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Shadow IT refers to the unsanctioned use of information technology systems without prior knowledge or approval of centralized IT departments. Because of its "unofficial nature," shadow IT can compromise the security of organizations.

According to Track resources, 80% of employees admitted to using SaaS applications to get their work done, without getting IT approval. Such applications are termed shadow IT applications.

Why are shadow IT applications used?

Users turn to these applications to make their efforts faster, easier, flexible and sometimes more productive. For example, installing and using a SaaS application to accomplish part of a larger task, or using an external hard drive to copy sensitive organizational information to facilitate work on-the-go is a quicker process than waiting for the IT department to approve the request for these IT resources.

With a plethora of options and their ease-of-use, shadow IT applications help users maximize their productivity, improve their overall experience and facilitate higher efficiency. But the pertinent question here is: at what cost?

Why is Shadow IT a problem?

Though there might not be any malicious intent behind employees using shadow IT applications, the consequences can be grave.

  • Using corporate credentials to login to applications not managed and monitored by the security operations center (SOC), leaves the network vulnerable to attacks.
  • Making use of applications with security policies that are not in line with your organizational policies may lead to security and compliance issues.
  • Accidentally disclosing sensitive information via unmanaged SaaS and unapproved external storage devices can cause large-scale losses to organizations.
  • Licensing unapproved IT resources exponentially increases the operational costs of a company. According to a research by Track resources, approximately $34 billion per year is spent by organizations in the United States and United Kingdom, on shadow IT resources.

With no visibility over such applications, organizations struggle to maintain control over their data and security.

The top 5 things to consider to address shadow IT

Managing shadow IT is like walking a tightrope, and it's important not to jump to conclusions and make impulsive decisions.

Here are a few things that you can consider while dealing with shadow IT in your organization.

1. Visibility:

The first step towards solving any problem is to identify it. In this case, you need to have complete visibility of the entire network to detect the use of shadow IT. Better visibility helps you gauge the extent of this issue and brainstorm possible ways of dealing with it.

2. Blocking complete access:

Once you determine the number of shadow IT applications in use, blocking complete access might seem like the most logical way to eliminate the risks posed. However, this could be counter-productive as it might lead to users moving to lesser-known, less-secure applications that perpetuate the problem. This not only defeats the purpose, but also puts your organization at a greater cybersecurity risk.

3. Establishing a process:

A common reason given for using shadow IT is to circumvent the time required to obtain approval for an application from the IT security team. You can start working on this problem by establishing an efficient approval procedure for shadow IT applications. This will make sure that users are provisioned with the resources they require as and when the need arises.

Such a process further boosts employee productivity and morale, and drives innovation throughout your organization.

Here are a few questions to ask about shadow IT use:

  1. What purpose does the shadow IT application serve?
  2. What value does the shadow IT application provide over the ones that are approved?
  3. Can that value be replicated by any other approved application?
  4. What is the cost of implementation?
  5. What are the risks involved in making use of the shadow IT application?

4. Communicating with employees:

Educating employees about the impact of these applications is one of the most effective ways of dealing with shadow IT.

To begin with, most people aren't aware that these applications cannot be used without proper approval. Create awareness by outlining the list of applications that can be used to facilitate day-to-day work and the risks associated with using unsanctioned shadow IT applications.

5. Taking proactive steps:

Even if you implement all these measures, there will be instances of negligence by employees and it is important to be prepared for that eventuality.

  • Regularly audit your network to identify unauthorized IT systems so you can understand the extent of the problem.
  • Monitor users' access to cloud applications to ensure sensitive enterprise data remains safe, even outside the enterprise's security perimeter.

The best way to achieve these is by deploying a cloud access security broker solution (CASB). A CASB is an on-premises or cloud-hosted software that acts as a gatekeeper and monitors the interaction between users and cloud service providers. It is a solution tailor-made to monitor cloud activities and shadow IT.

With a CASB solution, you can:

  • Discover unsanctioned shadow IT applications.
  • Regulate user activities on cloud applications.
  • Enforce access policies to define who accesses what on the cloud.
  • Detect anomalous activities on cloud applications, such as the movement of large amount of data.
  • Monitor the download and installation of applications not sanctioned by the IT security department.

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