What is Shadow IT?

Malware concept with person using computer

Technology plays a crucial role in how we work in 2024 – but what happens when employees start using tech tools that aren’t officially approved by the company? That’s where Shadow IT comes into play. As a company providing IT support solutions in Milton Keynes, we’ve seen this phenomenon crop up more and more frequently – so let’s dive into what Shadow IT is all about and why it’s important for your business to understand.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is a term used to describe the use of information technology systems, devices, software, applications, and services without the explicit approval of the IT department. It’s not about employees trying to be rebellious; rather, it often stems from a desire to work more efficiently or solve problems quickly. Imagine an employee using their personal Dropbox account to share large files because the company’s email system has size limitations. That’s Shadow IT in action.

The rise of cloud-based services and the increasing tech-savviness of employees have contributed significantly to the growth of Shadow IT. People are often looking for quick solutions to their work challenges, and sometimes the officially approved tools just don’t meet their needs. This is where understanding the difference between proactive and reactive IT support becomes vital in managing these situations effectively.

Examples of Shadow IT

Shadow IT can take many forms. Here are some common examples we’ve encountered in our work:

Cloud Storage Services

Many employees turn to personal cloud storage accounts like Dropbox or Google Drive to store and share company data, especially when dealing with large files or collaborating with external partners.

Messaging Apps

The use of unauthorised messaging apps like WhatsApp or Telegram for work-related communications is increasingly common, particularly in organisations where official communication channels are seen as cumbersome or inefficient.

Personal Devices

With the rise of remote work, many employees use their personal smartphones or laptops for work purposes. While this can increase productivity, it also raises security concerns if proper measures aren’t in place.

Software Applications

Installing and using software that hasn’t been approved by the IT department is a classic example of Shadow IT; this could be anything from a simple productivity app to more complex project management tools.

Shadow Collaboration Tools

Teams often adopt their own collaboration platforms, like Trello or Asana, when they feel the company’s official tools don’t meet their needs.

Personal Email Accounts

Using personal email accounts for work-related communication is a common form of Shadow IT, often done for convenience but potentially exposing sensitive information.

Wireless Networks

Employees connecting to public Wi-Fi networks or setting up their own hotspots in the office can bypass company network security measures.

Implications of Shadow IT

While Shadow IT often arises from good intentions, it can have significant implications for businesses:

Security Risks

Unauthorised tools and services may not meet the company’s security standards, potentially exposing sensitive data to breaches.

Data Loss and Leakage

When employees use personal accounts or unsanctioned cloud services, there’s a risk of company data being lost or falling into the wrong hands.

Compliance Violations

In regulated industries, the use of unauthorised tools can lead to serious compliance issues and potential legal consequences.

Loss of Control

IT departments can’t manage or support tools they don’t know about, leading to a loss of control over the company’s technology ecosystem.

Impact on Productivity

While Shadow IT often starts as a way to boost productivity, it can lead to inefficiencies when different teams use incompatible tools or when issues arise that IT can’t quickly resolve.

Strategies to Mitigate Risks

Dealing with Shadow IT isn’t about clamping down on all unauthorised tech use. Instead, it’s about finding a balance between employee needs and company security. Here are some strategies we recommend:

Establish Clear Policies and Guidelines

Create and communicate clear policies about technology use, including what’s allowed and what isn’t.

Enhance Visibility and Monitoring

Implement tools to monitor network activity and discover what applications and services are being used across the organisation.

Educate and Train Employees

Help employees understand the risks associated with Shadow IT and why certain policies are in place.

Offer Approved Alternatives

Listen to employee needs and provide approved alternatives that meet those needs while maintaining security standards.

Collaborate with Business Units

Work closely with different departments to understand their specific tech needs and find solutions that work for everyone.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, shadow IT is a complex issue that requires a nuanced approach; in understanding why it happens and implementing strategies to manage it effectively, businesses can harness the innovation potential of their employees while maintaining the security and integrity of their IT systems.

Remember, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by Shadow IT in your organisation, professional IT support like us at Managed 24/7 can help you navigate these challenges and find the right balance for your business.

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