Companies heavily rely on their IT staff to stay updated on new technology, creating additional burdens on their already heavy workload. Allowing non-IT employees to manage some IT processes that affect their daily work can improve productivity and job satisfaction. That’s what shadow IT is all about.
This article explains all you need to know about shadow IT: its pros and cons, risks, best practices, and examples.
Table of Contents
What Is Shadow IT?
Shadow IT is an umbrella term for IT activities conducted without the IT department's knowledge and outside the regular IT infrastructure. Employees do their own IT tasks numerous times, whether diagnosing problems, setting up their security settings, or using their applications on or off the cloud.
Shadow IT comes with certain advantages, such as saving time and money while providing greater flexibility to the firm. To gain the benefits of shadow information technology systems for your processes, you must implement strict controls to ensure adequate network security and the overall efficacy of the company’s IT.
It can also pose significant security risks to an organization since the IT department may not be aware of the extent of the technology being used, making it difficult to manage and secure. Additionally, it may be in violation of company policies or regulatory compliance requirements, putting the organization at risk of legal and financial consequences.
How to Develop an IT Shadow Policy in 3 Steps
While shadow IT can offer some benefits, it can also cause severe risks to an organization's security and compliance. To avoid those risks, it's essential to develop a structured approach that allows for using technology to balance risk with productivity.
Step #1: Agree on Levels of Risk
The first phase in developing a functioning shadow IT policy is establishing how tight the organization's approach to shadow IT will be. Everyone's level of comfort with risks associated with shadow IT will vary. Whatever a corporation decides, the policy must finally be universally accepted.
To do this, IT and business stakeholders should discuss risks and advantages for their company. It is vital to accommodate the needs of multiple departments while developing a well-adopted policy.
Step #2: Create an IT Procurement Process
Creating the process for proposing and accepting shadow IT systems or initiatives is also a collaborative effort. If shadow IT is allowed, one step in the process may be to encourage users to develop a case for why the new technology is critical for employees to thrive in their roles and why existing IT tasks do not meet their needs.
Once a new technology is approved, the IT department can work on determining the appropriate levels of access, service level agreements, and maintenance requirements.
Step #3: Educate Users
You must show your employees that you understand their motives before implementing any shadow IT policy. Opening the lines of communication between IT and the employees allows both parties to learn from one another.
Employees may be unaware of how much risk they introduce with shadow IT. When implementing the shadow IT policy, the IT department can explain why particular technologies may be difficult to integrate with existing enterprise systems. Giving the workforce concrete examples of what is and is not acceptable is critical to policy implementation.
Five Tips on How To Manage Shadow IT
- Identify Shadow IT
- Assess Risks
- Educate Employees About Data Breaches and Other Shadow IT Risks
- Provide Safe Alternatives
- Monitor and Enforce the Use of IT Systems
There are five steps that you can take to minimize security and compliance risks and facilitate the use of IT resources for your employees. Let's take a deeper look at each of them:
1. Identify Shadow IT
The first step in managing shadow IT is to identify it. You can use automatic checks, find risks and see where security controls may be weak, like misconfigured systems or unpatched software. Use specialized tools and methods to find hidden assets and cloud instances on your network during regular security checks. Make sure they follow your company's security rules.
2. Assess Risks
Once identified, the next step is determining the risks each shadow IT system or service poses to the company. This means looking at what would happen if the system or service stopped working or was hacked. The risk assessment should also consider any laws or rules the organization needs to follow, to ensure that using the system or service doesn't break any of them and stay safe and legal.
3. Educate Employees About Data Breaches and Other Shadow IT Risks
Employees often need to be more aware of the risks and policies surrounding using IT systems and services under shadow IT. Therefore, it is essential to educate employees about the risks and potential dangers of unauthorized IT usage. This education should include clear guidelines and policies on using IT systems and services within the organization.
