What Is Shadow IT and How Can You Manage Security Threats?

Advancements in Information Technology (IT) have created more productive workplaces. And with the likes of cloud computing, access to digital work tools has never been easier.

Employees can access software that makes them more efficient in their jobs. Efficient employees make efficient organizations, right? But there are cybersecurity implications too.

So what does shadow IT mean? What are the pros and cons of it? And how can you effectively manage the threat it might pose to your company?

What Is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is the use of devices, tools, systems, apps, software, and other tech services, especially by employees, without the approval of the IT department.

The majority of employees who use shadow IT mean no harm but want to enhance their efficiency. However, their motive is questionable because the IT department isn't aware of what they are doing.

Is Shadow IT Good or Bad?

There is an argument over the usage of shadow IT in the workplace. While some people argue that it's good, others argue otherwise.

In fairness, shadow IT mostly comes as a consequence of good intentions. An organization benefits when its employees adopt tools to be efficient in their jobs.

On the other hand, the tools used could expose your data in the cloud to cyber threats.

Since such tools aren’t visible to the IT department, attacks on them might not be detected early enough, causing damage to the organization.

Why Shadow IT Is Common in the Workplace

Regardless of the criticism against shadow IT, it’s prevalent in many organizations.

Technological innovations make it difficult to ignore shadow IT. Employees are expected to perform excellently in the growing business landscape so, naturally, they turn to other software to enhance their performances.

The process of vetting and approving tools in some organizations is long and tedious. Employees would rather use the tools that they need in secret rather than go through the tiring process.

What Are the Advantages of Shadow IT?

Deploying shadow IT to work environments can be beneficial to an organization in various ways. If your employees soar in their duties, your business soars too.

Here's how shadow IT can be beneficial to your company.

1. Increase Employee Efficiency

The tools you provide to your employees are meant to enhance their work. It gets even better when employees handpick these tools themselves.

Your employees may not be comfortable with what you provide for them but they have to use them anyway. They may end up struggling with using those tools and that's counterproductive. The reverse is the case when they work with the tools they selected themselves. Since they are familiar with them, their productivity should be at an all-time high.

2. Reduce IT Department Workload

A typical IT department is very busy. In a modern workplace that operates on cloud computing, work systems have to be functional and it’s the responsibility of the IT department to keep them up and running. Having the IT team search for and approve every workflow tool is additional work to their already tight workload.

When employees search for and use some tools to enhance their work, they are reducing the workload of the IT team especially when they're effective and have no negative effects.

3. Drive Innovation

Waiting on the IT department to provide every technology used for work could slow down performance. Some existing tools on the ground may be outdated and the IT team could be taking too long to replace them.

Employees may be privy to tools that can enhance their jobs. When they take the initiative to implement those tools in their duties, they’ll drive innovation in the organization, bringing about growth and development—a win for the organization.

What Are the Disadvantages of Shadow IT?

Bypassing the IT department is unethical. When employees do that, they could expose your organization to several risks and cyberattacks. As a result of this, shadow IT can be detrimental to your business in several ways.

1. Non-Compliance

Organizations are guided by laws and regulations to maintain order in their industries. These regulations extend to the use of systems and the management of data.

The systems that your business uses can either make or mar your adherence to the standards that you are required to uphold. The use of unauthorized tools by your employees could put your business on the wrong side of the law and you could be sanctioned for violation

2. Lack of Visibility and Control

The IT department is meant to keep an eye on everything used in an organization. They are deprived of the opportunity to execute this duty effectively by adopting a proactive security strategy when some systems are hidden away from them due to shadow IT.

A lack of visibility makes the IT team unable to detect cybersecurity threats.

3. Data Leaks

A competent IT team can determine the security implications of technology. Some software might be effective but have complex security requirements. Employees using these systems may lack the knowledge to configure them effectively, thereby exposing your data.

Systems in shadow IT may require regular updates and maintenance to function properly. Employees may not have the expertise or time to do these, and so expose company systems to breaches.

How to Manage Shadow IT Risks

Completely eradicating shadow IT in your organization could be a tall order. To be on the safe side, you should learn how to manage it as your employees could be indulging in it behind your back.

You can address the issue and find common ground with the following methods.

1. Educate Your Employees

Employees are more likely to not use shadow IT when they are aware of the reasons why it's bad. Some of them might not even be aware of the dangers since they are using the tools to enhance their jobs. Rather than coming down heavily on them, you should educate them on the dangers to your organization.

Cultivate a healthy cybersecurity culture across your organization so that everyone will understand the need to uphold healthy cybersecurity practices at all times even when no one is watching.

2. Empower Your Employees With the Tools They Need

Instead of imposing tools on your employees, establish open communication with them about the tools that they need to be efficient at their jobs and make provisions.

When there is open communication, employees will be happy to inform you about anything that can enhance their jobs instead of using them without your knowledge.

3. Simplify the Vetting and Approval Processes

Having won the trust of your employees to communicate their IT needs to you, create a structure to implement the process.

Streamline the vetting process so that the IT department won’t take forever to approve recommended tools. Otherwise, your employees will revert to their old ways of using the systems behind your back.

4. Prioritize Your Assets

Cyberattackers don’t waste their time on assets that are of no value to them. They target the most valuable.

Manage your resources effectively by prioritizing your most valuable digital assets. Don’t overwhelm yourself by focusing on shadow IT tools that are harmless, especially those that aren’t directly connected to the internet, when you are supposed to be focusing on your biggest assets.

5. Use Advanced Tools to Manage Your Shadow IT Infrastructure

Shadow IT poses a threat when the tools are undetected. Once you can detect the tools and keep them under watch, you have little to worry about. You can keep an eye on your infrastructure by using advanced cybersecurity tools to monitor your systems.

Turn Shadow IT to Your Advantage

As long as there are employees in an organization, there will be shadow IT. And that’s because employees would naturally seek ways to make their jobs easier especially when they have no malicious intention for doing so.

If you can make them bring those tools through the front door instead, you can enjoy the benefits of shadow IT without actually having it in the shadows

Author: Chris Odogwu

Source: Chris Odogwu.” What Is Shadow IT and How Can You Manage Security Threats?”. Retrieved From https://www.makeuseof.com/what-is-shadow-it/

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