The term “shadow IT” may sound like something out of a Hollywood techno-thriller, but in reality, it is a serious threat to businesses of all sizes. So what is shadow IT, and why should you be concerned? Let’s take a look.
What is shadow IT?
Shadow IT refers to the use of IT systems, hardware, software, and services that have not been sanctioned or vetted by a company’s IT department. This could be an employee’s personal smartphone that they use to check their work emails or a project management tool being used without your permission.
Why do employees use shadow IT?
The use of shadow IT isn’t necessarily malicious, as workers might use unvetted tech solutions because of the following reasons:
- Lack of training: Without proper training, a user may fail to understand how to use company software.
- Too difficult or slow: Company-provided tools are difficult to use.
- Unmet needs: Managers may fail to consider what their staff actually need and acquire IT solutions that are lacking. This forces workers to find their own tools.
What are the risks of shadow IT?
Shadow IT comes with several risks, including:
1. Collaboration inefficiencies
The use of shadow IT by some workers can result in inconsistency and compatibility issues. For example, if one department uses Microsoft Word while another uses Google Docs for document collaboration, they might encounter formatting and layout issues that can affect their productivity.
What’s more, the use of unsanctioned technology requires the user to solve any technical issues that arise. While many employees today are capable of resolving technical issues, doing so reduces the time for productive work.
2. Heightened risk of data breaches
Because shadow IT solutions aren’t a part of your IT infrastructure, they could expose your company data to cyberthreats.
To illustrate, say that one of your employees connects to a public Wi-Fi network to perform their tasks. Since that network is outside your corporate firewall, cybercriminals can easily infiltrate the device to steal sensitive data.
3. Compliance issues
You need to regularly assess all technologies you use in your company to ensure that your IT systems meet industry standards. But since shadow IT solutions aren't overseen by the company, they can easily be overlooked. So if your firm suffers a data breach because of a malware attack on an employee’s unregulated device, you may incur a compliance violation. As a result, your company may face severe penalties or be shut down for good.
How do you reduce the risks of shadow IT?
To manage the risk of shadow IT, you should:
1. Look for instances of shadow IT
Before you can resolve the issue of shadow IT, you need to determine its prevalence in your company. Make a list of all the possible hardware, software, and services that may be storing confidential business data. Next, monitor all unknown devices connected to your office network. Also, make sure to check log data from proxies and firewalls to see if unsanctioned cloud services are being used.
2. Assess the risks
Not all shadow IT solutions pose the same level of threat to your organization. Regularly assessing the threat they pose can help you develop risk mitigation activities based on the risk-sensitivity of every shadow IT item.
List down all the shadow IT solutions used in your organization and arrange them from the most to the least dangerous. For example, a third-party project management service that stores critical information regarding your ongoing projects will likely pose more security risks to your organization than a calculator app, so you must address the former first.
3. Create bring your own device (BYOD) rules
Compromise by incorporating some of the shadow IT solutions your employees use into your company's BYOD guidelines. For example, you can allow your employees to use their personal devices and certain apps when they perform their tasks.
You can also implement access management solutions like Azure Information Protection (AIP) and Microsoft Endpoint Manager. AIP classifies data based on sensitivity so you can easily control who can see and access them. Endpoint Manager, on the other hand, helps companies regulate employee devices used to access company data and applications.
4. Educate your employees
If you allow your employees to use their preferred devices or programs for work, you need to teach them good cybersecurity habits, such as:
- Always updating their devices’ operating systems, security software, and programs
- Securing their devices with strong authentication methods such as PINs, passwords, and fingerprint and facial scans
- Regularly backing up important files
- Refraining from connecting to public Wi-Fi networks
Finally, educate your employees about what they need to do to have their devices and desired apps vetted by your IT department.
Need to learn more about how you can manage shadow IT in your organization? Complete Document Solutions can provide you with helpful tips on how to keep your data and company secure. Get a FREE IT and network assessment from us today.