Shadow IT is a term used to describe hardware, software, or cloud services used within your business that your IT department is not aware of. It could be a tablet brought from home that an employee is using to access work files, or it could be a personal Dropbox account your HR director set up to enable mobile access to files.
Shadow IT has some legitimate security concerns. But you needn’t stop your entire operation to ferret out any shadow IT your employees have adopted. Instead, you should use it as an opportunity to grow strategically. Start by asking a critical question: why are your employees turning to non-sanctioned IT tools in the first place?
When you use the experience to broaden your understanding of the challenges your people face, an encounter with shadow IT can actually provide some surprising and unexpected benefits.
Here are some of the ways shadow IT can impact your business.
Security risks from shadow IT
Hopefully, you already have a good cybersecurity plan in place, but you can’t protect something you don’t even know exists. Anytime unauthorized hardware or software is connected to your network, there are security risks that come along with it.
For example, hardware or software that is not properly updated with the most recent security patches could create an access point for viruses and other forms of malware to enter your network.
If you’re in an industry governed by compliance regulations and restrictions, shadow IT could lead to compliance risks or violations without even realizing it. Worse yet, it could lead to sanctions, fines, and loss of reputation.
What to do about shadow IT
The most important thing you need to do is to understand what shadow IT is and how to identify it. Consider working with a managed IT service provider to help you monitor your network. They can also provide network and risk assessments to help uncover issues that may not be readily apparent.
You should also make sure your employees understand the risks associated with shadow IT. There’s a good chance that employee working on a tablet they brought from home doesn’t realize that unsecured device could open up your network to cyber threats. Maybe they were just trying to find a way they could get work done from locations other than their desk, like the conference room or break room.
With the right training, your employees can be your first line of defense in protecting your network.
Consider implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so your employees will be crystal clear on what is and is not allowed. Having a BYOD policy in place can also make sure everyone knows how to keep authorized personal devices updated and secure.
And don’t forget to include security awareness training. When your staff understands what it takes to protect company and customer data, they can be a powerful line of defense against data breach. But first, they have to be equipped with the right knowledge.
Learning from shadow IT
It’s also important to recognize that not all shadow IT is bad. In a lot of cases, this form of technology exists because your employees are searching for ways to work better and more efficiently.
That Dropbox account your HR director has been using to enable access to mobile files could demonstrate a need for cloud services you didn’t realize was there. Now that you know, you can find more secure and compliant ways to provide the same capability.
Shadow IT can provide great insight into end-user needs and preferences—provided you also understand the risks. You should absolutely stop shadow IT, but you should do so while also taking the time to understand the tools and solutions your employees actually need.
Think of shadow IT as a gauge. If your staff is using shadow IT, it means they need a resource you’re not yet providing. So while it does present risks, it can also present you with an opportunity to improve workflows and streamline your business procedures, all while clearly communicating to your employees that you care about their on-the-job experience.
The key to dealing with shadow IT is to understand what it is and take proactive steps to identify it in your workplace. Contact your managed IT services provider to help secure your network today.