Shadow IT and the Future of Cybersecurity

The term shadow IT sounds spooky and scary, like a ghost is haunting your IT infrastructure or cybersecurity space. Today, with the rapid adoption of cloud technologies, shadow IT is an open invitation to malicious hackers.

When regulators fined JPMorgan a whopping $200 million for allowing employees to transmit sensitive customer information via WhatsApp, it shook the IT world because it highlighted the growing threat of shadow IT that is prevalent in most companies.This article will explore the risks, challenges, and benefits of Shadow IT, and review best practices for managing shadow IT securely. But before moving forward, let's understand this new IT buzzword.

What Is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is the use of IT software, hardware, devices, services, and applications outside or without the IT department's consent and approval. It primarily occurs when employees buy their tools or signup for cloud application trials to complete their job. 

Using the cloud-based application is easy, so employees need to involve the IT department. As a result, these apps lack traditional IT oversight. 

Interestingly, there are shadow IT risks and benefits that every company must know. While shadow IT improves employees' productivity and efficiency, it introduces security threats to the company through data breach, leaks, Shadow ITand compliance violations.

It is even more challenging for the IT department because shadow IT is notoriously hard to measure. It's nearly impossible to track the shadow IT activities occurring in a company because departments often hide such activities to ensure the continuation of their process. 

Some common prevalence of shadow IT in a workplace includes Excel macro, cloud solutions, software, websites, hardware, and voice over internet protocol (VOIP).

Examples of shadow IT

  • USB flash drives
  • Instant messaging apps, such as Gmail, Yahoo messenger, Slack, or WhatsApp
  • Online document-sharing platforms like Dropbox, Google docs, or Skype
  • Shareable spreadsheets and macros
  • Hardware like personal phones, tablets, and laptops

Risks, Challenges, and Benefits of Shadow IT

Shadow IT has the power to damage your company's IT infrastructure and reputation beyond repair, but can also provide some benefits if managed securely.

Risks and challenges of shadow IT

When the IT department isn't aware of any application usage, they cannot ensure its security. This results in security gaps, which leaves your company at the cusp of data security issues in your critical digital assets. Some risks and challenges posed by shadow IT includes:

  • Data loss and leaks: Unauthorized attempts to applications not approved by the IT department result in leaking a chunk of data to cybercriminals.
  • Compliance issues: Data loss and leaks are serious compliance issues that may trigger the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), resulting in hefty fines for non-compliance.
  • Unpatched bugs: One of the primary duties of the IT team is to follow the newly released software patches to keep the software up-to-date. But when shadow IT occurs, these security patches don't get implemented, exposing your data to cybercriminals and making the network defenseless against potential threats.
  • Inefficiencies: A data breach or leak can disrupt the entire workflow, resulting in inefficiencies in your company.
  • Barrier to enhancement: Shadow IT can put a full stop to adopting new technology. 

Benefits of shadow IT

Here's what the brighter side of shadow IT looks like:

  • Increases productivity: Employees are more productive when they use tools they like and are familiar with.
  • Empowers employees: When employees choose software, they're more vested in achieving the company's goals because they take greater responsibility for their work and success.
  • Lowers technology cost: Shadow IT can help your company save a few bucks because when you use your applications and bring your own devices, it removes the expense of providing apps and devices to your employees.

Security Gaps in Shadow IT are a Boon for Malicious Hackers

Hacked Laptop. Cyber Security Virus Attack And BreachThe presence of unauthorized and unapproved software and devices within your company's network exposes you to cyber threats and criminals. These instances are a headache for the IT and the cybersecurity department. 

Such devices and software are the breeding grounds for hackers because they can easily hijack a vulnerable device connected to a corporate network. Based on this data, companies can exfiltrate or launch a DDoS attack.

For malicious hackers, shadow IT creates unsecured and unmonitored pockets of data-sharing and reporting within a company. This puts proprietary data and key assets at risk, giving hackers the information they require to steal critical information. 

Shadow IT Security Best Practices

Here are several steps you can take to securely manage shadow IT in your company:

Monitor your network

Whether employees use company-authorized or personal computers, devices and applications, knowing where they store company information and data is critical for managing shadow IT.

Only when you regularly monitor your network for unauthorized and new devices can you successfully minimize instances of shadow IT. 

Today, most companies make it a part of their vulnerability scanning as it helps them decode information about the location of new devices. 

Another great way to monitor your network is regularly checking the data logs of your current firewall and proxies to determine services that are using the network outside of your IT purview.

Prioritize risk

Whatever you might do, shadow IT is inevitable in your company. So, you need to understand that not all software used outside IT control is bad.

It's only about finding the ones that pose the highest risk. Prevent access to these services by blocking them using your existing infrastructure.

In addition, after identifying these services, request employees to cease using these high-risk services.

Establish guidelines around BYOD

Ask your IT department to share a list of acceptable and approved devices, software, and applications beyond those your company authorizes.

Creating a bring-your-own-device or BYOD policy allows employees to bring in their own devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets. A BYOD policy makes it easier for employees to know what areas you support and what areas you expect them to tread carefully to avoid business risks.

Offer alternatives

When you don't provide a secure solution for accessing data remotely, employees somehow find a way to access the information using applications and software that puts your company at great risk. 

Therefore, it is necessary to provide employees with access to information and data in a controlled and secure manner anytime and anywhere. This reduces the risk of employees using third-party applications. 

So, ensure you give your employees a mobile alternative that works with your existing mobile platforms or provide extra security to protect data on a stolen or lost device.

Restrict access to third-party apps

Restricting access to document sharing and instant messaging apps is another excellent way to minimize the impact of shadow IT and ensure cybersecurity.

Blocking these applications is not practical because it makes your work environment less user-friendly.

Instead, identify employees who want to use these applications and help them understand the risk of using this software. Alternatively, suggest a low-risk alternative that offers similar functionality to your employees.

Train employees to be cyber aware

Focus on regular cyber awareness training programs to tell employees the risk of using unauthorized software and applications in the workplace.

You must remember that cybersecurity is a team effort, and shadow IT is no different.

Create an audit trail

When creating a compliance policy, ensure you document all activities related to managing your shadow IT. While creating an audit trail, focus on documenting the following aspects:

  • Network scanning
  • Access certifications
  • Employee scores on training modules
  • Vulnerability monitoring

Don’t Let Shadow IT Spoil Your Data Security

Cyber security systems for business networkShadow IT is the employee "do-it-yourself" practice of using a device to accomplish a business goal or resolve IT-related issues. It is one of the biggest cybersecurity threats looming over your company’s critical data.

Employees may resort to shadow IT activities either accidentally or intentionally. Whether it’s accidental or intentionally, it’s your company that suffers its dire consequences.

As a result, it is critically important to manage shadow IT securely. Otherwise, your company will increase the risk of collateral damage. 

Your company may embrace shadow IT by creating a culture of security and awareness. By implementing rules and best practices related to shadow IT, it becomes less cumbersome for the IT department to chase employees responsible for it.

By implementing the shadow IT best practices discussed in this article, your company can increase productivity while prioritizing data security.

Keep Learning 

  • Prepare your business for cyberattacks to make sure employees stay safe online.
  • Improve your email security posture by following best practices to protect against attacks and breaches.
  • Keeping the integrity of your email safe requires securing the cloud with spam filtering and enterprise-grade anti-spam services.
  • Learn more about the consequences of modern phishing attacks in our Phishing eBook.

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