In a work landscape centered on cloud-based software and distributed teams, businesses are increasingly focused on the risks posed by technology. They’re always looking for ways to combat these threats and take preventative action to keep their tools and systems safe. One of the most common digital dangers faced by businesses today is shadow IT.
But what is shadow IT? Shadow IT refers to information technology systems, software, and solutions that are used within an organization without explicit organizational approval or oversight from the IT department. This subset of IT arises when employees seek to bypass the standard protocols and controls of the traditional IT infrastructure.
Understanding the shadow IT meaning requires recognizing the reasons for its adoption. Today, businesses must balance agility with security and governance. Traditional IT channels can often be perceived as slow, cumbersome, or restrictive. As a result, individual teams or employees may decide to use unauthorized tools or applications to complete tasks and drive business goals.
The nature of shadow IT can result in a host of problems. Here are some of the biggest shadow IT security risks that businesses should look out for:
- Data Security and Breaches: One of the primary concerns with shadow IT is that the systems used don’t always meet the organization’s security standards. This makes them vulnerable targets for cyberattacks, potentially leading to data breaches.
- Redundancy and Inefficiency: When different departments or teams within an organization adopt unsanctioned tools, it can lead to redundancy because multiple teams end up paying for similar services.
- Loss of Governance and Control: Without a unified view of all the tools and solutions in use within an organization, it becomes challenging to manage resources, ensure data integrity, and maintain a cohesive IT strategy.
Addressing the challenges posed by shadow IT requires a two-fold approach. Organizations must foster an environment where employees feel they can voice their needs and concerns about existing IT solutions. They should also implement robust monitoring and management tools to detect and mitigate the use of unsanctioned systems.
Shadow IT in Cyber Security
Shadow IT in cyber security is a major concern for modern enterprises. Though IT departments strive to maintain strict control over technology assets, the rise of shadow IT has introduced a new set of challenges that impact their overall security posture.
So what is shadow IT in cyber security? In the cyber security realm, shadow IT refers to any tech system used without the IT department’s oversight. Such unauthorized deployments range from employees using unsanctioned cloud storage solutions to entire departments implementing third-party software applications.
This ungoverned approach can result in a plethora of risks, including:
- Data Breaches: Unauthorized tools may not adhere to the organization's security standards, making them prime targets for cyberattacks. Without proper oversight, these tools may lead to vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.
- Data Leakage: Employees using unauthorized cloud storage or collaboration tools may inadvertently share sensitive information with external parties. An example would be an employee sharing a file containing personal data of clients via a non-secure, public link.
- Malware and Ransomware Attacks: A classic shadow IT example is the downloading of third-party, malware-infused software from unverified sources. Once this malware is introduced into the company's network, it can spread, compromising systems and opening the door to ransomware attacks.
Given these risks, it's clear that shadow IT presents significant challenges for modern businesses. To get around this Pandora's box of potential threats, organizations should:
- Promote Awareness: Educate employees about the risks associated with unsanctioned tools and the importance of adhering to approved IT solutions.
- Implement Detection Mechanisms: Use monitoring tools to detect unauthorized software or hardware and establish shadow IT security best practices to address issues.
- Conduct Regular Audits: Conduct IT audits to uncover the use of shadow IT and evaluate the associated risks.
Shadow IT Risks
Shadow IT risks present a formidable challenge to businesses in this technology-driven era. The benefits of shadow IT that allure departments or individual employees to adopt unsanctioned technology set the stage for numerous threats. And the potential dangers aren't just confined to data breaches or malware—they include financial and reputational damages as well.
One of the dangers associated with shadow IT is data leakage. For example, an employee might use an unsanctioned cloud storage service to save sensitive client information. Any vulnerabilities in this service could lead to data exposure, jeopardizing client trust and possibly leading to legal repercussions.
Shadow IT risk also extends to compatibility and integration. Most sanctioned IT solutions are chosen with integration in mind, but with shadow IT, there's no guarantee that systems will work well together. This often results in data silos where information stored in one tool isn't easily accessible or transferable to another, impairing data-driven decision-making.
Shadow IT risks examples are abundant and serve as cautionary tales for businesses. Take, for example, a department that starts using an unapproved third-party communication tool that lacks end-to-end encryption. As a result, the communication threads—which contain proprietary strategies and financial details—become a target for cybercriminals.
