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What is Shadow IT & Why Is It So Dangerous?

There’s a certain type of security risk that many companies don’t even realize they have. It stays in the shadows outside the knowledge of a company’s IT team or IT provider, and usually the business owner and executives are completely unaware it exists.

But this hidden danger causes approximately 1/3 of all data breaches and can post a serious risk to any cloud business solution strategy.

Shadow IT is a growing problem that the pandemic has only made worse. It’s called “shadow” IT because it’s hidden. Even those that are using it don’t realize how dangerous it is.

What is shadow IT?

It’s when employees begin using technology systems without proper approval, and it nearly always refers to cloud applications. For example, if an employee begins using a cloud storage app or task manager for their work without first getting approval, that’s considered a use of shadow IT.

Why has the pandemic made the use of shadow IT worse?

Employees being sent home to work can be cut off from normal IT support and feel they have to figure things out themselves when it comes to their workflow. Others may not have access to the apps they use at the office, so they’ll find one that can do the same thing and begin using it.

The lack of an organized app use policy is one of the reasons shadow IT has gotten out of control. 37% of IT departments say their company doesn’t have a clear policy outlining the consequences of using applications without approval.

Why Should You Be Concerned About Shadow IT?

Some business owners may think that if employees can figure out better ways to get their work done then good for them. But if you don’t have a cohesive cloud strategy in place and a handle on where your data is, it’s going to cause you problems.

Here are some of the reasons why shadow IT is so dangerous.

Non-Approved Cloud Apps May be Unsecure

In most cases, employees are not well-versed in the security of various cloud applications. They may choose one because of an ad they saw online or after doing a search like “free online CRM app.”

These applications can have serious security flaws that leave your business data at risk of being breached. Some apps may even plant spyware on a computer or mobile device, unbeknownst to the employee using the app.

Shadow IT Can Cause Data Leakage

Data leakage is when sensitive data is accidentally exposed. This can happen when an employee unknowingly gives a shadow IT app certain permissions, not realizing that sensitive data is being shared with advertisers.

Any company, customer, or contact data being used in that app or even on the same device (in the case of mobile apps) could be transmitted back to the app owner without anyone knowing it.

It’s in the Shadows, So Can’t Be Protected

Because a company doesn’t know about shadow IT being used, they can’t ensure data in that app is protected from being lost or breached.

For example, if you backup your cloud services data in a backup/recovery application as part of your business continuity strategy, shadow IT data could be left out of that system because you have no idea it’s out there.

Shadow IT Can “Break” Your Cloud Workflows

Many companies spend a lot of time and money deciding on the types of cloud apps they’re going to use for their business workflows. They integrate them so that data can be shared across apps and processes can be automated to save time and reduce errors.

But if you have applications being used outside that plan, you can end up with a disjointed cloud workflow that’s now broken because data is being created and stored outside your strategy.

How to Control Shadow IT

It’s important to get shadow IT use under control and put policies in place that discourage it. To begin, you need to understand why employees are using unapproved applications in the first place so you can address those reasons.

Employees may use shadow IT because:

  • They don’t know any better because there is no app use plan at their company
  • There is no approved app for something they need to do
  • They’re working at home and don’t have access to a company cloud app
  • They find the approved app difficult to use
  • They’re trying to improve their productivity
  • They see something cool online and just want to try it out

Here are some of the ways you can address those issues and stop the use of Shadow IT at your business:

  • Put an app use policy in place that prohibits the use of unapproved apps
  • Survey your employees regularly on the apps they use, so you can weed out ones that they don’t like
  • Give employees a way to suggest applications for approval
  • Ask employees if there any gaps in their workflow that an app could fill
  • Use a cloud access security broker (like Microsoft Cloud App Security) to detect the use of shadow IT

Get Help Ensuring Your Cloud Strategy is Secure & Productive

Need help addressing shadow IT and putting a sound cloud strategy in place? Unbound Digital can help ensure your cloud workflows are secure and productive.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Call 423-335-2461 or reach us online.

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