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The security risks of shadow IT

Shadow IT risks present a formidable challenge to businesses, especially in this cloud-native era. Stop worrying about shadow IT security risks with a full and continuous inventory of all accounts ever created in your organization.

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In just minutes, Nudge Security discovers, inventories, and continuously monitors every cloud and SaaS account employees have ever created. No network changes, endpoint agents, or browser extensions required.

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Work with employees, not against them.

The only way to manage SaaS security at scale is to engage with your workforce—not block them. Deliver helpful security cues based on proven behavioral science to nudge employees toward better decisions and behaviors.

“Nudge Security’s trial was very easy to set up. The first value right out of the box was something I knew was going to happen: We had 16 people with licenses for two different applications that offer the same capabilities. We were paying double for something we shouldn’t have been using in the first place.”

Chris Castaldo

“Nudge Security is a pretty comprehensive product. I was impressed with what was available in the employee offboarding playbook. I haven’t found any other product that will actually reset passwords for accounts outside of SSO, and Nudge is unique in more ways than just that.”

Robbie Trencheny
Head of Infrastructure
Cars & Bids

“Whether they're ready to admit it or not, every security leader is contending with a sprawling mix of cloud and SaaS providers, permissions, accounts, and identities. Until now, this emerging attack surface has been largely invisible and vulnerable to the types of supply chain attacks in the headlines week after week. Nudge Security recognized that securing the SaaS supply chain is one of the core challenges of modern cybersecurity, and that’s why the Ballistic Ventures team was so eager to invest.”

Kevin Mandia
Strategic Partner
Ballistic Ventures

“For years, the industry has treated cybersecurity as a technology problem when, in fact, it is humans that play the biggest role in keeping enterprises cyber secure. Finally, Nudge Security has emerged to tackle the hardest soft problem in the industry—human behavior.”

Nicole Perlroth
Best-selling author

"Attack surfaces are growing more complex as organizations adopt new cloud and SaaS technologies across a globally distributed workforce. Nudge Security helps provide organizations with increased visibility into today's modern attack surface, and enlists all employees to help protect it."

Mario Duarte
Vice President of Security

"I am of the opinion that SaaS sprawl is a good thing, you have to give your team the flexibility to explore and discover new tools that will help them become more effective at their job. Ideally all those apps should be authenticating in a centralized way using an identity provider like Okta, however, in the real world, it is imperative to have mechanisms in place to account, find and manage the sprawling of those apps and nudge users to help secure the flow of information."

Hector Aguilar
Fmr. President of Technology & CTO

“Modern CIOs face a difficult balancing act enabling a highly distributed workforce with access to data and technology while trying to control the costs and risks associated with unchecked SaaS sprawl. Nudge Security strikes the right balance and helps modern organizations like ours manage the tide of SaaS sprawl without constraining employees’ abilities to move the business forward.”

AJ Beard
VP Applications and IT
Unify Consulting

“Adversaries are constantly finding new ways to socially engineer employees and attack the vast supply chain of SaaS applications they’re using to gain access to organizations. Every CISO is aware of the challenge they’re up against, and now it’s our job to make sure every CISO knows about Nudge Security and the way they enable employees to be a key part of an enterprise’s defense.”

Roger Thornton
Founding Partner
Ballistic Ventures

“Today, every employee acts as their own CIO and can easily reach for a new cloud or SaaS tool to solve virtually any problem. While organizations see massive gains in productivity and employee satisfaction from such unencumbered IT adoption, cybersecurity has been slow to adapt.”

Ed Amoroso
Founder and CEO
TAG Infosphere
Former CSO

“The work that Jaime and Russell did together at AlienVault to build the Open Threat Exchange changed the way threat researchers and practitioners shared intelligence. As a longtime customer, it was a no-brainer for Castra to sign on as one of the first Nudge Security customers. We’re excited about the potential to use this groundbreaking technology to improve service delivery for our customers.”

Grant Leonard

“As more data moves to cloud and SaaS environments, threat actors are turning their sights on assets and user credentials of which security teams may have little to no awareness. Nudge Security has an innovative approach that helps security teams shore up their defenses against cloud and SaaS threats, starting at the critical point of making the unknown known.”

Chris Doman
Co-founder and CTO
Cado Security

“Even in cybersecurity, people’s attitudes and emotions are strong predictors of their behaviors. Security leaders are setting themselves up for failure when they implement security controls and policies under the false notion that employees will comply unconditionally, regardless of how frustrating or unreasonable they find the experience to be.”

Dr. Aaron Kay, PhD
J Rex Fuqua Professor of Management
Duke University
Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience
Duke University

“Security teams need to focus on fighting real adversaries, not their colleagues. Nudge Security alleviates the time spent chasing down employees to get them to follow security policies, and it does so in a friendly, automated way that’s much more effective and less stressful for everyone involved.”

Kunal Anand

“In today's SaaS-fueled enterprise, monitoring access at the network layer is no longer enough. Context is key, and 'SaaS context as control' becomes the basis for implementing modern identity- and data-based security controls. Nudge Security innovates beyond other cloud and SaaS security technologies by providing SaaS context quickly and efficiently across all applications and user accounts, managed and unmanaged, enabling security and IT professionals to modernize their SaaS governance efforts.”

Frank Dickson
Group Vice President, Security & Trust

"I recently had a chance to try out Nudge Security and the experience was amazing! Here is what I found awesome: They made it super easy to get started (configured in 5 mins). There were zero super aggressive sales tactics. Instead of hundreds of alerts, I got to see which ones mattered most right now. There are no heavy handed controls, it's based on 'nudging' users to make better security choices."

Damian Tommasino
Sales Engineer
Cyber Informants

“With its patented, turnkey approach to SaaS discovery and observability, Nudge Security offers complete visibility and governance over every SaaS and cloud asset ever utilized organization-wide—a critical need especially with the explosive adoption of GenAI and increased supply chain risks.”

Alberto Yépez
Co-Founder and Managing Director
Forgepoint Capital

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. The shadow IT meaning has changed over time as technology deployments have transitioned from on-prem servers and networks to cloud-based infrastructure and SaaS applications. In modern workplaces built on cloud-based software and distributed teams, employees often bypass formal IT and purchasing processes in order to quickly adopt the tools they need to work more efficiently. While this is great for productivity, businesses are increasingly concerned about the security risks posed by the growing estate of unknown and unmanaged software, or shadow IT.

Understanding the growth of shadow IT means recognizing the underlying factors driving its adoption. Today, businesses must balance agility with security and governance. Traditional IT processes can often be perceived as slow, cumbersome, and overly restrictive. As a result, individual teams or employees may decide to use unauthorized tools or applications to complete tasks more quickly 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 vendor security standards. This makes them more 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 and wasted spend because multiple teams end up paying for similar services. 
  • Loss of IT 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, maintain IT compliance and drive 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 have access to the tools that best meet their needs without excessive time and effort required to gain approval. They should also implement a robust SaaS management platform to detect the use of unsanctioned software and facilitate bringing new tools under IT governance.

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 spread of shadow IT is understandable in modern, highly distributed organizations, 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 processes for selecting, approving, and purchasing tools and technologies. 

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 discover shadow IT as soon as it is introduced, and orchestrate and automate processes to bring new applications under central IT governance. These sorts of tools can identify unauthorized SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, 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 approved options don’t, it might be worth considering adding it into the official directory of approved applications 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 SaaS 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.

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