Shadow IT: How Your Company’s Data Is Silently Being Leaked Online
There’s a growing trend creeping into organizations of all industries and sizes: shadow IT. This relatively new term is used to describe any unauthorized cloud applications that employees are using and downloading to perform work-related activities with company data. This can be file-sharing services like Dropbox or survey software such as Zoomerang. The list goes on and on.
Why Do People Use Shadow IT?
When employees are able to find new technologies and solutions that help them do their jobs faster and achieve better results, why wouldn’t they make use of them? Others simply have a set of software and services that they feel more comfortable working with, even if these resources are not company-provided or approved.
The accelerated growth of cloud-based consumer applications has also hastened the adoption of shadow IT. Common applications such as Slack and Dropbox are now available at the click of a button. Companies that embrace a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture — allowing employees to use their personal devices such as smartphones or laptops to perform their jobs — face a greater threat of the unauthorized use of certain applications or software.
Security Risks of Shadow IT
Three primary types of cybersecurity risks of using shadow IT include:
When unapproved software runs within the network, there’s always a risk of losing critical company data. On the one hand, there’s a fairly good chance that there are no backups of these applications and that employees who utilize them haven’t thought about creating an appropriate recovery strategy. If something happens, important data may be lost and there will be little to no chance of restoring it.
On the other hand, software that isn’t controlled by the IT department poses an elevated risk of illegitimate access to data since the administrator has no control over who’s accessing these applications. When using solutions that aren’t approved by the company, employees may be able to see or modify data to which they aren’t supposed to have access.
Unpatched Vulnerabilities and Errors
Software vendors are constantly releasing new patches to resolve vulnerabilities and address errors found in their products. Typically, it’s up to the company’s IT team to keep an eye on such updates and apply them in a timely fashion. But when it comes to shadow IT, administrators can’t keep all these products and devices up-to-date simply because they’re unaware of their existence and active use.
Regulatory compliance is critical for many organizations. There are many standards that businesses have to comply with, from PCI for financial services to HIPAA for healthcare providers. In the event of an audit, your organization could end up facing huge fines, not to mention legal fees and bad PR.
Business Risks of Shadow IT
Outside of security issues, there are also significant risks to your business involved with the use of shadow IT. These include:
Even though boosting efficiency is one of the common reasons that many people start using shadow IT in the first place, chances are high that the end result will be the total opposite. Every new technology should be checked and tested by your IT team prior to being implemented in the corporate infrastructure. This is essential to ensuring that new software functions properly and that no software or hardware conflicts exist.
In a number of cases, shadow IT solutions mirror the functionality of standard products approved by the IT department. Consequently, the company squanders money.
Low Entry Barrier
Anyone with a browser and a credit card can purchase or enroll themselves into applications that integrate with your organization’s critical applications and/or store company data such as client lists, emails, files, etc.
So, What’s The Solution?
There are a number of things your technical staff can do to address the issue of shadow IT use:
- Continuously monitor your network for new and unknown software or devices. This can — and should — be incorporated into routine vulnerability testing.
- Conduct an audit, encouraging employees to come forward about any shadow IT usage they’re engaged in, promising that there will be no repercussions for their admission.
- Once you know what applications are being used, you can set your company firewall to block applications that you don’t want employees to access with company data and devices.
- If circumstances exist where an otherwise-unapproved application or software is deemed necessary for use by certain individuals, require these employees to seek approval prior to downloading. Catalogue these sites by user with their login information for each individual. This way, if an employee leaves your organization or is terminated, you will have a record of their access. This could prevent a malicious attack on the user’s part which could ultimately harm your organization, particularly if company data is stolen and sold or given to a competitor.
- Create a system for ranking and prioritizing risk. Not all applications outside of IT’s control are equally threatening, but you need to at least be aware of what’s being used in order to determine if they’re a threat to security or a violation of data privacy laws.
- Develop a list of approved devices for BYOD use. Make sure that employees understand that only company-approved applications and software can be used in conjunction with their work on these devices.
- Create an internal app “store” for all applications that have been evaluated and authorized for use within the corporate infrastructure. If this isn’t possible, make sure your policies concerning approved device, application, and software usage are clearly denoted in a prominent place that’s accessible to all users.
If your organization could benefit from outsourced management of your IT infrastructure, 24/7/365 monitoring of your network, superior cybersecurity services, cloud computing, and onsite support as needed, give DataGroup Technologies a call at 252.329.1382! We’d be more than happy to partner with you!
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