Responding to the Rise of Shadow IT

Remote work isn’t new, but it exploded in popularity and application during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some companies decided to stick to the remote model while others have pushed for a return to the office. The rise of remote work has created a new cybersecurity challenge for companies – shadow IT.

What is shadow IT, and how should companies respond to reduce cybersecurity risks?

What Is Shadow IT?
Understanding the risks it presents starts with understanding what shadow IT is. Industry experts define shadow IT as using any information technology intended for work – including hardware, software, applications, and more – without the approval of your company’s IT department.

It’s become a growing problem, especially for remote employees who aren’t happy with the hardware or software provided by their employer. One study from 2012 found that upwards of 35% of employees felt the need to work around their employer’s IT setup to complete their tasks.

On the positive side, shadow IT can boost employee productivity and efficiency. The tools they’re using might not be strictly approved, but they often end up being the best tools for the job. Unfortunately, because these devices and programs exist outside the company’s IT system, they also create a cybersecurity risk.

Shadow IT Cybersecurity Risks
Each device that connects to a network creates another potential breach point. This risk increases for devices that may not have the correct hardware or software necessary to prevent a bad actor from using them as a stepping stone into the company’s systems.

Shadow IT further increases that risk because it creates a lack of visibility. Standard IT services are designed to be monitored – but that’s not always possible with shadow services.

Utilizing unapproved hardware and software can increase the risk of non-compliance. That lack of visibility mentioned above means it’s easier for employees to hide their actions when bending the rules.

Shadow IT can also increase the risk of data leaks, making it easier for hackers to make their way into the network.

Reducing Shadow IT Cyber Risks
Shadow IT is problematic, but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. How can business owners mitigate the risks created by shadow IT?

Budget for Better Hardware
One of the biggest reasons people rely on shadow IT is their displeasure with their current hardware or software. Companies planning to support remote work in the future need to budget for better hardware and ensure team members have everything they need to get the job done without straying outside the IT department’s recommendations.

Build a Digital Inventory
Hardware isn’t the only thing you need to invest in. Create a digital inventory of all the programs team members need to complete their tasks. Try to include some options outside the primary list that are still acceptable to the IT department to make flexibility easier.

Adopt Cloud Services
Cloud services, such as cloud desktops, give you complete control over an employee’s workstation. All they need from home is a secure internet connection and a computer or laptop capable of accessing the cloud desktop. Cloud desktops can reduce or eliminate the problem of shadow IT.

Keep Careful Track of all Devices Accessing Your Network
Transparency is key. Look into a software as a service (SaaS) application that can help you track network traffic. In addition to making it easier to identify breaches, it can help IT teams identify instances of shadow IT that employees haven’t reported.

Develop New IT Policies
It’s not always possible to prevent shadow IT, but if it starts putting your network at risk, implementing new policies or protocols regarding the hardware or software that remote teams are allowed to use will become necessary.

Your SaaS application, mentioned above, will come in handy here. It isn’t foolproof but can reduce the risk of a breach or data loss. Also, consider regular penetration testing to stay ahead of potential gaps in your defenses.

Listen to Your Team
Shadow IT manifested because team members didn’t have the necessary tools to complete their tasks. If you see a rise in reports of shadow IT within your network, start listening to your team. Find out what they need to accomplish their jobs and make it happen. They may even find solutions you would never have thought of or considered.

Protecting Your Network
Remote work is here to stay, which means you will need to consider the risks presented by the growth of shadow IT. It can have some benefits, but weighing the benefits with the risks and taking all the necessary steps to protect your network is essential.