4. Provide Safe Alternatives
One of the main reasons employees use shadow IT is that they need access to IT technologies that would help them perform their tasks more effectively and productively. The solution is simple - to reduce the need for shadow IT, you should provide alternatives that meet employee needs and are supervised by the IT department.
5. Monitor and Enforce the Use of IT Systems
Monitoring the organization's use of IT services and systems and enforcing IT usage standards are the final steps in managing shadow IT. Include frequent audits and reviews of access restrictions to ensure the business is adhering to legal and compliance obligations.
Top Five Pros and Cons of Shadow IT
It's important to weigh the pros and cons of shadow IT in your workplace is important. Despite some significant challenges that organizations must address, shadow IT also offers certain advantages for those willing to adopt a more flexible approach.
Here are the top five pros of shadow IT:
- Increased productivity. Employees are looking for ways to facilitate and improve teamwork and collaboration; shadow IT allows them to do so. Shadow IT enables tools and technologies that suit employees' needs, making their work easier and more productive. Employees can complete work more quickly and effectively using these tools under shadow IT.
- Improved innovation adoption. Shadow IT allows experimenting with new technologies, leading to innovative solutions and ideas from which the entire business can benefit. When the IT sector monitors new technology implementation, they usually strictly follow policies and guidelines, which ensures organization protection but slows down innovation.
- More flexibility. Shadow IT allows employees to access their work tasks from anywhere without limitations in using technologies and tools. Employees can work remotely in the surrounding that makes them most productive.
- Competitive advantage. By enabling employees to be more productive, innovative and flexible, shadow IT can provide a competitive advantage compared to competitors who do not allow the use of shadow IT.
- Cost-effectiveness. Shadow IT is often cost-effective - it can be significantly cheaper than traditional IT solutions. Employees can use their favorite free or affordable tools instead of expensive professional solutions that a business organization suggests.
The top five cons of shadow IT:
- Security risks. Employees often use technology vulnerable to cyber-attacks, unauthorized software or cloud services that do not meet the organization's security standards. Therefore, shadow IT can cause serious security troubles to an organization.
- Compliance risk. Shadow IT can also cause compliance risks, as employees may use tools and technologies that are not in compliance with legal or regulatory requirements.
- Integration challenges. Shadow IT can be challenging to integrate with existing IT infrastructure, which can lead to data silos and other problems that can negatively impact productivity and efficiency.
- Sensitive data loss. Employees may use tools and technologies that are not adequately backed up or secured - for example accessing sensitive data from employees' personal devices - which can result in sensitive data loss in the case of a security breach or other incident.
- Lack of support. Since shadow IT usually isn't supported by the company's IT department, it can lead to technical issues and other problems that may impact employee productivity.
Six Major Shadow IT Security Risks
Despite many benefits, shadow IT has some obvious risks that can damage the business.
- Loss of Data and Inconsistency
- Compliance Issues
- Fewer Security Measures and Frequent Downtime
- File sharing
- Software integrations
- Enterprise application deployments
1. Loss of Data and Inconsistency
You may give up some control over managing your sensitive data if you use shadow IT. This is true for both cloud-based and physically located programs and data. Users may make critical errors when deciding how to manage and protect company data. Data flow is closely monitored when an IT team manages the entire cloud security.
Individual employees may be accountable for reporting data on crucial issues such as IT security or productivity in the case of shadow IT. This might result in inconsistencies, making it harder to track and respond to sensitive data that would otherwise be readily available and routinely reported if an IT team was in charge.
2. Compliance Issues
Unexpected and abrupt developments frequently happen in the compliance landscape. Compliance issues may go neglected because shadow IT gives control to individual employees who are often busy with other tasks or simply unaware of them.
New policies governing how to conform to companywide standards and government officials' instructions can easily escape the notice of non-IT personnel preoccupied with other tasks.
3. Fewer Security Measures and Frequent Downtime
If something goes wrong with shadow IT processes, the amount of downtime can be quite substantial, depending on the severity of the situation. When an employee encounters a problem, it may take many hours for them to resolve it. A skilled IT services company with experience dealing with such situations can solve problems much faster.
