Shadow IT can be potentially harmful to a company’s security protection, because it exists outside a company’s typical software and service approval and audit workflows. Shadow IT refers to information technology projects, applications and software used and managed outside of—and without the knowledge of—an IT department.

Employees unfamiliar with the way software works can easily end up giving a platform access to far more data than intended. These same users will not necessarily delve deeper into data storage service level agreements (SLAs) or encryption methods. They also may not be aware of a platform’s overall poor security. Many employees may not even be aware their activities are risky.

In fact, improved productivity continues to be among the top reasons users choose these types of unsanctioned solutions. Employees looking to increase productivity may begin with very basic information, such as data storage, that doesn’t pose a risk, then later include personally identifiable information (PII) typically saved in internal systems alone. Yet, there’s no guarantee that any of the software or applications are being properly updated or are meeting companies’ cybersecurity policies.

Shadow IT growth has been attributed in large part to the quality of consumer applications in the cloud, such as file-sharing apps and collaboration tools. Smartphones and tablets are also culprits of many shadow IT risks.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of unauthorized software and products is also anticipated to increase by 65%. As more organizations continue with a work-from-home model for their employees, communication and data sharing has changed. Plus, the use of VPNs, video conferencing services, jump boxes and proxies are giving security IT teams more to be concerned about.

Yet, finding this hidden data can be difficult if you don’t know where to look. Here are some things to consider when addressing shadow IT concerns.

Discover Reasoning for Usage

Consider seeing Shadow IT as an opportunity to leverage employees to identify applications they want to use. Learning why unapproved tools are used can help central IT teams and the organization provide an approved alternative or seek to include the used product into the company’s platform.

Simply ask team members about the products and services they’re currently using. A quick response survey can give employees the opportunity to report platforms used and include reasoning for the decision. This doesn’t have to be a major project with a formal justification requirement to be effective.

Ideally, every employee would participate. If you’re already familiar with your organization’s typical response rates and feel they’ll be far too low to gather enough data, an automated cloud data detection service might be an option for discovery.

Create Security Awareness Throughout Your Organization

Shadow IT users may have chosen an unapproved service or platform because they weren’t aware of approved options and how to find them. It’s also likely that they lack understanding of the risks associated with shadow IT.

The goal should be to create a company culture of security awareness and educate non-technical employees on shadow IT and the risks. Providing cybersecurity training programs is an effective way for team members to learn about their responsibility to the company’s overall security. Comprehensive training will also educate employees around the risks of data loss and unintended exposure.

Employees should know how to recognize and avoid cybersecurity threats, evaluate a potential solution and where to go for advice. Additionally, providing compelling examples of how unchecked software usage damaged other organizations and individuals can offer memorable reasons to avoid using varied platforms at will.

Set Up Software Review and Approval Solutions 

Once you have data on the unapproved software and services, consider reviewing popular tools for fitness within your organization. Approve solutions that work and forbid the ones that aren’t a good match. Clearly and directly communicate with employees on reasons why specific products are not used and offer solutions to meet the needs of business units currently utilizing the forbidden services. Additionally, make discovering software and services already covered under an organization-wide license easily accessible to all team members.

IT teams should also create best practices on how employees should use external products and policies should be implemented before deploying new technology.

Choose a Path That Provides Solutions for All

Shadow IT usage can be tough to uncover, and the reasons for choosing unapproved solutions can be varied. Discovering unsanctioned solutions within your organization is a first step to begin minimizing data loss and offering suitable replacements. Shortening the time to review software solutions already in use can be another option to quickly address the issue and provide a timely alternative. Educating employees on approved and already available solutions can help them make better decisions around the software and services they need to be productive.



More from Application Security

Containers, Security, and Risks within Containerized Environments

Applications have historically been deployed and created in a manner reminiscent of classic shopping malls. First, a developer builds the mall, then creates the various stores inside. The stores conform to the dimensions of the mall and operate within its floor plan. In older approaches to application development, a developer would have a targeted system or set of systems for which they intend to create an application. This targeted system would be the mall. Then, when building the application, they would…

Securing Your SAP Environments: Going Beyond Access Control

Many large businesses run SAP to manage their business operations and their customer relations. Security has become an increasingly critical priority due to the ongoing digitalization of society and the new opportunities that attackers exploit to achieve a system breach. Recent attacks related to corrupt data, stealing personal information and escalating privileges for remote code execution all highlight the new and varied entry points threat actors have taken advantage of. Attackers with the appropriate skills could be able to exploit…

Does Follina Mean It’s Time to Abandon Microsoft Office?

As a freelance writer, I spend most of my day working in Microsoft Word. Then, I send drafts to clients and companies across the globe. So, news of the newly discovered Microsoft Office vulnerability made me concerned about the possibility of accidentally spreading malware to my clients. I take extra precautions to ensure that I’m not introducing risk to my clients. Still, using Microsoft Office was something I did many times a day without a second thought. I brought up…

3 Reasons Why Technology Integration Matters

As John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” With digitalization bridging any distance, the same logic could be applied to tech. Threat actors have vast underground forums for sharing their intelligence, while security professionals remain tight-lipped in a lot of data breach cases. Much like the way a vaccine can help stop the spread of infectious diseases, sharing threat intelligence and defense strategies can help to establish a more secure future for everyone.  So what…