Security risks of ‘Shadow IT’ and how to overcome it

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Security risks of 'Shadow IT' and how to overcome it

The term ‘Shadow IT’ refers to the use of any digital service, IT systems, or software applications inside an organisation without getting it explicitly approved by the Business Unit IT (BUIT) or without the BUIT’s knowledge.

Unauthorised apps and a hosted desktop make it extremely easy for the users to bypass IT. In simple words, Shadow IT is the unauthorised use of digital products inside an organisation. For example, if an employee in a particular company uses Whatsapp to communicate with customers, this can be referred to as Shadow IT, assuming Whatsapp is not approved by the IT department. To give you another example, an IT guy in an IT support company may want to use software tools of his own choice to solve a particular computer problem.

One main reason why Shadow IT grows in an organisation is that the employees want to use digital products of their choice to fix a problem or to make the tasks easier. For instance, in a firm, an employee may want to use Google docs instead of MS Word to his or her advantage.

“For many organisations, so-called Shadow IT grew out of pure necessity, as increasingly tech-savvy employees sought out their own solutions to specific line-of-business problems.”, says Andrew Froehlich, an author of the InformationWeek blog, in his article titled “Shadow IT: 8 Ways to Cope”, published on 18th March 2015.

This article takes you through the risks of Shadow IT and explains how to overcome it.

Security risks of Shadow IT

Shadow IT has multiple compliance risks involved. But in order to save money, the organisations are trying to leverage resources and services available without the thorough knowledge of the background process of IT. This lack of knowledge can affect users in a very negative way.

For example, it may negatively affect the bandwidth and may cause conflict between network and application protocols, which may lead to a deplorable user experience.

The major cyber security risks associated with Shadow IT are as follows.

  • There are IT security risks of unsupported hardware and software, which can make the system vulnerable, also may lead to abrupt system crashes.
  • It also has become a compliance concern when an employee’s data is used in someone’s personal Dropbox.
  • Keeping the data integrity, confidentiality, and availability intact also turns out to be a huge challenge.
  • Losing control over the data flow within the organisation or outside may have a devastating impact on the organisation equity.

This doesn’t end here, there are some key risks that disturb the company’s overall business model as well as customers’ data. This is explained in the below section.

  1. Hidden payload: Plunging in the hidden costs with a group of non-IT workers in various fields like marketing and sales lengthening the time for software instalments and hardware integration increases the overall payload for the venture.
  2. Investment Deprecation: Lack of in-depth knowledge of the software being installed will certainly compromise with the Return on Investment (ROI). The organisations working with data warehouses seem to adapt it more frequently.

According to the CISCO guidelines, we are underestimating the extent of Shadow IT as per the analysis conducted. CISCO itself is running 51 cloud services and the actual number is ‘730’.

How can you mitigate the risks?

Fortunately, you can withstand the Shadow IT payload through the combination of sound policies and technologies. Some practical solutions to deprecate the effects of Shadow IT are as follows.

  1. Review and control outbound traffic: Controlling the traffic is one of the most valuable security management techniques. Restrict data exchanges between internal applications and the external cloud with a proper IT authentication. A data loss prevention software and published APIs for application interconnection will help you monitor and secure the data. Implementing a private cloud service can help you restrict how data is accessed and transferred.
  2. Incorporate sound practices and raise user awareness: The users who understand the payload caused by the data leaks are willing to put on some basic protection steps. Setting up basic security awareness programs and keeping centralised billings with proper authentication would help.

This article helped you understand Shadow IT with easy examples. It explained the security risks of Shadow IT and gave you a few practical solutions for mitigating the risks. The techniques mentioned in this post can blunt the risks of Shadow IT. This balancing act will help to secure vital data while enabling businesses to prosper keeping themselves away from Shadow IT.

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