Shadow IT: Remote Working Challenges

06 June, 2023, by Rachel Swann

In the age of COVID-19, the trend of remote working has surged, offering unprecedented flexibility to many workers who opt not to return fully to traditional office environments. While this shift is a boon for employees seeking greater work-life balance, it presents a serious challenge for the IT department, as they grapple with the complexities of Shadow IT.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is a phenomenon that persists regardless of the work environment. It refers to the use of hardware, software, applications, or cloud services that have not received the green light from the IT Department. Although these unauthorized resources might seem like a quick fix, they can jeopardize sensitive data and lead to greater issues in the long run.

The proliferation of remote working has made it increasingly difficult to enforce policies designed to curtail shadow IT. In a physical office setting, it's easier to monitor the use of approved hardware and software, and to ensure compliance with IT department protocols. However, remote communication challenges and the unique problems presented by remote working can frustrate employees, potentially delaying resolutions and encouraging the use of unapproved IT solutions.

The sense of autonomy that comes with working from home can lead workers to seek their own solutions if they lack adequate resources or timely access to them. This could involve using personal devices, which introduces vulnerabilities, or storing sensitive company data on unauthorized cloud storage, both of which significantly increase the security risk for the individual and the organization.

Shadow IT Mitigation Strategies

So, what strategies can be employed to mitigate the risk of shadow IT within your organization? It's a critical question that requires careful consideration to protect your company's data integrity.

  • Establish clear policies and guidelines for the use of technology solutions. Consider using tools that block or flag downloads or installs. You don’t want your employees going to an unsecure website and downloading a virus, because they thought they were downloading a solution to their problems.
  • Crucially, employees must be provided with the resources and tools they’ll need to work remotely, and these may be different from what's required in the office. Making sure your employees have the right hardware, correctly configured is crucial for your long-term risk management. Personal devices can be slower and are almost always less secure, causing further issues. Hardware requirements should be regularly reviewed and employees should be encouraged to flag their needs as soon as possible.
  • Possibly (and ironically) the greatest risk often comes from your most senior stakeholders. They are almost always issued with mobile devices and will often be required to engage whilst travelling or sometimes out of hours in an emergency. All of this increases the potential for them to resort to shadow IT if their standard equipment is perceived as inadequate. It is worth engaging with them to work out any special requirements to ensure that their equipment and its use remain under organisational control.
  • Along with this, ensuring that your IT department monitors and assesses your security risks, will reduce your exposure to cyber threats. Increasing the ability of your IT department to take back control of any IT usage.

To further mitigate the risk of shadow IT, it is essential to provide ongoing training and education to employees about the potential dangers and consequences of using unauthorized technology solutions. By fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness and promoting responsible technology usage, employees will be more likely to adhere to company policies and guidelines. Additionally, regularly conducting audits and assessments of your organization's technology infrastructure can help identify any potential vulnerabilities or areas for improvement, allowing for proactive measures to be taken to mitigate the risk of shadow IT.

Ultimately, the occurrence of Shadow IT is a symptom of unmet employee needs. By maintaining open lines of communication and proactively addressing each emerging issue, you can diminish the likelihood of workers becoming disillusioned with the IT department and resorting to their own equipment, thus reducing the associated risks.

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