In addition to these tangible dangers, the risk of shadow IT includes reputational damage. In an age where data protection and user privacy are paramount, even a single data breach linked to shadow IT can tarnish a company's reputation. Recovering from such a blow can be a long and arduous journey.
Reducing Shadow IT
While the productivity benefits of shadow IT are certainly attractive, the associated risks can significantly harm an organization's security and operational integrity. However, with proper shadow IT management, businesses can strike a balance between flexibility and control.
The first step is raising awareness. It’s important to remember that employees aren’t necessarily trying to undermine company security or protocols. More often than not, they’re lured by promises of greater efficiency and user-friendly tools. Businesses should educate staff about the risks associated with shadow IT while communicating strategies for improving upon existing infrastructure.
Businesses also need to adopt systems for detecting shadow IT. It’s not enough to rely on manual audits or checks. Investing in advanced shadow IT detection makes it easy to monitor network traffic and endpoints. These sorts of tools can identify unauthorized software applications, devices, and other potential shadow IT elements.
Regular IT audits, where departments are required to list and review their software and hardware usage, can further shed light on any hidden IT assets. Once shadow IT elements are detected, be sure to approach the issue judiciously. A heavy-handed approach, where unauthorized tools are immediately banned or removed, might not always be the best solution. (Read our research on the influence of employees’ emotions on security behaviors.)
Such actions can stifle innovation, harm employee morale, and even undermine cybersecurity efforts. Instead, IT teams can evaluate the detected tools for security and functionality. If an unsanctioned tool is being widely used because it offers features that the official software doesn't, it might be worth considering its integration into the official IT roster after thorough vetting.
A proactive approach to reduce shadow IT is creating open communication channels between the IT department and other business units. Encouraging employees to express their software and hardware needs, and having the IT team act as a solution provider, can preempt the urge to seek out unauthorized tools.
Shadow IT Solutions
Adequately addressing shadow IT requires a comprehensive approach. Shadow IT solutions allow businesses to more easily navigate this complex landscape, automatically detecting issues and potentially integrating unsanctioned software and hardware into their official IT fold.
The market is flooded with shadow IT software and tools, which can make the selection process difficult. For a full primer, download TAG Cyber’s guide to making informed decisions on securing your SaaS environment. In summary, here’s what to look for when choosing a shadow IT discovery tool:
- Comprehensive Visibility: Shadow IT software should provide an in-depth and holistic view of the entire IT landscape. This includes not just the official, sanctioned software and hardware, but also any unsanctioned tools and applications employees might be using.
- Real-Time Monitoring: Shadow IT is dynamic. New tools and software can be introduced at any time, and existing ones can be phased out by employees. The best shadow IT tools are capable of continually assessing the IT environment, alerting administrators as soon as an unsanctioned tool is detected.
- Detailed Reporting: Detection is just one part of the process. The solution should also provide comprehensive reporting capabilities, including details on who is using the unsanctioned tool, how frequently it's used, the kind of data it accesses or processes, and more.
- Integration Capabilities: The solution should ideally integrate seamlessly with other security and IT management tools in the organization. This ensures that any detected threats or vulnerabilities can be swiftly addressed using the existing security infrastructure.
- Governance Support: Shadow IT governance is about setting rules, policies, and procedures. The software should enable users to quickly and easily set up governance protocols. This might include automating responses when certain types of shadow IT are detected or enforcing company-wide IT policies.
Nudge Security’s Shadow IT Solution
Nudge Security can help your business identify shadow IT risks and regain control of your security posture. Nudge Security’s powerful, patented SaaS discovery method is designed to identify all of the cloud and SaaS applications in use on an organization’s network—even those that are hidden from traditional IT monitoring tools. Nudge Security’s platform generates a shadow IT report that helps IT teams identify potential risks and take the appropriate actions to ensure that the company’s sensitive data remains protected.
Ultimately, Nudge Security provides a highly effective solution for organizations to address and manage the many challenges associated with shadow IT. By providing comprehensive shadow IT discovery, governance, and continuous management, Nudge Security allows organizations to effectively manage the risks associated with unsanctioned or unauthorized SaaS applications and ensure that the company’s sensitive data is adequately protected.