A computer with the words, "what is shadow IT?" By Sunny Lowe on December 20th, 2022 in Network Security

The world of technology opened up the doors to innovation and great productivity in the workplace. Innovations such as cloud computing, tablets, and smartphones have expanded how and where individuals can work, conduct business, and interact with friends, family, and coworkers. However, with the ever-advancing world of technology also comes threats to your business and its sensitive data. One of the most overlooked threats to this data is shadow IT. But what is shadow IT and how can you protect your employees and your business? Here’s what you should know:

What Is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT refers to the use of information technology systems, devices, software, applications, and services without the approval of the IT department. Over recent years, this trend has increased exponentially as more and more individuals blur the lines between work and personal devices.

While shadow IT enables productivity and innovation, it also presents security risks. Data leaks, compliance violations, and harmful viruses can easily find their way into your business’s systems through the use of shadow IT.

What Are Some Examples of Shadow IT?

Examples of shadow IT include:

  • Creating cloud workloads using personal accounts or credentials.
  • Purchasing software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications or other cloud service. subscriptions that fall below the purchasing thresholds outlined by your business’s IT department.
  • Using workflow productivity apps, such as Trello or Asana, without the approval of the IT department.
  • Leveraging cloud services, such as Google Drive or Box, to store, access, or share data or other assets without the approval of the IT department.
  • Using communication platforms such as WhatsApp to conduct work-related communication or activities. 

Why Would My Employees Use Shadow IT?

an employee working in his cubicle

According to Mike Anderson, CIO and chief digital officer at the security tech company Netskope, “people coming out of school today are so digitally savvy, and trying to tell them that IT can’t solve their problems will be a foreign concept.”

Employees often resort to shadow IT to bypass the policies that the company has in place to get their job done more efficiently. For example, an employee finds a better communication app than the one your business currently uses and begins communicating with fellow employees about business-related processes through it. While doing so allows them to get work done, there are no checks in place to ensure sensitive information stays protected.

Are There Benefits to Shadow IT?

Shadow IT does have its benefits, such as:

  • Allowing employees to access resources more quickly.
  • Reducing costs through the use of free or affordable cloud-based services.
  • Optimizing limited IT resources by allowing employees to bypass bottlenecking IT issues, such as getting pre-approval for an app or service.
  • Improving communication and collaboration between employees. 
  • Reducing micromanagement by creating a more positive user experience.

What Are the Risks of Shadow IT?

While there are numerous benefits to giving your employees more control over the way they handle their work communication and sharing, there are also some downsides to consider. It is important not to underestimate the risk of using unauthorized tools, applications, and devices, as they serve as an entry point for cybercriminals. Risks include:

  • Lack of visibility and control: Shadow IT falls out of the view or protection of your business’s IT security. This increases the risk and vulnerability of the data being shared and allows policy violations to go undetected.
  • More prone to data loss: Data may be stored in personal accounts inaccessible to other employees. If an employee resigns or is terminated, important data stored on the cloud can be lost with them. This data also won’t be backed up into your business’s systems or encrypted in line with company policy.
  • Leaves companies more vulnerable to cyber attacks: When individual employees begin using their own devices or applications to conduct business without the approval of your business’s IT and cybersecurity team, it leaves your business more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Hackers can easily get into shadow IT services that are using weak or default credentials, which they can then use to get into your organization’s broader corporate network.
  • Hidden costs: While it can seem like shadow IT would reduce the cost of data storage, this is not the case. These costs will come indirectly through noncompliance fines, penalties, and reputational harm should there be a data breach. It can also lead to your IT team having to work harder and longer hours to undo damage. 

How Can I Manage the Risk of Shadow IT?

A man working on a laptop.

Reducing usage of shadow IT doesn’t come from employees but from the company itself. Individuals often seek out shadow IT as a solution when they feel they do not have the proper resources to get their job done effectively. It is important to understand your employees’ needs and address them, making sure that they have the approval and resources they need to get their job done as efficiently as possible.

Steps to reduce the use of shadow IT are as follows:

  • Understand your team’s organizational and communication needs by performing comprehensive and regular audits across your business.
  • Use advanced technology to continuously monitor your network and ensure the visibility and control of all devices, systems, and applications.
  • Communicate and collaborate with employees to ensure that they are all trained on tools and technology so they understand the proper protocol for these services.
  • Establish and enforce security and compliance policies.
  • Create a thorough framework that assesses risks and prioritizes remediation efforts.

Give Your Business the Best Chance for Success

One of the best ways to discourage shadow IT is by giving your IT team the support they need to do their job efficiently. Supplementing them with a managed IT service provider can help with this. Blue Jeans Network will work with your current IT team to handle the day-to-day tasks bogging them down so they can concentrate on bigger and more important IT initiatives.

Don’t let your IT team become overwhelmed, leading employees to seek risky solutions. Instead, contact Blue Jean Networks to help take your company to the next level through our managed IT services. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule a consultation.