“Shadow IT” is the term used for when employees use software, applications, or devices that have not been authorized by the IT department. It might be as simple and innocent as an employee copying and pasting information into an unapproved app because it’s faster and easier. Think of how many people use popular consumer messaging apps (e.g., WhatsApp), unapproved cloud storage (e.g., Google Drive), big file transfer (e.g., WeTransfer), or personal email accounts (e.g., Gmail) for work purposes.  While it may seem harmless, shadow IT poses significant risks to the organization’s security and data integrity and may create hidden dangers that can explode at any moment.

Companies across many industries have faced data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage due to unauthorized IT activities. According to an IBM report, nearly 7 in 10 organizations were compromised by Shadow IT from 2021 to 2022. 

The increased prevalence of remote work, with its flexibility and freedom for employees, has fueled a surge in Shadow IT. Employees working from home often use their own personal computers and, even more often, rely on their own devices and solutions that easily slip under the radar of IT. The convenience of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and managed devices further blurs the lines between work and personal use, making it all too easy for the use of unauthorized applications and website services to creep into daily operations.

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This blog takes a closer look at Shadow IT, its risks, the reality, and some practical guidelines on how you can minimize exposure. 

The Risks of Shadow IT

Employees need productivity tools and services to fuel their jobs. These include project management, format converters, file summarization, translation services, file scanning, storage, and many more. This wide range of available and accessible tools makes it hard for IT to keep up with the pace of employees, who are constantly finding new ones to implement. This is what brings forth Shadow IT.

The risks and security vulnerabilities from Shadow IT are magnified when these unauthorized applications and websites lack essential protection. Security vulnerabilities can leave computers open to hackers and malicious software and data loss can leave your company exposed to regulatory non-compliance. What seemed like a quick fix to an employee can easily morph into a costly nightmare for the company—along with legal implications and hefty regulatory fines. In other cases, the applications and websites might be intentionally malicious, injecting malware or facilitating breaches in the guise of productivity services.

Real-World Examples and the Reasons Behind the Rise of Shadow IT in Remote Work

In August 2022, login credentials for Microsoft’s GitHub infrastructure were unintentionally exposed by several employees. This incident had the potential to give attackers access to Azure servers and other internal systems, creating significant security risks. Fortunately, the breach was discovered by a cybersecurity firm before any damage could occur. This example underscores the importance of stringent security practices and regular audits of exposed credentials. (Source: Code42)

In another incident, an employee at Cash App Investing retained access to sensitive data even after being fired because his access permissions were not removed properly. This oversight led to a breach affecting the data of 8.2 million customers. The breach not only prompted a class-action lawsuit but also highlighted the critical need for proper termination protocols and continuous monitoring of user activity. (Source: Ekran System

Why are savvy companies still being exposed to threats from shadow IT? 

In dynamic work environments, the need for unauthorized tools can prompt employees to seek third-party applications that promise immediate results. Remote workers may require software for recording meetings, file extraction, or task management, leading them to solutions not vetted by IT. When existing tools like Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) slow things down, employees may look for more efficient alternatives, often turning to Shadow IT. And there is always the temptation from the internet’s vast array of easily accessible, user-friendly third-party solutions that will encourage employees to bypass official channels.

A lack of awareness about security protocols, often due to inadequate IT training or communication, can also leave employees unaware of the potential consequences of using unauthorized tools. This ignorance can lead to the widespread use of convenient but risky applications. Feelings of disconnect among remote workers exacerbate the issue, and they may turn to unsanctioned communication tools like WhatsApp, Zoom, or Telegram to feel more connected and productive. To address this, you’ll need to foster a sense of inclusion among remote employees and set up better IT resources that will anticipate and meet their needs—while maintaining security standards.

Strategies to Prevent Shadow IT

Although Shadow IT is becoming ubiquitous, here are some strategies and guidelines to mitigate the risk and minimize exposure.

Enhanced IT Support and Resources

Education and Awareness Training

Demarcate Work and Personal Activities

Implement a Secure Enclave

Securing the Future

Addressing Shadow IT is crucial for maintaining security and compliance in remote work settings. This blog covered vital strategies like enhancing IT support, providing thorough training, clearly separating work and personal activities, and deploying a Secure Enclave. 

Think of a Secure Enclave as a digital fortress for remote employees, offering a safe space where sensitive data and applications can operate securely. This technology not only prevents unauthorized access but also ensures compliance with regulatory standards for a robust defense against Shadow IT. 

Explore the capabilities of the Secure Enclave to discover how this powerful technology can protect your data while helping your remote employees work more securely and efficiently. 

Heather Howland

Heather Howland

SVP Marketing

Responsible for championing the Venn brand, building awareness, and accelerating growth. With 20+ years of marketing experience and various marketing leadership roles, I'm passionate about bringing new technologies to market.