What Is Shadow IT and How to Prevent Risks

You may not have a comic book villain lurking around your office, but there may be something just as sinister to your data security lying right out in the open. The real threat to your company records lies with your employees accessing unsanctioned applications.

From small to enterprise businesses, companies without a strong BYOD or MDM policy may find themselves open to attacks or breaches through these third party applications. Even though you’re working so hard to ensure that your server and data is secure, a simple unsecured file share could put your data in the wrong hands.

Of course, your employees aren’t the actual villains in this scenario; they’re simply looking to be as productive as possible with all the tools available to them. With the proliferance of BYOD in the workplace, employees are accessing apps familiar to them because they’re already on their personal device. But now they are also accessing workplace data on these devices.

  • According to reports by CIO Insight, 49% of business employees use non-registered apps because they’re familiar with them and they’re easy to use.
  • Of those, 38% use their chosen apps because the company sanctioned ones are non-responsive.

Staying on top of trends by employing the most responsive and intuitive apps is going to be integral to IT departments looking to protect their sensitive data. Gartner predicted that by the end of the decade, 90% of technology will be procured outside of the IT department. Your team needs to be proactive as opposed to the current atmosphere of reactiveness in their response to the needs and desires of your employees.

Why Should You Try to Prevent Shadow IT?

Gartner says that by 2025, 99% of cloud security failures will be the customer's fault. These security failures are due in part because of Shadow IT, but mostly based on a lack of understanding of how to securely function on the cloud.

Understanding the capabilities of your cloud provider's safety protocols, as well as the limitations, is integral to making sure that you’re protected.

The year 2017 became known as the “Year of the Breach” because of the sheer number of hackers that accessed and compromised company data.

Throughout the year, millions of records were breached:

  • 64 million were in retail
  • over one million were in the financial sector
  • seven million were in healthcare
  • over six million were government files

What the past taught us is that if the US Post Office and State Department were able to be hacked, meaning, we need to tighten-up our own enterprise security policies.

Many of those cloud security breaches were caused by leaks in access control that can be easily avoided by executing proper Active Directory protocols, instituting iron-clad MDM policies, and clearly defining appropriate employee behavior.

According to a Cloud Security Alliance report, approximately 15% of users’ credentials were compromised in 2019. Without proper Active Directory systems in place to store logins, or enacting a multi-factor authentication system, the number of breaches due to insecure passwords will increase.

If your business is completely blocking or banning certain procedures that affect employee productivity, they will find a way around it. Employees, IT included, are looking for the easiest and most effective ways to complete their jobs.

Downloading data to USB keys, saving on their personal devices, or through personal cloud application systems are all data leakages that your IT department needs to keep a closer eye on.

Shadow IT apps: The Need for Stronger IT Governance

An Informationweek reported that IT departments underestimate the use of Shadow IT apps running in their organization by more than 98%.

The average number of apps running in enterprise sits at around 461 while IT departments estimate that number to be at approximately 40-50. Of those, IT-operated and fully sanctioned applications are usually around only 10.

The huge disconnect between what your employees are actually using, and what you’re overseeing can be scary for businesses trying to keep track of their sensitive data.

Furthermore, Cisco reports an average of 3.3 devices per knowledge worker. Those are three devices that could all potentially have the same information access, and three devices which could be hacked if they’re not properly firewalled or limited.

  • According to 37% of survey respondents, the primary reason for Shadow IT is the inability of IT departments to keep up with testing and implementing new applications in a timely manner.

Securing data on a public or private cloud requires explicit effort from your IT department, as well as compliance from your employees. Limiting access while you test and implement is going to become more important as more tech savvy individuals start to download, pay, and manage apps on their own.

Being on top of those new applications and consistently rolling out approved apps will instill confidence in your staff, who will in turn work with your IT team to coordinate and even suggest apps for business use instead of skirting policy and using it anyway.

Simply opening up communication between your IT department to create a dialogue about the importance of securing accessing data properly ensures that your employees understand the risks, and how they can avoid them.

  • Gartner predicts that by 2023, 50% of enterprise business with more than 1,000 users will employ a cloud security broker to monitor their SaaS application use, proving that companies are realizing that their IT teams need some help.

Cloud security companies will often work as an extension of your IT team to ensure that the entire company is benefiting from the most comprehensive list of secure and approved applications for both business and personal use.

Avoid Shadow IT: BYOD & MDM Policy Creation

One of the ways to ensure compliance is through iron-clad BYOD and MDM policies, as well as by limiting downloads and access through Active Directory profiles.

The benefits to creating a policy that works for you include clearly identified employee and device roles, establishing security protocols and device boundaries, plus the ability to wipe a device that’s been lost or stolen.

Integrating your Active Directory profiles into your MDM policy ensures that access is given to the correct person and device, while restricting processes that can hinder your security measures.

Keep in mind that the reason you’ve adopted BYOD technology is to enable your staff to be more productive, to allow for a remote office, and to give them flexibility. Your employees are the important part of this equation. The time is now to gather insight into what they want and need in order to do their job and you’ll be able to keep everyone happy and secure.

Storing data on the cloud doesn’t have to be scary. What is scary is not having policies in place on how to interact and inform your staff with proper procedures to do their jobs productively.

If your employees’ application use is getting out of hand, and you fear that your IT team can’t keep up with the constant demand for the best and most productive applications, professional IT security company can help. Stop making your employees the bad guys and start informing them on security policies necessary to keep your data secure.

Qualified IT security experts can consult on best practices for creating MDM and BYOD policies that interact with Active Directory; providing access to documents your employees need, while restricting leakages and access to unsecured applications.