Unnamed Bot, slowly cock heads to one side)  . . .

Cut to Marc/Rey, staring across a tempestuous sea, with the remains of what looks to be a death star on the horizon.

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: (Larger now, as if he has stepped into a large, empty public theater before the Hamilton rehearsal starts) Employees are processed from HR because they are paid and we know they will stop being paid as soon as necessary. So, we delegated the risk to people who actually care. We also do that because we need to reflect on promotion (demotion), and lateral movement in the organization. Again, we delegate our burden on entitlements to those same people who care(and sometimes their managers). Same applies to contractors, but because it is contractually bound (payments and scopes). Here’s why scope changes with contractors. Robots are not paid (no salary nor bill) and are not promoted (and co) in the sense of accessing corporate benefits and obligations (week end calls, etc.). So before creating new workflows, what does the service accounts process not support in a robot lifecycle? If anything, isn’t improving the service account workflow easier than reinventing something?

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Yes. I think that if you fix your service account management it would likely cover robots. Most orgs have paper-based service account management (if that).

James Dodds / Yoda: They are both nonhuman accounts, young padawan. Just different classes with different paths.

Quick shot of Mike’s / Kylo’s mask being repaired (presumably from the damage previously caused by Marc / Rey with the up-close-and-personal Jackie-Chan-style lightsaber leap.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Somewhat less angrily) What does it look like if the use case spans applications?  I’ve seen orgs with a bot that accesses lots of different apps all in one workflow. Isn’t using service account governance segmenting that artificially?

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Only if you assume that service accounts are scoped to a specific application.

Instant shift to a red filter. Mike / Kylo is carving a path through opponents with his patent-pending lightsaber. There appear to be storm troopers in the background, but the entire focus should be on Mike / Kylo and the hyper-intense crimson saturation which has now blown out our visual cortex.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Violently angry, throwing whoever or whatever happens to be nearby) Per Matt, he was stating that they were. Does that mean that the service account is in a central repo? Has to be somewhere, I suppose.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: I don’t see why they need to be. The only difference between a service account and a user account at a technical level is bits-and-bytes. If AD is your central repository you can store a service account there. If your app doesn’t use a central repo then you have similar issues as user accounts from a data/technical perspective

James Dodds / Yoda: If central repository was non-human account “owner aware,” what a blessing when the death star takes away owner…

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: if you break it down into three layers:

1. Governance

2. Data

3. Integration

#3 doesn’t really change between a service account and a user (maybe a few specific use cases like MFA) and is very application specific.

Rapid horizontal wipe to Matt (Finn) and Matt (Poe) in the middle of a vicious fight onboard a . . . whatever that thing is. He (they?) are definitely being chased by storm troopers on speeder bikes, though. The chase is frenetic, with rapid West-Wing-style dialogue and quick cuts back to Marc / Rey (not present in the battle, but is in a remote location with a great high-speed connection for the impromptu discussion.)

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As Finn) You can either scope them to the application owners that the bots are calling, or the business unit owners/managers for the department they are fulfilling the actions for. I’ve seen service accounts tied to either model. The latter seems to work better because it gives them incentives to actually care when the passwords need to the rotated 

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: #2 you need some data/metadata about the account to identify it as a service account and link it to an owner. #1 is where the fun really happens with service accounts

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Still angry, but out of breath, so is forced to calm down a bit) Agreed on tying to dept. Do service accounts have a lifecycle? Do they get spun up and spun down?

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: In theory, yes. They have all the same compliance issues any other account does.

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As Poe) Yes, and their access must be governed and reviewed too.

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: +1 there. And in any case it is no different for a service account than for robot account.

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As Finn) Heck, most robots/services have 2 identities in the system because they can’t afford the downtime to rotate the passwords in a coordinated attack so they’re given a “new” or second account with the new password when it’s time to rotate. (Did I mention how much I hate enterprise software?

