Why Shadow IT is the Biggest Blind Spot in Your Cybersecurity Strategy

Shadow IT and SaaS
Shadow IT and SaaS

In the past few years, software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps have exploded in popularity, bringing powerful new functionality to organizations which they could only dream of in the past. Unfortunately, the ease and availability of cloud apps are a double-edged sword that can work against the security of your business without proper oversight. 

Recently, a study found that 97% of cloud apps across organizations are “shadow IT,” meaning they are brought in by employees without the awareness or approval of IT and cybersecurity staff. At the same time, users are connecting to these services with unauthorized devices that may be unsafe. 

While shadow IT – which may encompass file sharing, communication, and collaboration services – is not without benefits, it also creates a major blind spot in your cybersecurity strategy that brings many risks. In this article, we will explain what those risks are and how your business can fight against them. 

The Dangers of Shadow IT 

In a recent blog post, we talked about the cybersecurity risks that can arise in an improperly configured cloud environment. Ultimately, the existence of unauthorized SaaS apps compounds the dangers that already impact approved cloud services, while also bringing new problems of their own. Among them are: 

  • Data Risks – With users storing information across their own personal SaaS apps, data may be altered in ways that can harm your business and customers. Relying on these apps also brings a risk of data loss when employees depart your company. 
  • Cybersecurity Risks – Unapproved apps create new attack surfaces that malicious actors may target while attempting to breach your organization; they can also suffer from vulnerabilities that will escape the attention of cybersecurity teams. Worse yet, they are susceptible to user misconfiguration which may expose data to outside actors.  
  • Regulatory Violations – Because shadow IT is not subject to the same scrutiny as other devices and applications throughout your organization, it may fail to comply with emerging data privacy regulations like GDPR, government cybersecurity standards like NIST 800-53, and industry-specific regulations like HIPAA. 
  • High Costs – While many SaaS apps are free (a major reason employees may resort to them), others may come with a small subscription fee. These “shadow costs” can pile up if they are charged to your business without proper oversight. As an example, the average organization spends more than $135,000 on unnecessary cloud services every year. 
  • Reduced Network Performance – Excessive Internet-facing apps can put a strain on network resources that they are not designed to handle. Organizations with a shadow IT problem may face bandwidth issues, slow response time, system outages and delays in job execution. 

In spite of these issues, employees resort to shadow IT for a reason, and understanding those reasons is vital for identifying and reducing shadow IT usage throughout your organization. 

Why Does Shadow IT Exist? 

At a high level, the existence of shadow IT is almost always a consequence of IT problems such as slow resolution of help desk tickets, or a lack of tools to help employees do their jobs effectively. It also arises from low awareness of the dangers associated with shadow IT use, which may indicate lack of proper training and procedures. 

Today, most employees can improve their productivity and efficiency with advanced features provided by SaaS apps. Others – particularly remote employees – may rely on shadow IT to stay connected with their workforce. Taking control of shadow IT requires businesses to not only find and eliminate shadow IT services from their network, but also to solve the root problems leading employees to rely on them. 

How to Take Control of Shadow IT 

With the average organization using 250 SaaS apps or more, shadow IT is becoming a harder problem to solve as time goes by. But with the right approach, it is possible. 

1. Understand Your Company’s Business and IT Needs 

Ensure that your employees have the tools and services they need to do their jobs effectively. This requires understanding what your company needs across different teams and departments. Conduct surveys and take feedback into consideration, especially where current tools and processes may be interfering with productivity. 

2. Provide Employee Training  

As in many other cases, shadow IT is a problem more often caused by ignorance than malice. According to one study, 37% of IT employees say that their organization has not outlined consequences for employees involved in shadow IT. Ensure that employees are aware both of the dangers associated with shadow IT and company policies surrounding its use.  

3. Supervise Provisioning of Services 

Make sure that employees have a clear channel to request new apps and have processes in place to review and approve requests. Not only does this ensure your IT team will have time to review the security and implementation of new services, but it will also provide better visibility and control over spending. 

4. Continually Monitor Your Network  

In order to detect shadow IT, network administrators should keep an up-to-date inventory of IT resources, including all devices and applications running on their network. They should continually monitor network activity to detect new IP addresses, unexpected communications to external services, unusually slow performance and outages that could signal shadow IT activity. 

5. Consider Specialized Solutions 

Consider adopting specialized solutions like a cloud access security broker (CASB) to govern cloud usage throughout your organization. CASB solutions can provide a centralized view of cloud apps running across your network along with a ranking for risk and overall trustworthiness.  

Cyber Expertise You Can Trust 

From shadow IT to ransomware and software supply chain attacks, protecting your business in today’s cyber landscape requires visibility into your network and IT infrastructure. Without that, the biggest risks to your organization will continue to lurk in the shadows. 

At Securicon, our seasoned cybersecurity experts work to find vulnerabilities in your IT infrastructure, providing solutions and long-term support – we give you the visibility you need to identify risks, and the expertise to remediate them. Contact us today for a rapid assessment and learn how we can bring your organization’s security to the next level.