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What is Shadow IT?

What is Shadow IT?

The term “shadow IT” has been thrown around quite a bit, so let’s talk about what it is and how it works. The name might make it sound a little bit shady, but it’s actually a normal part of most business operations. That being said, the use of shadow IT can be a source of both benefits and problems.

To put it simply, “shadow IT” is any use of information technology that isn’t approved by the IT department. Obviously, we are talking about a corporate or business environment here, where the IT team is supposed to maintain tight control of all internet usage. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Even something as small as one individual using one unapproved app could be called “shadow IT.”

Why Do People Use Shadow IT?

In most cases, it is a simple matter of convenience. It takes time and trouble to get approval from the IT department, and that can act as a bottleneck. While you’re waiting on them, your time could be better spent on the project at hand. You might be surprised to see how much of a difference this bottleneck can make.

According to this study from a prominent IT company, the use of shadow IT can help you to get your products into the market more quickly. In fact, the report indicates that it can reduce time to market by as much as two years. So, do you really want to lose two whole years just because your IT team dragged their feet? If you do that, you are basically punishing people for innovation.

In most cases, companies divide their employees into working teams. Each of these teams will likely have different responsibilities, which means they will likely need different tools. There is no way that the IT department can have the highest level of expertise regarding the needs of every single group. However, shadow IT allows each group to innovate of its own volition and develop into an organic and efficient unit. These are not the only benefits that come from shadow IT.

The Problems Of Shadow IT

Although it can do a lot to improve productivity, shadow IT presents some very serious security risks. For this reason, many companies try to discourage its use. When the IT department is unaware of what is being used on the network, it creates an obvious blind spot. Thus, it could be an ideal route by which a cyber-attacker might penetrate a sensitive system.

In most cases, shadow IT involves the use of common applications like Dropbox, Mailchimp, Google Docs, or Skype. This is generally harmless, but those popular programs make very appealing targets for hackers. They know that millions of people all over the world use these apps, making it well worth their time to exploit. Of course, these are not the only threats.

The real problem comes when these common apps are linked with the company network. Not only have you created a big nasty backdoor, but you have also created one that the IT team won’t recognize. In fact, they probably won’t even know it is there until it is too late. In essence, the use of shadow IT can be like opening up the door and paving a road for the intruder.

This is also an encryption issue, as individual users don’t often take the time to secure their home networks or personal devices. Corporate cloud networks do tend to have strong end-to-end encryption because they know it is necessary. The average individual, on the other hand, has never been hacked, and it not acutely aware of these dangers.

How To Manage Shadow IT

It isn’t easy to manage something that is not readily visible, but it can be done. Perhaps the first thing that you need to do is create a set of rules and make sure that everyone knows them. According to the research that we have already linked, the majority of companies already have policies in place regarding shadow IT. However, our data seems to indicate that most employees (about 75%) were not familiar with these policies. Here is a sample policy from a random company to get you started.

At the same time, it is not realistic to think that no one will try to bend the rules. If it is convenient for them to do so, you can bet that someone will try to use an unauthorized program or device. Thus, your IT team should set up a good network monitoring system. If your company is one that requires a high level of security, you should be doing this anyway.

If you have found that shadow IT increases the productivity of your operations, you may want to keep it around. If that is the case, we recommend that you offer free and easy audits for personal devices and software. Your IT team needs to be able to evaluate and approve/disapprove of these things with minimal delay. This audit should include education about the nature of online threats and the measures that can be taken to avoid them.

Which Companies Should Avoid Shadow It Completely?

As we mentioned earlier, some companies have much more intense security needs than others. In many cases, these types of companies should disallow all use of shadow IT and enforce their policies more strictly than others. This is done both to protect the data from intrusion and to prevent financial losses to the company.

Medical records are some of the most frequent targets, as you can see by reading this article from a respected medical records journal. Based on this, it would seem that ransomware attacks through mobile phone apps are the biggest known danger. Businesses who work with the legal system can also experience a lot of expensive compliance issues if shadow IT gets out of hand.


Shadow IT is both a blessing and a curse, so it pays to know the ins and outs. We hope that we have given you a better understanding of this subject and that you walk away with a plan of action that can help your company thrive. If we have done that, we hope you will reward our efforts by filling out the contact form below.