shadow IT happens when employees use external platforms, devices, applications, technologies, solutions, services and tools for work-related purposes without their IT department's support, knowledge or approval.
The practice has become rampant, and it won’t take you long before pinpointing a shadow IT example in your company.
With the COVID-19 pandemic came remote working, and the practice of shadow IT skyrocketed. Most homes became offices, and employees were required to get things done without access to corporate services from their IT departments. The line separating personal and corporate life also became thin, and many began using work laptops to do things outside of work.
Why Does It Happen?
Text messaging services, social media, file sharing, SaaS tools and cloud services have become a part of our everyday lives. Employees are used to picking up, discarding, and tweaking technology in a search for more ease, more effectiveness and more convenience.
As a result, workplace IT roadblocks are intensely frustrating, especially for younger, digitally-native employees who have little patience for inefficient legacy systems. Every company, therefore, must provide the right tools and IT Service Management to meet the expectations and demands of employees. If they don’t, and the employees don’t fully understand the importance of sticking with approved tech, the company will soon find itself facing a shadow IT problem.
What might it look like? Here are some examples.
Shadow IT Examples
Employees use cloud storage or download productivity applications to help them in their daily lives. This activity could jeopardize your organization despite the employee’s honorable intentions. Shadow IT takes many forms.
File Sharing and Communication
File sharing can make a company vulnerable because it makes data exfiltration a reality. Data can be leaked, sold or destroyed.
Typically, the IT department in any organization manages the company’s applications and networks. But what about Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive? They take control away from your IT department. When you overhear someone say, “Upload the file to my personal Dropbox account,” you’re hearing shadow IT at work.
Task management tools, such as ClickUp and Trello, have become common as they help organize workflows. However, they can expose vital organizational information outside your organization’s security protocols.
To protect your company, develop in-house messaging/file sharing applications that can be used among employees in different departments.
Third-Party Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
There are numerous SaaS platforms, each promising one thing: making work easier. Some are trustworthy, while others pose a security threat. Employees can be tempted to use these SaaS platforms to make their work lives easier.
To protect your company, always ensure the IT department vets SaaS applications used in your company.
However, make sure employees needs are met: Communicate with them to find out where the gaps are, and what your IT team can do to meet them, so security doesn’t come at the cost of productivity and employee satisfaction.
Another shadow IT example is BYOD. This means your employees bring their tablets, computers or smartphones to work, and they’re allowed to connect to the company’s internal network. There, these devices can engage with data and business systems outside the monitoring or control of the IT department.
One malicious file opened by a device can be catastrophic to a company.
You can ensure that all employees use only company devices to conduct business to enhance security. That means no one should connect their private/personal devices to the company’s network.
How Does Shadow IT Impact a Business?
If left unmanaged, shadow IT can be damaging to any business. Here’s how it can impact an organization.
When an employee uses an unapproved program within a company’s network, there’s always the risk of losing an organization’s data. Some of these shadow IT programs offer no support or data recovery tools. That means any lost data can’t be restored, ever.
Lack of Security
Shadow IT creates security holes within a company, making you lose control, transparency and visibility. This puts delicate company information at risk.
Using multiple infrastructures to store data is inefficient. It becomes difficult for a company to plan for system architecture, capacity and security. Reporting and analysis also become complicated and skewed when multiple systems are used.
Shadow IT affects companies that are subject to stringent compliance regulations. Shadow IT introduces additional audit points, forcing a company to expand its proof of compliance. On top of being vulnerable, a company can also face fines and lawsuits for noncompliance.
Ways of Reducing Shadow IT
Because shadow IT is becoming the new norm, the big question remains: What should companies do about it?
Everyone in your company must clearly differentiate between private, public and confidential data.
Classifying data will enable each employee to follow acceptable usage guidelines. For instance, data containing Social Security numbers can be allowed only in different applications monitored by management. However, they might use cloud services to store personal data, such as meeting notes.
Companies can also shut down specific application access via software audits and a corporate firewall.
Monitor Shadow IT
The IT department should be able to monitor how confidential information is shared and managed in a company. This can be done with monitoring tools that monitor running applications and the individuals operating them.
End-user education and written policies are essential in the fight against shadow IT. Technology evolves every day, with new working styles being discovered. There’s no better way of ensuring that your company handles data properly than by educating your employees.
Give a Little to Get a Lot
There are some ways in which you can compromise. For instance, you can begin by requesting that employees make suggestions concerning different organizational tools. This gives them a voice and helps the IT department improve the viability of a given tool.
You can also vet more tools each year and publish a list of the acceptable tools within the company. Employees can then choose their desired tools from the ones that meet the IT department’s security criteria.
Shadow IT isn’t going anywhere — at least, not anytime soon. Employees will continue looking for convenient and easy ways to work, regardless of what the IT department says. But, can your IT department reduce shadow IT? If not, hiring an enterprise IT help desk company can reduce shadow IT significantly.