Shadow IT refers to all software and hardware that departments in an organization use without the consent and knowledge of its IT department. Also known as “embedded IT,” “fake IT,” “stealth IT,” “rouge IT,” “feral IT,” or “client IT,” it is meant to improve employee productivity but could put a network at risk of cyberthreats.
Shadow IT usage has grown over the past few years due to the spread of cloud computing.
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Reasons for Using Shadow IT
The following are some of the reasons why some of an organization’s departments may employ shadow IT.
Boosting Employee Productivity
Many use shadow IT so they can work more efficiently. They feel like working around company policies that may be super strict can help them get the job done faster. One example would be a better file-sharing application than the one the IT department allows. When one employee uses it and other members of his/her department follow suit, that is an application of shadow IT.
Ease of Use
The widespread availability of web- and cloud-based technologies and applications made shadow IT possible. Any employee can download and use IT tools through a web interface without involving the IT department. An example would be when someone in the marketing department starts using Slack and convinces his/her teammates to do the same.
Most often than not, many departments want to innovate faster than the IT department does. And so they look for applications on their own and start using these even without getting the IT department’s approval. Such an effort may include investing in a new platform or enlisting the help of an external IT consultant.
While shadow IT can do all of the things cited above, it also poses risks to the entire organization.
Shadow IT Risks
Shadow IT presents the following potential risks:
If your IT department doesn’t know about the hardware and software your department is using, they can’t support and secure them. We’ve seen many companies get attacked through their shadow IT applications and systems. An example would be the spate of attacks targeting collaboration apps like Slack and Discord in April, 2021. These technologies’ infrastructure are often used to distribute malware in target networks because they aren’t normally blocked on corporate networks.
While shadow IT use isn’t inherently dangerous, some features like file sharing or storage and collaboration can result in sensitive data leaks. Sending work documents to employees’ personal inboxes to work from home can also expose sensitive data to networks that IT departments don’t monitor.
It’s unusual for different departments to know the shadow IT resources each one uses, which could result in solution duplication. That could then lead to wasting the company’s money.
Shadow IT can also add hidden costs, such as wasted time. Not all the members of a department have the same level of tech-savviness. Those who are less tech-savvy may spend a significant amount of time learning how to use the apps.
And because shadow IT applications are meant to replace IT department-sanctioned programs, organizations lose the chance to get full returns on investment (RoIs) on the systems they replaced.
If each department uses a different application, the results each program gets may not be consistent with those that others have. Over time, even small inconsistencies pile up, which could result in errors that stem from lack of understanding or version control.
Problems also arise when inconsistent approaches are used to analyze data. Even if the definitions and formulas are the same across departments, differences in methodology can get distorted by the arrangement and flow of linked spreadsheets or process errors.
Many other challenges can arise from shadow IT use, including regulatory noncompliance.
Sometimes, going around established protocols can be both good and bad. Standards and rules are implemented for a reason, ensuring the security of a corporate network, being foremost among them. While shadow IT use can be beneficial and speed up innovation, the risks it poses must be considered as well.