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How To Prevent Shadow IT in Your Office

Key Points

  • Shadow IT leaves businesses vulnerable to security risks, but employees often don’t realize this is happening.
  • Employees use shadow IT when their authorized tools aren’t working for them.
  • Mutual understanding and open communication are essential for stopping shadow IT.

Employees usually use shadow IT to get around bottlenecks and perform better. This means that changes to the approval process for new technology tools, along with education and information-gathering, can stop most shadow IT.

Shadow IT

What Is Shadow IT and What Risks Does it Involve?

Shadow IT refers to any programs, systems, or devices employees use without approval from their IT departments. This can mean using a personal laptop or email address for work or using productivity or file-sharing tools that aren’t properly secured.

These measures seem harmless and convenient to employees, but they create cybersecurity risks for the company and its data. Data is left vulnerable to hackers and security breaches. Unauthorized systems might not have strong enough backups, meaning data could be lost accidentally. Depending on the type of data the organization collects and where the business is located, shadow IT systems can violate important regulations like GDPR. More generally, the IT team can’t protect the company from risks it doesn’t know about. In addition to the security risks, using both authorized and unauthorized tools for the same functions can waste time and money.

Why Do Employees Use Shadow IT?

IT departments need to understand why employees use unauthorized technology to stop them from taking this security risk. Good communication is essential for stopping shadow IT. This communication will go more smoothly if IT teams remember that employees usually have good intentions when they use shadow IT. They’re not slacking off or trying to put the company at risk. In most cases, they try to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

Employees turn to shadow IT tools when they don’t have the right authorized alternatives for their work and when the process for getting a new tool approved is too strict or complex. The most common shadow IT tools are file storage programs like Google Drive, messaging tools like Whatsapp, personal email accounts, and productivity tools like Trello. This reflects that employees are trying to be more productive and stay engaged.

How to Stop Shadow IT

Stopping shadow IT ultimately requires open, ongoing communication among employees, the IT team, and company decision-makers. These are the areas to focus on in these conversations.

Gather information

IT teams should start addressing shadow IT by determining which tools and programs employees use and why they use them. Anonymous surveys can be an excellent way to hear from all of your employees. However, employees may not feel comfortable providing candid information about their unauthorized technology usage. Make it clear that no one will be penalized for reporting the tools they’re using. In addition to surveys, start direct conversations with employees about whether the available tools are working well for them and how they feel about the approval process for new technology. It’s generally not practical to track or identify every time an employee uses an unauthorized program, so it’s best to focus on the tools that employees regularly use.

Part of the information-gathering process can include implementing monitoring software so IT can identify when someone is using an unauthorized tool or device. This can help the IT team catch usage employees aren’t willing to disclose. When this happens, it’s essential to follow up with a conversation about why the employee used that program or tool and what the IT department can do to help. While monitoring software can be helpful, IT departments should try not to create a sense of constant surveillance. This can be frustrating for employees and lead to lower morale.

Educate employees

A company can’t prevent all unauthorized technology usage, so it’s vital to help employees understand the importance of sticking with approved tools. Employees usually don’t realize that what they’re doing is risky regarding data security. Reusing passwords is a good example. Employees are trying to ensure they can remember their passwords and overlook the security problems they’re creating. When employees understand best practices and how to implement them into their workflows, they’re more likely to follow the IT department’s procedures. If they understand the policies and why they’re in place, they’re also better equipped to make suggestions for using new tools within the approved system.

Streamline approval

Once employees understand the risks of shadow IT, the next step for the company is to work on the approval process for new tools. When an employee finds a better tool for a certain task, the company should see this as a positive. It shows that the employee is invested in their work and trying to make improvements. The tool should be reviewed and approved quickly if it can be configured to work with security requirements. If the tool doesn’t allow for appropriate security measures, IT should explain why that’s the case.

The IT department should have the flexibility and budget to keep laptops and other devices up to date and to subscribe to the most effective programs. Many companies stagnate and continue using the same systems even if they no longer work well. Employees are less likely to use their personal computers if they’re happy with their work computers, and they’re similarly more likely to use approved tools if they are up to date. Ideally, decision-makers should talk to employees about what tools and devices they prefer to use. This can help keep employees happy with the approved options.

Shadow IT can create serious risks for companies, and employees usually don’t realize they’re causing a security problem. In fact, they’re usually just trying to do their best work. Increased flexibility and open dialogue can help eliminate the problem without stifling innovation.