Enterprise cybersecurity redundancies are common when many levels of security address a wide range of vulnerabilities. While these may appear excessive initially, they typically give better overall protection when adding a new layer.
4. File sharing
One of the significant security risks associated with shadow IT is unauthorized file sharing.
Employees may use unsecured file-sharing tools like a personal Dropbox account, Google Drive or other cloud-based applications to share sensitive information with colleagues or external parties without proper authorization or supervision.
Insecure file sharing can lead to company data breaches and other security issues that can cause severe consequences for business organizations.
5. Software integrations
Shadow IT can also create security risks when employees use unauthorized software integrations. These integrations may not meet the organization's security standards and may be vulnerable to malware attacks.
Additionally, these integrations may not be compatible with existing IT infrastructure, which can lead to data silos and other inefficiencies.
6. Enterprise application deployments
Shadow IT can create security risks when employees deploy applications made by enterprise software development services without proper authorization or supervision.
These applications might not be adequately protected, resulting in data breaches and other security problems. Applications might also not work with the current IT infrastructure, which could cause technical challenges and other concerns that reduce productivity and efficiency.
Managing these applications can be challenging since the IT staff isn’t aware of who has access to critical data and what they do with it.
Six Shadow IT Examples
- Cloud-Based Storage and File-Sharing Services
- Personal Devices
- Instant Messaging and Collaboration Tools
- Project Management Tools
- Custom-Built Applications
- Social Media
Here are some common examples of shadow IT:
1. Cloud-Based Storage and File-Sharing Services
Employees may use services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive to store and share files, even though the IT department has not approved or sanctioned these services. If the data is not properly encrypted or if the service is not compliant with company policies, the company might be at risk.
2. Personal Devices
Employees may use their personal smartphones, tablets, or laptops to access company data and applications without the knowledge or approval of the IT department. This can pose security risks if these devices are not properly secured and managed.
3. Instant Messaging and Collaboration Tools
Employees may use tools such as Slack or WhatsApp to communicate and collaborate with colleagues, even though these tools may not have been approved or supported by the IT department.
4. Project Management Tools
Employees may use tools such as Trello or Asana to manage projects and tasks. If the software is not properly licensed or if it contains malware or other security vulnerabilities, it can damage the business’s security.
5. Custom-Built Applications
Employees with programming or development skills may create custom-built applications or scripts to automate tasks or improve workflows, even though these applications may not have been reviewed by the IT department.
6. Social Media
Employees may use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to communicate with colleagues or share company information. This can pose security risks if the information is not properly protected or if it violates company policies or regulations.
What Is Shadow IT: Final Words
In today's digital world, Shadow IT has become a significant concern for many businesses.
Using unofficial technology systems and services can lead to potential security risks and compliance issues. Developing a clear Shadow IT policy is vital to minimize these risks and prevent any misuse of resources. Such policies must address the concerns of both employees and the company, ensuring that technology is being used securely and effectively.
A well-developed Shadow IT policy will offer several benefits, such as improved security, better control and efficient resource utilization. Therefore, you must strive to address Shadow IT proactively to ensure the safety and smooth functioning of their operations - and if you find it challenging, feel free to seek help from the top IT services companies.
Shadow IT FAQs
1. Why do people use shadow IT?
People choose to use shadow IT if they find that using their own personal devices or cloud-based services is more convenient and efficient than using the technology provided by their organization. For example, they may prefer to use their own smartphones or laptops, which they are already familiar with, rather than learning to use new devices provided by their employer.
Moreover, employees may feel that the technology provided by their organization is outdated or not suitable for their needs. This may lead them to seek out and use alternative technologies that better meet their requirements.
In many cases, employees view the established IT policies as overly restrictive or not aligned with their needs, leading them to circumvent these policies by using their own devices or services.
2. How does shadow IT work?
Shadow IT typically involves employees using hardware or software that is not sanctioned or approved by their organization's IT department.