How to Detect Shadow IT and Hidden Risk in Your Organization

a man sits at his desk reading reports on several monitors to help detect shadow it

In today's fast-paced business environment, the ever-evolving landscape of technology empowers employees with unprecedented flexibility and agility. While this fosters innovation and productivity, it also presents a lurking challenge—Shadow IT.

This term encapsulates the use of unauthorized software, applications, or devices within an organization, posing substantial cybersecurity risks and operational hurdles. Effectively detecting and managing shadow IT is crucial for safeguarding data, ensuring compliance, and upholding robust cybersecurity practices.

In our guide titled “What’s Lurking in Your Environment? How Cyber Leaders Can Address Shadow IT & Hidden Risk” we provide you with a holistic understanding of hidden risks, and arm you with policy and strategy suggestions to protect your expanding digital footprint and infrastructure.

What’s more—we include our first-hand GRC perspective on shadow IT management. In this article, we share some insights into navigating hidden risks, a topic that keeps many security teams on their toes every single day.

Understanding Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the use of unauthorized tools, software, or devices by employees without explicit approval from the IT department. It encompasses a spectrum, ranging from seemingly innocuous applications to critical systems, often bypassing organizational protocols and security measures.

For example:

Consider scenarios where employees resort to personal cloud storage solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive for work-related file sharing instead of approved corporate platforms. Similarly, the use of messaging apps like WhatsApp or Slack for sensitive communications without IT oversight falls under the umbrella of Shadow IT.

The Risks and Implications

The proliferation of Shadow IT widens the attack surface, exposing organizations to vulnerabilities, data breaches, and compliance issues. Unsanctioned tools might lack robust security features, leading to potential data leaks or malware intrusions.

Operationally, disparate systems hinder collaboration and integration, resulting in inefficiencies. Furthermore, non-compliance with industry regulations or internal policies might lead to legal repercussions.
 

How to Detect Shadow IT (Strategies and Tools)

Implementing robust monitoring systems stands as a key strategy. Utilizing network monitoring tools allows tracking of unusual data patterns or irregularities, providing indicators of unapproved application or service usage.

Regular audits focusing on software and application usage can uncover instances of shadow IT. Analyzing network traffic and conducting endpoint assessments enable organizations to pinpoint unauthorized tools being used.

Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) solutions offer visibility into cloud usage, empowering IT teams to monitor and manage cloud services accessed by employees. These tools provide insights into the use of unsanctioned cloud applications.

Empowering employees with knowledge about approved tools and the risks associated with unauthorized software through regular training sessions encourages compliance and responsible technology usage.

Practical Steps for Mitigation

Crafting comprehensive policies outlining approved software, devices, and usage guidelines is essential. Communicating these policies across the organization and updating them regularly to reflect evolving technologies is crucial.

Engaging different departments aids in understanding their technological needs and challenges. Collaborative work helps in identifying suitable solutions that meet both security requirements and operational efficiency.

Investing in specialized tools designed to identify and manage instances of shadow IT is crucial. These tools offer visibility into network activities, facilitating prompt action against unauthorized usage.

Understanding, detecting, and managing shadow IT is an ongoing commitment towards a secure and agile technological ecosystem. Effectively managing shadow IT is about balancing flexibility and security, leveraging proactive approaches, technology, and fostering a culture of awareness within the organization.

By deploying robust monitoring tools, conducting regular audits, and fostering a culture of transparency and education, businesses can mitigate the risks associated with shadow IT. Collaboration between IT and different business units coupled with clear policies is pivotal in combating this prevalent challenge.

Remember, the objective isn't merely eliminating shadow IT but harnessing its insights to streamline operations while ensuring the organization's cybersecurity posture remains resilient.