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Overcoming Shadow IT Risks in the Modern Workplace

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The High ROI of Collaboration Security Tools

In the modern workplace, there are many challenges IT and security teams need to be prepared for – whether it’s data leakage, phishing, unsecure networks, the list is long. Complicating matters? The growing use of workstream collaboration and the added obstacle of shadow IT risks to mitigate.

With the workstream collaboration market reaching $3.2 billion by 2021, and 85% of employees using multiple platforms, IT teams need to be ready to intercept the risks of shadow IT on a daily basis. Otherwise, without proper oversight, governance, and management, shadow IT can sneak up and become a serious risk to enterprises.

What is Shadow IT?

shadow IT risks

Shadow IT are end-users who deploy software or hardware at work that the IT team is unaware of and hasn’t been able to approve or vet. As a matter of fact, 54% of all end users are using unapproved apps at least a few times per year in the workplace.

Younger generations are especially guilty of using unapproved software and hardware. These generations have the app store mentality – they’re used to finding what they need and more on an app store rather than waiting for a top-down, IT approved solution. According to the whitepaper Teamwork and Collaboration: The Rise of Millennials and the Growing IT vs End User Discord, 28% of Millennials report using unapproved apps as much as 2-4 times per week.

This is not to say it is just younger workers. Department heads and even senior management use credit cards to initiate freemium purchases to trial or buy small seat counts of products and software.

It’s very common for shadow IT to exist in the modern workplace and it’s probable that most employees are unknowingly creating shadow IT security blind-spots for the rest of the company.

What are the Risks of Shadow IT

risks of shadow it and using collaboration security

So we know what Shadow IT is, and we know how easy and simple it is for any end-user outside of IT to add to the shadow IT equation, but what are the actual risks of shadow IT?

The quick answer – the amount of risk depends on the nature of the business as well as its dependency on effective, connected, and secure IT systems.

The risks themselves are hard to identify for each business, but generally:

  • External reputational damage
  • Failure, malfunction, or system corruption stemming from a shadow IT app or service
  • Theft
  • Accidental loss of critical data
  • Oversharing
  • Incoherent architecture
  • Potential for public exposure of confidential or personal information
  • Leakage of proprietary data

Drilling a bit deeper into the modern workplace we quickly encounter workstream collaboration platforms. IT teams need to consider collaboration security as a critical component to managing shadow IT risks for collaboration platforms. Because many end users are employing unapproved apps, it’s likely that there are multiple workstream collaboration apps in use within your company. For IT teams, it should be about mitigating risk across collaboration ecosystems covering access and usage policies, app store management, user and channel management, and workflow automation features to ensure lifecycle governance across multiple collaboration and communication app platforms. This primarily relates to workstream collaboration applications like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Slack, Mattermost, and Workplace by Facebook, but can encompass parts of unified communications ecosystems, such as Zoom, as well.

Workstream collaboration, in particular, includes a hefty surface area when it comes to risk mitigation because it goes beyond file-level digital loss prevention (DLP) and also includes potential risk surface areas like chat streams, comments, meeting transcripts, etc. that can easily experience data leakage or oversharing.

How to Mitigate Shadow IT Risks

While there are many enterprise incidents making negative headlines due to security breaches, many of those headlines could be prevented simply by providing security teams with better insight into the actions users actually take to get work done. At a high level, shadow IT isn’t a bad thing. It is how new technologies, tools, and processes can be introduced into the workplace. Often times, end-users are just looking for ways to make their jobs easier or make themselves more efficient.

But if security and IT teams don’t have insight into what users are doing inside SaaS apps, or are unaware of how users interact with the unverified tech, they cannot work to prevent shadow IT risks. End users are sharing files, forwarding emails, granting elevated privileges, exporting reports, collaborating with external people, and more. If IT teams cannot monitor, measure, and manage when software or hardware is introduced at scale, the above risks can be very serious for businesses.

IT teams can take several steps to help mitigate the risks of shadow IT in the modern workplace:

  • Provide advice that enables (and where appropriate encourages) safe, effective, efficient, and connected deployment of software and hardware
  • Provide information and training of how shadow IT could critically impact aspects of enterprise performance – including security, reputation, and strategic threats
  • Deploy third-party tools (such as PowerSuite), which can provide regular, active monitoring of shadow IT risk areas.

When it comes to identifying and mitigating shadow IT risks with workstream collaboration platforms, understanding how your company collaborates will help clarify who should truly have access to what sorts of data, information, and applications. Car brakes weren’t invented to make cars go slow but to add control so that they can go faster, safely. If properly applied, governance and collaboration security can work in tandem with shadow IT to drastically increase productivity while reducing risk at the same time.

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