Shadow IT is one of the most worrying problems for any organization, from small businesses to large enterprises. It creates additional challenges for IT departments and often puts an organization’s entire network at risk. According to Gartner, by 2020, around 30 percent of successful attacks on enterprises will be on their unsanctioned shadow IT resources.

ShadowThis article explains the main risks of shadow IT and what can be done to detect and mitigate this problem.

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Hiding in the shadows

What is shadow IT? Basically it’s any IT system, technology, or application that’s deployed and used without the approval of the corporate IT department. In some cases, personal devices including cell phones and USB devices may also be considered part of shadow IT.

The most common examples of shadow IT are popular cloud services like Dropbox and Salesforce and commonly used messengers like Viber and WhatsApp. However, what’s considered part of shadow IT mostly depends on a particular company’s corporate policy.

People turn to shadow IT for different reasons. The most common reasons for using shadow IT are:

  • Efficiency – Approved software and solutions can be (or at least seem to be) slower, less effective, and less productive than unsanctioned alternatives.
  • Compatibility – Corporate solutions may be incompatible with users’ personal devices.
  • Comfort – People tend to use software and solutions they’re used to.

Even though shadow IT often seems to be helpful to end users, it poses a serious threat to enterprises.

But why is shadow IT so dangerous? The main threat posed by unsanctioned software and applications hides in its unaccountability — you can’t effectively manage something that you don’t even know exists. As a result, both security and performance of the entire network are put at risk.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common risks of shadow IT:

  • Lack of security – Lack of visibility and control over network elements are the main cybersecurity risks of using shadow IT. They create numerous weak spots that hackers may use for compromising a system and collecting or stealing sensitive business information. Plus, since unsanctioned software and applications aren’t managed by the IT department, they usually have lots of unpatched errors and vulnerabilities.
  • Performance issues – Certain products and solutions can be incompatible with the main components of the IT infrastructure, leading to serious performance issues.
  • Data loss – An IT department can’t create backups for software they don’t know is present in the network, while shadow IT users usually don’t think (or know) that backups are necessary. As a result, there’s always a significant risk of losing important, valuable, and sensitive data.

    Throwing light upon shadow IT

    Currently, there are two common ways to deal with unapproved software and cloud applications: deploy shadow IT discovery and management solutions or turn to DevOps. Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

    Shadow IT discovery and management solutions

    IT asset inventory systems are one tool that can be used to detect shadow IT. These systems gather detailed inventory information on hardware and software running in the network. Based on this information, you can analyze how different assets are used.

    In order to ensure efficient detection of unsanctioned cloud applications, the following four features are needed:

    • Visibility – An IT asset inventory system should provide full visibility of the monitored IT environment and all IT assets present in it.
    • Automatic updates – All received data should be accurate and up-to-date so you can see what’s happening and react immediately when needed.
    • Asset categorization – Not all IT assets have the same importance and criticality, so it’s crucial to rank assets according to their importance.
    • Compatibility with the configuration management database – An IT asset inventory solution should be fully compatible with the configuration management database (CMDB) so it can perform constant information updates to the database.

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Do you even need to fight it?

There’s no denying that shadow IT is dangerous and can pose a serious threat to any company. However, that doesn’t mean there are zero benefits to using unsanctioned software in the corporate network.

What are the benefits of shadow IT? First and foremost, the mere fact that unapproved software is running on a company’s systems shows that approved solutions don’t meet the requirements of employees: they’re either inefficient or uncomfortable or both.

Secondly, there’s always a chance of shadow IT turning out to be more productive and cost-effective than already deployed solutions. The main task here is to recognize the solutions that can be more beneficial to the company and find a way to implement them effectively into the current infrastructure.