With the advent of cloud services, businesses have become used to downloading apps and other software that improves productivity. They’ve also come to rely on cloud storage services more than in the past. Everything is in the cloud these days, making all types of files available from anywhere there’s an Internet connection and across a wide range of devices.
While all this has led to increased productivity in the office and for working remotely, downloading apps and using cloud storage can inadvertently create cybersecurity risks for a company.
The practice of employees using tools and services without the knowledge of their IT management is called Shadow IT.
What is Shadow IT?
Shadow IT refers to information technology programs, projects, or systems implemented outside the IT department without their knowledge or vetting. The most common reason employees resort to using Shadow IT is to increase their productivity.
While these tools and services may be innocuous and helpful, they can still carry certain security risks that could harm a business. Shadow IT can be a massive problem for companies that work with sensitive data.
With SaaS applications becoming so prevalent in recent years, the habit of using shadow IT has grown. One of the main draws of some of these services is that they are free and easy to use. The result is that even more employees use these services.
Why Do Employees Use Shadow IT?
One of the main reasons employees use shadow IT is to become more productive. Studies have shown that some employees feel they must go around their organisation’s security policies to get their work done. And once they start using these services, they share their experience with others. These employees may then start to use shadow IT, too.
What’s more, employees may also use shadow IT services to use on personal devices, such as smartphones, laptops, and more. For instance, an employee may email themselves a document they’re working on. They can then finish the document at home later rather than staying in the office longer. That’s only one example; there are many more.
The Biggest Security Risks of Shadow IT
Here are examples of the biggest security risks presented by shadow IT.
- File Sharing
File sharing is one of the most common practices when it comes to shadow IT and it makes businesses vulnerable in different ways. File sharing can make it much easier for bad actors to gain unauthorised access to files and steal sensitive data. This is also an easy way for cybercriminals to install malware on a company’s network.
In addition, file sharing tools also make it easy for users to go around attachment limits. If an employee is unhappy with a business, they could download and store large amounts of company data.
- Software Integration
Some IT departments use software integrations between different systems. Doing so can be a great solution; however, the problem is that data breaches are more apt to occur.
For instance, if a part of the integration is compromised due to shadow IT, there’s a higher risk of an attacker gaining access to the network and stealing data. Another potential danger is that employees may not perform required software updates.
These are only a couple of examples that can happen with software integration issues. The main point is that software integration can be risky if not done correctly.
- Unauthorised Software
Most IT departments put a strong emphasis on release management to maintain their software. In other words, the IT department is responsible for the company-wide distribution of apps. They test before and after releases to ensure the company’s data is safe and the network is not interrupted.
On the other hand, when employees install unauthorised software, testing is not done. Upgrades and releases of the software may or may not be done. And the IT department is completely oblivious about these shadow IT software installations.
The Benefits of Shadow IT
While shadow IT does carry certain risks, it also provides many benefits for employees. For instance, getting a new app approved by the IT department can be a lengthy process. Employees need a solution that works for them now, not later. They can often find the apps and software they need, install them, and get back to work within minutes.
In addition, shadow IT can also improve employee satisfaction and retention. Users are empowered and encouraged to choose the tools that make them more productive. In this environment, employees are more likely to be engaged with their work and satisfied with their jobs. Shadow IT helps retain top talent in this way.
Shadow IT can also reduce the workload of the IT department. Many IT departments are already overloaded with help desk tickets and other issues. However, when employees are encouraged to use shadow IT, some of the burden for the IT department is reduced. They can then work on more important and challenging problems and provide greater value to the company.
Finally, shadow IT helps save employees time. Rather than going through the involved process of having a new app or software vetted and approved, they can choose and install an app on their own. They save time and increase productivity to work more effectively.
How to Manage Shadow IT
Most companies must deal with shadow IT at some level, so it’s imperative to create policies that manage shadow IT and make it more secure.
Here are three ways to manage shadow IT successfully:
Some businesses choose to completely close access to some apps through the implementation of a firewall or software audits.
In addition, there are IT apps that can help an IT department monitor use of cloud services across the company, provide the name of services employees use, and report potential security risks. There are also tools that can stop the use of shadow IT.
While it’s possible to come down hard against shadow IT, employees may be driven to find apps that are not found by detection tools. This only puts the company at increased risk of security breaches.
Having a lenient shadow IT policy is possible; however, security risks must be assessed. In addition, the company may choose to increase security through better data encryption and limit access to sensitive data.
In addition, these companies may also choose to create policies and guidelines to help employees manage their tools securely. Guidelines may stipulate that employees are allowed to use their own software; however, they must not share or store customer data, use the same company password, and more.
Summing It Up
Shadow it is here to stay, and your employees are probably already using their own apps and software. Some companies choose to completely crack down on the use of shadow IT; however, others find a compromise is usually the best solution.
These businesses establish a level of risk, create an app procurement process that’s shorter & easier, and educate their employees on how to use these tools securely and safely. This can be done through classes and shadow IT policies to manage shadow IT.
No one method or policy works for all companies when it comes to shadow IT. So, it’s necessary to find a solution that works for your specific company and industry. And if you’re having trouble creating a shadow IT policy, it’s best to reach out to a professional IT managed service provider. They have the knowledge and expertise to help you find the best way to manage shadow IT for your business.
23rd February 2024
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