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Shadow IT: The Underestimated Danger

July 22nd, 2022 | by
Laptop in the Dark

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The application of information technology is as diverse as the world around us. IT solutions have now taken a major part in our daily lives. They provide support in our households, assist us during sports and in our leisure activities, and are often a great help in our professional activities as well. This increasing digital affinity offers numerous advantages, but also bears risks. The use of so-called shadow IT in a professional context is growing along with it. Now, what is shadow IT exactly? What opportunities and risks does it hold, and how can a company reduce the use of shadow IT in the best possible way? This article will give you all the answers to these questions.

What is shadow IT?

Shadow IT refers to all information technology systems that are used outside the official IT infrastructure controlled by the IT department. Shadow IT can be deployed and used by individual employees as well as in some cases by entire departments. This can involve both hardware and software. These systems cannot be controlled and secured by the IT department. Popular shadow IT solutions include file hosting services such as Google Drive or Dropbox, instant messengers, private laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Why is shadow IT increasing?

Insufficient organizational alignment between IT and individual departments often leads to the use of shadow IT. Lack of agreement on expectations and needs often leads to individual departments developing their own solutions without involving the IT department. The use of shadow IT by employees and departments usually occurs when the official solution path is perceived as inconvenient, inefficient or cumbersome. High work pressure and competitive thinking additionally reinforce this phenomenon.

Another reason for the increasing use of shadow IT that should not be underestimated is the rapid growth of cloud services, software-as-a-service (SaaS), the ever-increasing digital affinity of employees and the consumerization of information technology in the workplace. Due to technological advancements, young employees in particular are accustomed to finding and using convenient IT solutions in their private environments.

The pros of shadow IT

Shadow IT has certain advantages that can benefit not only employees, but also the company. Two factors that should not be underestimated, for example, are the increase in productivity and employee satisfaction. When employees are confronted with a certain problem and the solutions offered by the company do not meet their needs, these employees could look for more suitable solutions on their own. Productivity and satisfaction increase when employees can quickly resolve issues using applications and tools they personally prefer. Shadow IT solutions are often more efficient, easier to use, more flexible, and save employees a significant amount of time.

The cons of shadow IT

However, hardware, software and cloud services not approved by the IT department can also pose a huge risk to a company’s IT security. Through the use of shadow IT the company may potentially lose sovereignty or control over its information or information entrusted to it by others. It may no longer be possible to track where important company information is processed or stored. Companies are subject to numerous guidelines to protect their customers, clients and business partners. For example, they must ensure that only approved applications are used to process sensitive data. In this case, the use of shadow IT can lead to violations of legally defined compliance guidelines and result in heavy fines for the company.

Confidential documents being shared via various services, private information being exchanged via instant messenger services and software updates not being installed. This and much more can lead to data loss, theft and further damage. Shadow IT creates additional security vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are particularly dangerous for businesses and organizations because they often remain undetected by the IT department.

In addition, the use of shadow IT can also hinder collaboration between teams. If employees rely on different applications for their tasks, this can lead to problems. The consequences are, for example, incompatible document types or multiple uploads and downloads.

How can companies avoid shadow IT?

Even if the disadvantages of shadow IT outweigh the advantages, simply banning and blocking unapproved IT solutions without offering alternatives is not a desirable solution in most cases. This usually results in a sense of frustration among employees. In many cases, it is more important to find a balance between the risks and opportunities of shadow IT. However, it is important to remember that this only applies as long as no sensitive data is being managed.

The use of shadow IT often arises from dissatisfaction with the company’s own IT or with the work of the IT department. It is therefore important to first find the exact cause of the problem. An open communication culture between the various departments and the IT department is essential. A company’s IT should offer practical solutions to problems that arise, and the IT department should have a sympathetic ear for the needs of employees. The IT infrastructure may be expanded and improved if necessary. If a company’s IT infrastructure provides meaningful solutions to its employees, the need to use unapproved services decreases.

For approved services to be used by employees, they must be well-known by them and easy to use. Effective measures here include the precise definition and documentation of processes, the use of a knowledge management system, and the publication of step-by-step instructions.

Above all, employees should also be made aware of the risks of shadow IT. They should become aware of what data they are sharing where, and what applications they are using. Should an employee use shadow IT, he or she needs to be able to identify whether an application is trustworthy or not. He/she should also be taught to keep his/her application up to date and be very aware of the risks. Publishing lists of trusted and IT-verified tools can also provide the employee with a good overview.

More IT Security Awareness leads to a more responsible use of information technology. Do you want to learn more about this topic? You can find all articles related to it in our blog under the tag IT security.

 

Responsible for the content of this article is Stéphanie Bauens.

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