In an increasingly digital world, organizations are facing an insidious challenge that lurks in the shadows of technology—Shadow IT.
This phenomenon—defined as the use of IT-related hardware, software, or services without the explicit approval or knowledge of the IT department—is becoming a rampant issue in businesses across the globe.
As we delve into the depths of this topic, we will illuminate
- What Shadow IT truly entails
- Some common tools and applications that often fall into this category
- Potential dangers it poses to data security and compliance
- Strategies IT departments can use to tackle the challenges of Shadow IT head-on
- And finally, how organizations that rely on the Atlassian suite of applications have a secret weapon at their disposal in the fight against Shadow IT
What are some examples of apps or tools that often fall into the Shadow IT category?
In the labyrinth of modern technology, countless tools and applications unknowingly enter the realm of Shadow IT. While the numbers published from various studies vary from 88 to an incredible 1,295, we can all agree that the average number of different software applications an enterprise organization uses to get its work done is staggering. These often include cloud services, productivity software, messaging apps, and even hardware devices that employees use without IT oversight.
File sharing and storage apps
One prime example is the widespread use of cloud storage platforms such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. Employees, in their quest for efficiency, often turn to these platforms to store and share files, bypassing company-sanctioned storage solutions..
Messaging and collaboration tools
Similarly, communication tools like Slack, WhatsApp, or Zoom, which offer an easy and efficient way to collaborate, can also become part of Shadow IT if used without IT’s knowledge or consent.
Productivity and work management tools
Also, let’s not forget about third-party productivity applications like Trello, Asana, or Evernote. These tools, while beneficial for task management and organization, can pose significant risks when they house sensitive company information outside of controlled environments.
Thus, these seemingly harmless tools can inadvertently plunge deep into the shadows, becoming part of the growing Shadow IT landscape.
What are the potential dangers posed by Shadow IT?
Signing up for a new SaaS service or downloading a desktop app might seem innocuous to the average user. In fact, they’re probably doing it for all the right reasons: to improve their quality, speed, efficiency, ability to collaborate, and more. But, doing so can open the floodgates to a myriad of security and compliance risks that threaten the very core of an organization’s operations. Let’s consider some specific examples.
A breach of confidential or proprietary information
Take Dropbox, for instance. An employee, in their pursuit of productivity, decides to store a confidential client proposal on their personal Dropbox account for easy access. However, this bypasses the company’s data security protocols. If this employee’s Dropbox account were to be compromised, the client proposal could fall into the wrong hands, leading to a serious data breach.
Or, consider a team using Asana for project management without IT’s approval. They may be handling sensitive project details, including proprietary data and intellectual property. If Asana isn’t properly configured or secured, this information could be exposed to unauthorized individuals, resulting in significant damage to the company’s competitive edge and reputation.
Regulatory compliance issues
Moreover, these instances of Shadow IT can lead to non-compliance with data protection regulations. For example, if a company is subject to GDPR and has data stored or processed through unsanctioned apps, it could face hefty fines if it’s unable to fulfill data subject requests due to lack of visibility.
In essence, Shadow IT, left unchecked, can rapidly morph from a benign tool of convenience into a formidable adversary, jeopardizing data security, compliance, and ultimately, business continuity.
What can IT departments do to avoid the problems caused by Shadow IT?
Confronting the menace of Shadow IT is no easy feat. Yet, with a proactive approach, strategic planning, and robust tools at their disposal, IT departments can rise to the occasion and effectively mitigate the risks associated with unsanctioned apps and tools.
Clear IT policies
Start by establishing a comprehensive IT policy that clearly outlines the approved applications and tools for business use. This policy should be communicated across all levels of the organization, ensuring every employee understands the implications of using unauthorized software or hardware.
For instance, if Dropbox has been identified as a risk, the IT department could provide a sanctioned alternative for cloud storage, such as a secure, company-approved platform. Training sessions could then be organized to educate employees on the safe usage of this platform, reinforcing its benefits over unapproved solutions.
Advanced security measures
Next, implement advanced security measures like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and encryption for all approved software.
Consider the Asana example from earlier. If Asana is an approved tool, ensure it’s set up with MFA and that data is encrypted both in transit and at rest. This provides an additional layer of security, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access even if login credentials are compromised.
Monitor and flush out Shadow IT
Finally, leverage technology to monitor and control Shadow IT. Deploy network monitoring solutions that can detect unusual data traffic patterns, potentially indicating the use of unsanctioned apps. Regularly audit your IT environment to identify any unauthorized software, and take swift action to remove these and educate the users involved.
By taking these steps, IT departments can shed light on Shadow IT, transforming it from a formidable adversary into a manageable challenge.
Atlassian Cloud—Your secret weapon against Shadow IT
Shifting your business operations to the Atlassian Cloud environment is a strategic move that can significantly mitigate the risks associated with Shadow IT. The robust security measures and best practices employed by Atlassian exceed industry standards, providing a secure platform for collaboration and productivity.
Atlassian’s dedicated security team ensures secure design practices, including threat modeling, code analysis, and independent security testing. They actively identify, protect against, and respond to security threats via internal and external reviews and testing.
By using Atlassian’s suite of tools—such as Confluence, Jira, and Jira Service Management—for work management, collaboration, incident response, tracking progress on security incidents, and more, organizations can centralize their operations in a secure, controlled environment. This removes some of the need for employees to seek out potentially insecure third-party applications, thus reducing the prevalence of Shadow IT.
Of course, no modern organization will be able to reduce the total number of apps they use from 1,000 to 10. But, that’s not a problem. Atlassian Cloud also includes a large marketplace of available add-ons and connectors that allow you to sync up your other necessary applications while still taking advantage of the robust security features in the Cloud environment.
In essence, by migrating to Atlassian Cloud, businesses can offer their teams the tools they need to be productive, while maintaining control and visibility. This ensures data security, compliance, and operational continuity, effectively casting a light on Shadow IT and keeping it at bay.