Shadow IT: What It Is and How It Might Be Putting Your Network At Risk

Cloud-based computing services and applications are some of the greatest innovations that the business sector has seen in recent years. With the ability to access, edit, and share data in real-time with no local point of access, cloud-based software has made the workplace more efficient.

So what does shadow IT have to do with this? Shadow IT is the access, use, and management of a company’s IT assets by its employees without the knowledge of the IT department. This can present several security risks to the company’s IT infrastructure and should be addressed or prevented with careful IT management.

Why Is Shadow IT So Prevalent?

One of the biggest issues with shadow IT is that many of its users are unaware that they’re engaging in this behavior. Since cloud-based software and other similar technologies have been so deeply integrated into our daily lives, many shadow IT users are not aware of the security risks associated with this activity.

This can make shadow IT more prevalent than most companies would like to think – but also more difficult to address. Shadow IT use isn’t usually done out of ill intent: there are legitimate reasons and tangible benefits why users resort to using it:

  1. Easier information sharing and communication

Cloud-based programs make information more accessible across multiple sites and devices, which makes real-time collaboration between employees easier. Employees can collaborate on one project or multiple ones simultaneously from different devices and locations with no prior authentication, and it’s more efficient to share crucial pieces of data on-demand than waiting for authorized channel access.

  1. Searching for a flexible work environment

Work (especially the work that involves heavy quality assurance, control, and testing) can sometimes demand different devices to finish. From mobile devices to company-issued laptops, employees now have a wide variety of devices at their disposal to get their work done. This makes attending to urgent tasks or ongoing communique a lot easier since they always have an available channel to get involved in the work.

  1. Increasing productivity outside the workplace

With more companies looking into telecommuting or work from home options, employees are working more outside the workplace. Since most setups can be taken out of the office into cafes or even the employee’s own home, an employee can be productive from wherever they are. As long as they have access to the cloud and a device to work the data with, the employee can work anywhere.

It’s important to note that these benefits are also for the business itself: more access to data and more productivity is always a good thing. However, shadow IT occurs when all of this is happening without the knowledge of the company, which can lead to a lot of potential issues.

Risks Of Shadow IT

Shadow IT is becoming more prevalent across all sectors of work: 80% of employees admit to using SaaS applications and accessing company data through devices and channels not approved by the company’s IT. This number is alarming, given that there are two significant risks to routine shadow IT:

  1. Unsecured data

The most significant risk is unsecured data. Cloud-based applications and content can only be accessed with an internet connection and a compatible device, and attackers have a multitude of options to insert themselves in either process and disrupt data.

Normally, IT-approved and cleared company devices have the requisite safeguards to repel cyberattacks, but shadow IT almost always takes place on unsecured connections and unprotected devices. Even if the device or connection has basic protections in place, cyberattacks can still target devices and users with an ever-increasing array of tools.

For companies that handle sensitive data, these unsecured connections are extremely dangerous to client or company confidentiality. Attackers can effectively piggyback on the unsecured connections to gain a foothold in your network, essentially leaving themselves a backdoor that they can open and close.

Once inside your network, they can then allow their own connections and devices for easier access. Since multi-layered security or vulnerability management software isn’t a widespread standard in companies, attackers have free rein to do what they want to your data with no fear of detection or reprisal. At best, it could take weeks before an IT team realizes that something is wrong.

  1. Theft or damage to company hardware

Another potential concern for companies that experience significant amounts of shadow IT activity is theft or damage of their equipment. Because many companies bring out their company-issued devices, they put them at a higher risk for damage. Worst-case scenario, employees may steal company hardware.

Fortunately, this can be addressed with hardware management, log sheets, and collaboration between your managers and building security – but it’s still a risk that comes with increased shadow IT usage.

These risks compound the bigger the company is, since it’s more difficult to keep track of shadow IT use the more employees there are. Employers should consider that roughly more than half of their employees already use shadow IT.

How To Address Shadow IT

So how can you address shadow IT? The crucial step is to understand why shadow IT is prevalent in your specific set up and then take steps to reduce or eliminate its use. While these solutions can vary depending on a company’s size and industry, there are general steps that you can take immediately:

  1. Checking your network privileges

A straightforward way of making sure that your employees are accessing your network through approved channels is by checking and creating network privileges. These won’t completely lock out your employees from your network, but they can limit their activities on it until they access it from allowed channels.

The severity of these restrictions can vary: some companies choose to lock out employees completely if they aren’t on-site or using a secure device and connection, while others may restrict the cloud platform to only assign a certain level of privileges to any unauthorized users. You may choose to set up these connections yourself with your in-house IT team or work with an IT provider, but it’s important to establish how much you’re willing to cut off access to in terms of security.

  1. Securing your data

You can secure your data in a lot of ways to prevent unauthorized access. You can choose to lock it with tools or protocols that need the right credentials to open, put a timer on when the data can be accessed, or create accounts that can access it with your approval. Two-step verification can work wonders with this kind of solution (either on the employees end or yours) since it adds an extra layer of security before someone accesses the network.

Another solution would be to work with the devices themselves, especially if they’re company-issued. IT teams can revise the permissions needed on each device so it connects to authenticated channels for easier access, but it also guarantees that any connections made to your data are genuine and free of any potential security risks.

  1. Add vulnerability management software

Vulnerability management software is a relatively new yet powerful tool that companies can use to make sure that any connections to their network are genuine. By scanning incoming connections for malware, viruses, and other security threats, vulnerability management software guarantees end-to-end protection.

This software has a wide umbrella of protection since it can cover most devices used in SaaS access. But it also the benefit of keeping up security without compromising the performance or accessibility of your systems. This makes it a versatile tool that can fit with almost any security setup.

Addressing shadow IT is a systemic process. There isn’t an all-encompassing software that’s capable of solving the issue since there are too many factors that lead to people using shadow IT in the first place. But as long as companies realize the likelihood of shadow IT use in their organization, it becomes easier to create counter-measures and reduce the amount of harm that they can cause.

Prevent Unauthorized Access To Your Network With Abacus Managed IT Services

Shadow IT is something all businesses need to attend to for data security, but it isn’t always a bad thing. A thorough examination of the factors that led to the shadow IT instance occurring can sometimes be an opportunity for your own IT systems. And while it’s possible for shadow IT to integrate successfully with legitimate business operations, they still carry inherent risks that should be monitored frequently.

Abacus Managed IT Services provides comprehensive security solutions that help protect valuable commercial data in any organization. We provide personalized and long-lasting solutions to repel threats and minimize the damage of successful attacks, with an emphasis on rapid response and recovery.

For more information about services, contact us today.

author avatar
The Abacus Blog Team
At Abacus IT, our blog is authored by a team of IT experts with a wealth of experience in various facets of technology. Our primary blog author is a seasoned IT professional with over 20 years of experience in the industry. With a deep understanding of cybersecurity, cloud solutions, network infrastructure, and IT management, our author provides valuable insights and actionable tips to help you optimize your IT operations.

    Share On: