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June 26, 2024
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 min read

What is Shadow IT in Cyber Security? Defining Risks & Benefits

Discover the risks and benefits of Shadow IT in cyber security and how to manage it effectively with advanced protection from Strac DLP.

What is Shadow IT in Cyber Security? Defining Risks & Benefits
Calendar Icon White
June 26, 2024
Clock Icon
 min read

What is Shadow IT in Cyber Security? Defining Risks & Benefits

Discover the risks and benefits of Shadow IT in cyber security and how to manage it effectively with advanced protection from Strac DLP.


  • Shadow IT involves using unauthorized IT solutions and services.
  • It poses security, compliance, and operational risks.
  • Benefits include innovation, agility, and user empowerment.
  • Implement monitoring tools, audits, and employee training to manage Shadow IT.
  • Strac DLP offers advanced threat detection and regulatory compliance support.
  • Shadow IT has emerged as a significant phenomenon in the modern workplace, driven by the need for increased efficiency and flexibility. The term refers to the use of technology solutions and services by employees without the explicit approval or knowledge of the organization's IT department.

    As businesses strive to innovate and adapt quickly, shadow IT often becomes a double-edged sword, offering potential benefits and substantial risks.

    Understanding shadow IT and its implications for cybersecurity is crucial for organizations aiming to maintain control over their digital environments.

    This blog will explore shadow IT, highlight its associated risks and benefits, and provide strategies for managing it effectively. Additionally, we will discuss how Strac DLP can help organizations monitor and secure unauthorized IT usage, ensuring robust protection against potential threats.

    Defining Shadow IT

    Shadow IT refers to using information technology systems, devices, software, applications, and services without explicit approval from the organization's IT department.

    Employees often turn to these unauthorized tools to enhance productivity, streamline workflows, or simply because they are unaware of the existing approved solutions.

    While shadow IT can provide immediate benefits, it bypasses the established security protocols and governance policies, leading to potential risks.

    Examples of Common Shadow IT Practices in Organizations

    1. Cloud Storage Services: Employees might use personal cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive to store and share work-related documents. These services are often chosen for their ease of use and accessibility but can lead to data breaches if not properly secured.
    2. Collaboration Tools: Teams frequently adopt platforms like Slack, Trello, and Asana for project management and communication without IT approval, potentially exposing sensitive data to unauthorized access.
    3. Personal Devices: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies can lead to shadow IT when employees use personal laptops, smartphones, or tablets for work purposes without adhering to security guidelines.
    4. Unapproved Software: Employees might install software or applications on their work computers to perform specific tasks, bypassing IT policies and potentially introducing vulnerabilities.
    5. Social Media and Messaging Apps: Using platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or LinkedIn for business communications can lead to unmonitored data exchanges and security risks.

    Understanding and managing shadow IT is essential for maintaining the security and integrity of an organization's IT environment. Organizations can develop strategies to mitigate associated risks and harness potential benefits by recognizing common shadow IT practices.

    Risks Associated with Shadow IT

    Security Risks

    • Unauthorized Access to Sensitive Data

    Shadow IT often involves using applications and services not monitored or controlled by the organization's IT department. This lack of oversight can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data. Employees might inadvertently share confidential information through unsecured channels, making it vulnerable to breaches.

    • Increased Vulnerability to Cyber Attacks

    Using unapproved software and devices can expose an organization to various cyber threats. These unauthorized tools might lack the necessary security updates and patches, making them easy targets for cybercriminals. Additionally, shadow IT can bypass the organization's security infrastructure, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, increasing the risk of malware, ransomware, and other cyber attacks.

    Compliance Risks

    • Potential Violations of Regulatory Standards (GDPR, HIPAA, etc.)

    Regulatory standards like GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS require organizations to implement strict data handling and storage controls. Shadow IT can lead to non-compliance with these regulations, as unauthorized tools may not meet the required security and privacy standards. This can result in significant fines and legal repercussions for the organization.

    • Impact on Audit Trails and Accountability

    Shadow IT can complicate audit trails, making tracking data access and modifications difficult. This lack of visibility and control undermines accountability and makes it challenging to conduct thorough investigations in case of a security incident. Proper auditing and logging are essential for maintaining the integrity and security of data.

    Operational Risks

    • Data Silos and Lack of Integration

    Unauthorized tools and applications can lead to the creation of data silos, where information is stored in disparate systems that do not communicate with each other. This fragmentation hinders data accessibility and collaboration, leading to inefficient workflows and decision-making processes.

    • Inefficiencies and Increased IT Complexity

    Using multiple unapproved tools can increase the complexity of the IT environment. IT departments may struggle to support and manage these diverse applications, leading to inefficiencies and increased operational costs. Additionally, the lack of standardization can make implementing comprehensive security measures and policies across the organization challenging.

    By understanding these risks, organizations can take proactive steps to manage shadow IT, ensuring that the benefits do not outweigh security and compliance.

    Benefits of Shadow IT

    Innovation and Agility

    • Faster Adoption of New Technologies

    Shadow IT allows employees to quickly adopt new tools and technologies that can improve their work processes. Without the lengthy approval processes typically required by formal IT departments, employees can experiment with and implement solutions that address their immediate needs. This speed in adopting new technologies can lead to increased efficiency and competitive advantage.

    • Encouragement of Innovation and Flexibility

    By enabling employees to explore and use new applications, shadow IT fosters a culture of innovation and flexibility within the organization. Employees can customize their workflows and find creative solutions to problems, leading to more dynamic and responsive business operations. This empowerment can drive innovation from the ground up, with employees contributing to process improvements and technology usage.

    User Empowerment

    • Increased Productivity and Satisfaction

    When employees can choose and use the tools that best suit their working styles, productivity and job satisfaction often increase. Shadow IT enables employees to work with applications they find intuitive and efficient, reducing frustration with official tools that may be cumbersome or outdated. This autonomy can lead to higher engagement and morale as employees feel more in control of their work environment.

    • Tailored Solutions for Specific Needs

    Shadow IT allows for more personalized solutions that cater to the specific needs of individual departments or teams. Instead of relying on one-size-fits-all tools the central IT department provides, employees can select software that directly addresses their unique challenges and requirements. This customization can lead to more effective and efficient workflows.

    Cost Savings

    • Reduction in Formal IT Spending

    Shadow IT can result in cost savings for the organization by reducing the demand on the central IT department. When employees independently source and manage their own tools, the need for extensive IT resources and support decreases. This decentralization can lead to a more efficient allocation of IT budgets.

    • Efficient Use of Resources

    Allowing departments to choose their own tools can lead to more efficient resource use. Teams can select cost-effective solutions that meet their needs without overburdening the central IT budget. This approach can also lead to better resource utilization, as employees are more likely to fully utilize the tools they have personally chosen and invested in.

    By leveraging the benefits of shadow IT, organizations can foster a more innovative, flexible, and cost-effective work environment. However, balancing these benefits with effective governance is essential to mitigate the associated risks.

    Balancing Risks and Benefits

    Strategies for Managing Shadow IT Effectively

    1. Enhanced Visibility and Monitoringsome text
      • Implement Monitoring Tools: Use specialized software to detect and monitor shadow IT activities. Tools like CASB (Cloud Access Security Brokers) and network monitoring solutions can provide insights into unauthorized application usage and data flows.
      • Regular Audits: Conduct regular audits to identify shadow IT practices within the organization. These audits help understand the scope and impact of shadow IT and develop appropriate strategies to address it.
    2. Employee Education and Engagementsome text
      • Training Programs: Educate employees about the risks associated with shadow IT and the importance of following IT policies. Training programs should highlight how unauthorized applications can compromise data security and regulatory compliance.
      • Open Communication Channels: Encourage employees to communicate their needs and challenges openly. By understanding the reasons behind shadow IT, IT departments can offer approved solutions that meet the employees' requirements.
    3. Provision of Approved Alternativessome text
      • Catalog of Approved Tools: Create and maintain a catalog of IT-approved tools and services that employees can use. Ensure this catalog is regularly updated to include modern and efficient solutions that meet user needs.
      • Rapid Approval Processes: Establish a streamlined process for evaluating and approving new tools and applications. This can help reduce the appeal of shadow IT by making it easier for employees to get the tools they need quickly and legally.
    4. Risk-Based Approachsome text
      • Assess Risks and Benefits: Evaluate the risks and benefits of shadow IT on a case-by-case basis. Some shadow IT practices may offer significant benefits with manageable risks, making them worth formalizing and integrating into the organization's official IT framework.
      • Implement Controls for High-Risk Activities: Identify and control high-risk shadow IT activities. Implementing robust security measures, such as encryption and multi-factor authentication, can mitigate the risks associated with these activities.

    Establishing Governance Frameworks and Policies

    1. Develop Comprehensive Policiessome text
      • Clear Guidelines and Protocols: Establish policies defining acceptable use of IT resources, including guidelines for using personal devices, cloud services, and third-party applications. Ensure these policies are communicated effectively across the organization.
      • Consequences for Non-Compliance: Clearly outline the consequences for violating IT policies. This helps enforce compliance and ensure that employees understand the importance of adhering to established guidelines.
    2. Create a Governance Committeesome text
      • Cross-Functional Team: Form a governance committee comprising representatives from IT, security, legal, compliance, and business units. This committee can oversee the implementation and enforcement of shadow IT policies and address emerging issues.
      • Regular Review and Update: The governance committee should regularly review and update IT policies and governance frameworks to keep pace with technological advancements and changing business needs.
    3. Implement Access Controls and Data Protection Measuressome text
      • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Use RBAC to ensure that employees have access only to the data and applications they need for their roles. This minimizes the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information.
      • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Deploy DLP solutions to monitor and protect sensitive data from being shared or accessed through unauthorized applications. DLP tools can help enforce data protection policies and prevent data breaches.
    4. Encourage a Culture of Compliancesome text
      • Leadership Support: Ensure organizational leaders support and promote compliance with IT policies. Leadership commitment can drive a culture of compliance and encourage employees to follow established guidelines.
      • Feedback Mechanisms: Implement feedback mechanisms that allow employees to provide input on IT policies and practices. This can help identify gaps and improve the effectiveness of governance frameworks.

    By balancing the risks and benefits of shadow IT through effective management strategies and robust governance frameworks, organizations can harness the advantages of innovation and agility while maintaining security and compliance.

    Best Practices for Managing Shadow IT

    Implementing Visibility and Control

    • Use of Monitoring Tools to Identify Shadow IT

    Monitoring tools are vital in identifying and managing shadow IT within an organization. These tools can detect unauthorized applications and devices employees use without the IT department’s approval. Solutions like Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs), network monitoring tools, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems offer comprehensive visibility into the IT environment. By continuously monitoring network traffic and application usage, these tools can flag unapproved activities, allowing IT teams to take prompt corrective action.

    • Regular Audits and Assessments

    Conducting regular audits and assessments is crucial for maintaining control over shadow IT. These audits should review current practices, identify unauthorized tools and services, and assess the associated risks. Regular assessments ensure that shadow IT does not undermine the organization’s security posture or compliance with regulatory requirements. Audits should also evaluate the effectiveness of existing controls and policies, making adjustments as needed to address emerging risks.

    Encouraging Safe Practices

    • Training and Awareness Programs for Employees

    Educating employees about the risks and implications of shadow IT is fundamental to managing it effectively. Training programs should highlight the security and compliance risks associated with using unauthorized tools and the potential impact on the organization. These programs can also teach employees to identify safe and approved alternatives for their needs. Regular awareness sessions and updates inform employees about new policies, best practices, and the importance of adhering to IT guidelines.

    Creating Clear Guidelines for Acceptable Use

    Establishing clear and comprehensive guidelines for acceptable use of IT resources helps employees understand what is expected of them. These guidelines should outline which tools and services are approved for use and provide instructions for requesting new tools. Clear policies on acceptable use help prevent the proliferation of shadow IT by providing employees with the necessary information and resources to make informed decisions.

    Integration and Support

    Providing Secure Alternatives and Sanctioned Tools One effective strategy for managing shadow IT is to provide secure, approved alternatives that meet employees’ needs. IT departments should stay abreast of the latest tools and technologies and offer solutions that align with the organization's security and compliance requirements. By making these sanctioned tools easily accessible and user-friendly, organizations can reduce the likelihood of employees resorting to unauthorized applications.

    Engaging with Users to Understand Their Needs Understanding the needs and challenges of employees is key to managing shadow IT. IT departments should engage with users regularly to gather feedback and identify any gaps in the provided tools and services. By actively listening to employees and addressing their concerns, IT can offer better solutions and support, reducing the appeal of shadow IT. This engagement helps build a collaborative relationship between IT and other departments, fostering a culture of compliance and security.

    By implementing these best practices, organizations can effectively manage shadow IT, balancing the benefits of innovation and flexibility with the need for security and compliance.

    How Strac DLP Can Help Manage Shadow IT?

    Strac DLP (Data Loss Prevention) is a comprehensive solution that protects sensitive data across various platforms and applications. It leverages advanced technologies like machine learning and AI to provide real-time threat detection, data classification, and policy enforcement. Strac DLP helps organizations monitor and manage shadow IT activities, ensuring data security and compliance with regulatory standards.

    Integration with Existing Systems

    How Strac DLP Integrates with Organizational IT Systems Strac DLP seamlessly integrates with existing IT infrastructures, including cloud services, on-premises systems, and endpoint devices. This integration is achieved through API-based connections and native support for popular platforms like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, AWS, and more. The integration process is straightforward, allowing organizations to deploy Strac DLP without significant disruptions to their operations.

    Benefits of Using Strac DLP to Monitor and Manage Shadow IT

    1. Enhanced Visibility: Strac DLP provides comprehensive visibility into all data flows and user activities, including those involving unauthorized applications and devices. This visibility helps IT departments identify and address shadow IT practices promptly.
    2. Centralized Management: With Strac DLP, organizations can manage and enforce data protection policies from a centralized platform, ensuring consistent application of security measures across all systems and devices.
    3. Automated Policy Enforcement: Strac DLP automates the enforcement of security policies, reducing the risk of human error and ensuring compliance with organizational standards.

    Advanced Threat Detection

    Strac’s Machine Learning Algorithms for Detecting Unauthorized Applications Strac DLP employs sophisticated machine learning algorithms to detect and mitigate various security threats. These algorithms analyze patterns and anomalies in data usage and user behavior, identifying potential risks such as unauthorized application usage and data exfiltration.

    Examples of Threats Detected and Mitigated by Strac

    • Phishing Attempts: Strac detects and blocks phishing emails and malicious attachments, preventing users from falling victim to these attacks.
    • Malware and Ransomware: Advanced scanning features identify and neutralize malware and ransomware threats before they can compromise organizational data.
    • Unauthorized Access: Strac continuously monitors for unauthorized access attempts, flagging suspicious activities and preventing data breaches.

    Compliance and Regulatory Support

    Strac DLP supports compliance with various regulatory standards, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. It provides tools and features that ensure data is handled in accordance with these regulations, including:

    • Data Encryption: Ensures sensitive data is encrypted both in transit and at rest, protecting it from unauthorized access.
    • Audit Logs: Maintains detailed logs of all data access and modifications, aiding in compliance reporting and forensic investigations.
    • Policy Enforcement: Automates the enforcement of data protection policies, ensuring ongoing compliance with regulatory requirements.

    Ensuring Data Protection and Accountability

    Strac DLP enhances data protection and accountability by providing comprehensive monitoring and reporting capabilities. These features help organizations track data access and usage, ensuring all activities are documented and compliant with internal and external standards. By leveraging Strac DLP, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to data security and regulatory compliance, building trust with clients and stakeholders.

    By integrating Strac DLP into their IT environments, organizations can effectively manage shadow IT, enhance data security, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. Strac DLP offers a robust solution for mitigating the risks associated with shadow IT while enabling innovation and productivity.


    Effectively managing shadow IT is crucial for maintaining a secure and compliant IT environment. While shadow IT can drive innovation and flexibility, it must be balanced with robust governance and security measures to mitigate risks. Organizations must implement strategies that provide visibility and control, encourage safe practices, and offer secure alternatives to unauthorized tools.

    By leveraging Strac DLP, organizations can ensure data security, compliance, and operational efficiency while allowing innovation and flexibility. Schedule a demo with Strac DLP today to see how it can help you manage shadow IT and protect your organization’s digital assets.

    Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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