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: Credential vaulting for scripts (A2A) can now support many schemes so it won’t be a problem to adjust that to robot callers.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Assuming your app knows how to use it.

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As Poe) Agreed, assuming the software was smart enough to use the vault

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: And there are no standards there. Closest thing you can say is something like secrets in K8S.

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: Standards are up to us, but I agree the legacy market has to be dealt with. I was focusing more on the scripting market.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Disagree, standards are up to the folks using it (at least from a de facto standpoint).

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Angrily demanding answers) Can service accounts use PAM?

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: Why not?

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: Are we only philosophers in IDPro? I thought we were also the ones using it.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: If an identity exists in a store, but no application can use it, does it exist?

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: Marc, I would say: define “cannot use.” it is still a dormant/orphan account at least. It was at least tied to a purpose in the past so it is never stripped of its Identity. But we diverge from the standards of vaulting.

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As BB-8 and Unnamed Bot) I’d love to see the RPA market give users a way to “delegate” permissions from users to the RPA platform and have them store the tokens and use them on behalf of the user #UMA then when we kill the user, we also kill their OBO tokens.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: RPA?

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Didactically angry) The narrator already told you! Robotic Process Automation!

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: That’s the new term.  Old made new.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Resigned, but still angry) I think a ton of people are using Blue Prism, etc. and so want to govern them from a bot perspective rather than a service account model. 

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: (As Poe and Finn at the same time, with the same intonation and rhythm) Aren’t they all Digital Transformation = Web 3.0 because we already used Web 2.0 and it doesn’t sound as cool? We’re heading right back to mainframes that just don’t live on site anymore.

Fade to a two-pronged sequence. First is a medal (similar to the one from the end of “A New Hope”) held by immaculately manicured hands. Then fade into a close up of Marc/Rey embracing Leia. Next two lines are voice-overs.

Mike Kiser / Kylo Ren: (Oddly upbeat) I feel like service accounts is a good area to account for, but I think that we’ll have to account for bots as an identity type rather quickly. The assumption may be scripting at this point, but I think that long term there will be agency involved. At that point, I think we’ve moved beyond a simple account.

Marc Boorshtein / Rey: it’s all just data.

 James Dodds / Yoda: The bots are all over the enterprise. If not accounted for by now, already behind we are! In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.

Jump cut (again) to Jonathan / Lando sitting beside Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. They jump to light speed as Lando laughs, handsomely. Note: this is very similar to Lando’s other scene, but this time they come from the opposite direction. Wherever they’ve gone, they’re clearly returning joyfully.

Jonathan Sander / Lando Calrissian: (Chuckling to himself) Some of this strikes me as a difference in business model needs. bots that span apps are likely associated with business roles (people or other) that would need to do that for business reasons. In a mesh org where humans cross those lines it only makes sense that bots & service accounts may do as well.

George Dobbs / Narrator: If HR dept. owns records for employee-humans, and Procurement dept. owns records for contractor-humans, who owns records for so-called robots? 

James Dodds / Yoda: I do. I mean I AM, am I?

Back to Marc/Rey, still staring across a tempestuous sea, still with the remains of what looks to be a death star on the horizon, but now with all of the key players. (Except for Mike/Kylo, because that would either be socially awkward or a massive spoiler. Or both.)

George Dobbs / Narrator: For a more amusing question. What is the collective plural for robots? A herd, pack, gaggle, murder, parliament?

Matt Topper / Finn / Poe Dameron / BB-8/ Unnamed Bot: I like Swarm, makes people feel like the drones are coming.

Jeff Lombardo / Luke Skywalker: (Summing up all that he said before to drive home the point, with music building to a crescendo) Bots will always be with you. No one’s ever really gone.

Fade slowly to back, with a haunting, digitized laugh echoing throughout the landscape.

Fade to black. White text fades in (embedded in the IDPro logo, if we had one):

THE RISE OF BOTS

. . .then fades rapidly back to black.

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