What is shadow IT, and what are its risks?

What is shadow IT, and what are its risks?

Shadow IT is a security issue that poses risks to businesses of all sizes — your organization included. But what is it, and why is it dangerous? Let’s take a look.

What is shadow IT?

Shadow IT is the use of IT systems, hardware, software, and services that have not been approved by your IT department. Some examples include a personal tablet your employees use to monitor their work email or an instant messaging app installed on office computers without your consent.

Why do employees use shadow IT?

Employees' reasons for using shadow IT may not necessarily be malicious, as your staff might only prefer a better or more familiar solution than the ones provided in the office. In fact, according to a study by Dell, 61% of millennials and 50% of workers above 30 years old believe that the use of personal devices makes them more effective and productive than company-provided gadgets.

What are the dangers of shadow IT?

The use of shadow IT comes with several security risks, such as:

1. Increased threat of data breaches

Shadow IT solutions are not part of your IT infrastructure. Failing to regulate their use could expose company data to cyberthreats.

To illustrate, let's say one of your employees uses an unsanctioned personal laptop to connect to a public Wi-Fi network. Since that network is outside your corporate firewalls, attackers can easily infiltrate the device to view, modify, and copy sensitive data. What’s more, cybercriminals can capitalize on software vulnerabilities, especially if users tend to brush off security updates.

2. Inefficiencies

If employees have their own unique set of apps and devices to do their work, inconsistencies and compatibility issues can occur during collaboration. For example, a PPTX file is useless to employees who don’t have Microsoft PowerPoint on their computers. To open it, they would have to download, install, and learn to use PowerPoint, which can take a lot of time and effort, reducing their productivity.

3. Compliance issues

Compliance is normally assessed via internal audits, but because shadow IT solutions aren’t company-regulated, they can easily fall through the cracks. If your business suffers a data breach because of a phishing attack on an employee’s unregulated laptop, for instance, this results in a compliance violation. This means your business could be heavily fined or even shut down by shadow IT.

How can you properly manage shadow IT?

You can control the risks that come with shadow IT by following these tips:

1. Determine the prevalence of shadow IT

The first thing you have to do is to find out if shadow IT exists in your company. Take stock of all the possible hardware, software, and services that may be storing confidential business data.

Monitor all unknown devices connected to your office network as well. Make sure to examine log data from firewalls, proxies, and other possible sources to monitor cloud solutions that are being used without your approval.

It also pays to understand the reasons behind the use of shadow IT in your organization. Determine why your employees prefer alternative solutions than the ones your company is implementing.

2. Classify the risks

Make a list of all shadow IT solutions used in your organization and arrange them from the most dangerous to the least threatening. For example, a third-party instant messaging platform will likely pose more security risks to your organization than a personal notes app, so the former must be addressed first.

3. Create bring your own device (BYOD) guidelines

Develop BYOD guidelines that include the shadow IT solutions your employees are currently using. For instance, during their shift, your staff may use their personal devices and preferred apps to do their tasks. You’ll also need to ensure that your employees’ shadow IT solutions are compatible with your company’s IT infrastructure and examined carefully for any security risks.

What’s more, you must implement data security measures. When it comes to personal laptops, for instance, have their owners create a separate user account for work matters.

Implementing access management technologies such as Azure Information Protection (AIP) and Microsoft Intune can also help. AIP classifies data based on sensitivity so IT administrators can easily control their visibility and privileges, while Intune allows organizations to regulate the devices that employees use to access company data and applications.

4. Educate your staff

If employees are allowed to use personal devices or their preferred solutions for work, don't forget to provide thorough cybersecurity training. Teach them to develop good cybersecurity habits like:

  • Refraining from clicking on unsolicited links, pop-ups, and emails
  • Refraining from using pirated software
  • Securing their devices with multiple authentication methods like passwords, PINs, and fingerprint scans
  • Avoiding public Wi-Fi networks
  • Always keeping their devices’ operating systems and programs updated
  • Using anti-malware software

Your business needs the best protection from shadow IT risks. NetQuest can help by proactively monitoring, maintaining, and securing your IT infrastructure 24/7/365 from all potential threats. Schedule a FREE, no-obligation IT security assessment today.


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