How To Minimize the Impacts of Shadow IT on Your Business

Detecting shadow IT is only one part of the equation. Companies should work to address why shadow IT is so popular with its users.

Sam Bocetta

July 14, 2022

5 Min Read
How To Minimize the Impacts of Shadow IT on Your Business
(Source: Pixabay)

Self-starting and initiative are desirable traits in a worker. Every employee should look for and find ways to increase efficiency while making their jobs a little easier. However, as Albert Camus once posited: “…goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightenment.”

There are extreme negatives to granting your non-IT staff untethered autonomy and full access to IT resources. While workers’ intentions may be well-meaning, installing unauthorized software or using unverified devices can lead to unwieldy shadow IT.

Organizations must continue to defend themselves from insider threats. The following guide will explore how you can protect your business by minimizing the impacts of shadow IT. 

Understanding shadow IT       

Shadow IT refers to the often-unauthorized use of additional IT resources such as software, hardware, or (more recently) cloud services and tools. These additional IT resources are typically installed by non-IT or non-security staff, making them so risky.

Shadow IT originally arose from pure necessity and need. Typically, most corporate structures consist of five departments. However, many smaller organizations and start-ups are forced to create autonomous or hybrid departments. For instance, companies that cannot afford a dedicated human-resources department overcome this limitation by delegating workforce management among their other departments and staff.

This paradigm is even more achievable today thanks to the increasing sophistication and accessibility of modern cloud platforms and tools. Organizations now have access to many AI-driven employee provisioning and workforce management software.

Shadow IT is common among companies with hybrid divisions or small IT departments. However, incidents of shadow IT occur frequently in large organizations with unsupervised staff too. 

Why is shadow IT a problem?

As technological innovation in the workplace becomes essential for “keeping up with the bottom line,” tech-savvy employees begin searching for solutions to overcome specific business problems.

It also allows them to keep up with the evolving environments of the modern office, pushing them to search for modern tech tools. After all, the internet has always been replete with cheap software and network solutions, from affordable domain and hosting solutions to flexibly priced enterprise applications.  

However, the desire for more robust business intelligence (BI) led to the birth of a multitude of Statistical Analysis System (SAS) software and hardware solutions.

The developers and vendors of some of these tools soon realized that they could generate additional revenue by selling their customers’ data. So while the market is filled with a myriad of software options for businesses, not all of them are safe. Even with data protection regulations such as the GDPR, software vendors can still collect and sell your data as long as they have your consent through their terms and conditions.

Having your data sold is not the only risk of shadow IT. Unvetted software may also carry vulnerabilities and malware.

A lot of free software (aka freeware) generates money from advertising other (paid) software and services. They usually promote this software using pop-ups or wizard screens that appear during the installation process.

These applications prey on people’s reluctance to read large chunks of jargon-heavy text. This fact was further highlighted by a 2017 Deloitte survey that found that only 9% of users read the terms of service before accepting them.

This makes it easy for employees to obliviously download software that may place your company at risk. While you are not required to install SaaS tools, they aren’t completely safe from infiltration either. Log-in screens and forms may be used for modern phishing exploits.

Addressing shadow IT in your business

While shadow IT can be a thorn in the side of IT and security teams worldwide, it does have a few advantages. Consequently, these advantages are why shadow IT still prevails and why many businesses leave it unchecked. So, what are the pros and cons of Shadow IT?

Pros of shadow IT

  • It can create productivity.

  • Shadow IT can allow employees to innovate and create new workflows for your organization.

  • It can help you identify weaknesses in your current IT environment.

  • Shadow IT can allow you to streamline IT software implementation processes.

  • It allows your organization to deploy apps agilely.

Cons of shadow IT

  • It can put you at risk of data leaks and security breaches.

  • It can create a rift in department relationships if companies try to enforce tight shadow IT restrictions.

  • Shadow IT may also cause compliance issues with some licensed software vendors.

Avoiding issues caused by shadow IT

Organizations looking to manage and mitigate the negative impacts of shadow IT must first perform an internal audit. Cloud security applications such as Microsoft’s Cloud App Security detect unsanctioned usage of applications and data.

But detecting shadow IT is only one part of the equation. Companies should work to address the root causes. This may include optimizing communications between departments – particularly the IT team and other departments. If one department discovers a software solution that may be beneficial, they should feel comfortable approaching the IT team.

CIOs and IT staff should develop processes that allow them to streamline software assessment and procurement. They should be able to give in-depth reasons why a particular tool suggested by a non-IT employee may be impracticable. Additionally, it is recommended that IT staff suggest a better alternative if they reject a proposed tool.

Organizations should consider training non-IT staff in cybersecurity literacy and awareness. Employees should be reminded that security takes precedence over productivity and innovation, especially in this climate.

Conclusion

Your organization's IT and network security departments can take a long time to find and license the right software for your company. With the consumerization of IT, downloading an application is much faster. This fact is what makes shadow IT so appealing to many workers. It preys on employees' quests for quickly implementable solutions.

Unfortunately, malicious parties take advantage of this fact. SAS applications have become such popular targets because they can generate large amounts of lucrative data for bad actors to sell. Thus, it is very important that all business and employee-related software is thoroughly scrutinized and businesses take a zero-trust approach to security.

About the Author(s)

Sam Bocetta

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography.

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