Is Fighting Shadow IT Worth the Effort?

Publication date: Jun 13, 2022

Last Published: Oct 11, 2023

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Shadow IT, the use of unsanctioned technology in the workplace, has been a thorny issue for a while now, but the recent disruption of established work routines has brought it into the spotlight once again.

Unprepared for the sudden shift to remote work, many organizations were more than happy to let employees use their own personal devices for work-related purposes and install whichever remote work software applications they found most suitable.

This shift of lower-level tasks out of IT gave these organizations the agility needed to weather the storm, making many of them wonder if fighting shadow IT is worth the effort.

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Shadow IT Risks, Benefits, and Examples

There are currently over 56 million millennials in the workforce, making them the largest working generation. According to multiple studies, millennials are also the most tech savvy of the current generations in the workplace.

As such, they appreciate and sometimes even crave the freedom to create their own IT solutions that closely align with their day-to-day needs.

When employees are allowed to use their preferred hardware devices and software applications for their everyday tasks, they become more productive, and their satisfaction increases as well.

What’s more, organizations don’t have to deal with challenges related to user adoption and change management because the most suitable solutions emerge and spread naturally.

These and other benefits would make shadow IT worth embracing if it wasn’t for the cybersecurity risks created by the unsanctioned use of technology in the workplace.

An IT department that doesn’t have full visibility across the entire IT environment can’t sufficiently protect the organization against modern-day cyber threats. As a result, the organization can’t achieve and maintain compliance with various international, government, and industry data protection regulations, which exposes it to potentially devastating compliance failure fines and reputation damage.

Shadow IT Should Be Tamed, Not Extinguished

Since ignoring shadow IT is way too risky and banning it completely results in an endless game of whack-a-mole that hinders employee productivity, organizations should strive for a compromise and learn how to control shadow IT.

The real issue with shadow IT is the lack of visibility it creates—not the apps and devices employees use to get work done. The following solutions can be used to solve this issue and control shadow IT.

Open and Honest Communication

To keep the benefits of shadow IT but remove the risks associated with it, organizations need to create a culture of open and honest communication. Employees should feel comfortable sharing their needs with the IT department, and the IT department should include employees in decision making.

Once employees understand that it’s easier and much less risky for them to ask the IT department for better tools than it is to deploy the same tools themselves, the spread of shadow IT slows down dramatically.

Employee Education

In many cases, employees use devices and applications without explicit IT department approval because they are not aware of the associated risks of shadow IT and don’t want to bother anyone with something they can do on their own.

These well-intentioned employees need to understand that cybercriminals love to hide in the shadows because they can then avoid any cybersecurity monitoring tools the organization has implemented to detect and stop cyber threats. Cybersecurity awareness training sessions that directly address shadow IT can help them see how their actions impact the entire organization.

Never Trust, Always Verify

Shadow IT would never be as dangerous as it currently is if it wasn’t for the fact that many organizations still rely on perimeter security. This increasingly outdated approach to cybersecurity essentially involves building a wall around the network to keep unauthorized connections out.

The problem is that the threats created by shadow IT emerge from inside the defense perimeter, where they are trusted by default and can roam freely.

That’s why more and more organizations are implementing the zero trust security model. Under this model, connections are never trusted by default. Instead, they must always be fully authenticated before being granted access to protected resources.

Conclusion on Fighting Shadow IT

Shadow IT is like a forest fire: when contained, it can clear debris and make room for sunlight, allowing the organization to grow stronger and healthier. The difficult part is figuring out how to contain the fire without extinguishing it completely or giving it room to become too large.

The good news is that you don’t have to fight shadow IT alone. We at OSIbeyond can help you implement the tips described in this article to ensure that technology is a force of positive change in your organization—not a source of constant worries. Our IT support & strategy services are tailored to meet the needs of small and medium-sized organizations in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

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