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The Risks of Shadow IT: Why Unsanctioned Apps Pose a Security Threat for Remote Workers

The Risks of Shadow IT: Why Unsanctioned Apps Pose a Security Threat for Remote Workers

As more companies realize the benefits of remote work, employees are slowly being migrated to work-from-home setups. While this arrangement undoubtedly has a range of advantages, it has also led to the rise of a hidden danger: Shadow IT. 

This article looks into the four most common types of shadow IT and explores the six key risks they pose to organizations and their remote employees.

What is Shadow IT? 

Shadow IT refers to the use of unsanctioned software, applications, or services by employees without the knowledge or approval of the organization’s IT department. While the use of these tools can sometimes improve an individual’s productivity or create a more ergonomic workstation at home, the risks associated with shadow IT should not be overlooked. 

Types of Shadow IT

Shadow IT comes in various forms. Four of the most common that you may notice in most work environments are:

  • Collaboration, productivity, and project management solutions: In managing remote teams, employees often turn to tools like Trello, Asana, and Zoom to streamline work processes and improve communication. While these tools can be helpful, they can also introduce security vulnerabilities if not properly managed and monitored by the IT department.
  • File storage solutions: Many employees use file storage solutions such as Lightshot, Dropbox, and Google Drive to store, access, or share work-related documents. These applications provide a convenient way to collaborate with colleagues, but they can also expose sensitive data to unauthorized individuals.
  • Messaging apps: Remote workers frequently rely on messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram to communicate with colleagues. However, these apps can pose a security threat if not used in accordance with the organization’s security policies, potentially leading to data leaks or unauthorized access to sensitive information.
  • Email services: Mixing personal and corporate email accounts is another form of Shadow IT. Employees who use personal email accounts for work-related communications risk exposing sensitive information to hackers and may inadvertently violate compliance requirements.

Risks Associated with Shadow IT

The use of Shadow IT comes with a plethora of potential risks, each of which can have a profound impact on an organization’s security posture, compliance status, and overall efficiency. Understanding these risks is the first step toward mitigating them.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these risks:

Lack of IT Control

In traditional IT environments, the IT department oversees the acquisition, distribution, and management of software and hardware. This control allows them to ensure all systems are safe, secure, and meet the organization’s needs. 

However, with Shadow IT, this control is significantly diminished. Employees using unvetted tools and systems can inadvertently introduce harmful elements like malware or spyware, which can compromise the entire network.

Unpatched Vulnerabilities and Errors

IT departments regularly update and patch approved software to address identified vulnerabilities. Shadow IT applications might not undergo these important updates, leaving them open to exploitation by malicious actors.

Data Loss and Data Leaks

Shadow IT applications often lack the rigorous security measures present in IT-approved tools. Without proper data encryption or access controls, sensitive company information can be easily lost or leaked, leading to potential intellectual property theft or breaches of confidential client information.

Financial Risks

The unauthorized use of paid applications can lead to unexpected costs for organizations. Also, the financial implications of a data breach resulting from Shadow IT – including potential fines, lawsuits, and loss of customer trust – can be devastating.

Compliance Issues

Many industries must comply with strict regulations regarding data handling and privacy, such as GDPR or HIPAA. The use of unauthorized applications can lead to non-compliance, which can result in hefty fines, legal penalties, and damage to the organization’s reputation.


While Shadow IT may initially seem to increase individual productivity, it can lead to long-term inefficiencies. Diverse sets of tools can lead to miscommunication, lack of standardization, and duplication of effort, thereby affecting the overall productivity of the team or organization.

Things You Can Do to Prevent Shadow IT Risks

Despite the potential threats associated with Shadow IT, there are multiple strategies that organizations can employ to mitigate these risks. By implementing these measures, organizations can retain control over their IT infrastructure, ensure compliance, and maintain a secure environment while still enabling employees to benefit from a diverse range of productivity tools.

Here’s how you can prevent shadow IT risks from affecting your work:

Tip 1: Develop Clear Policies

Organizations should establish and communicate clear guidelines about the use of software, applications, and services. These policies should detail the acceptable use of company systems, the process for requesting new software, and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

Tip 2: Regularly Educate Employees

Organizations need to educate their workforce about the risks associated with Shadow IT and the importance of adhering to its IT policies. This could be achieved through regular training sessions, workshops, and communication initiatives.

Tip 3: Monitor Software Updates

Using workforce management software can help companies to track and monitor application use across the organization. This allows the identification of Shadow IT usage patterns and enables IT teams to take corrective action promptly.

Tip 4: Encourage Communication

Fostering an environment where employees can openly discuss their software needs with the IT department helps to mitigate the risks of Shadow IT. Employees are more likely to request tools they need rather than seek unauthorized alternatives.

Tip 5: Evaluate and Approve Useful Tools

Instead of just restricting Shadow IT, organizations should proactively identify, evaluate, and approve beneficial tools. Regularly review the needs of employees, and where appropriate, incorporate their preferred tools into the organization’s official IT infrastructure.

Final Thoughts

While the rise of Shadow IT is in part a testament to employees’ resourcefulness in seeking tools that enhance their productivity, it undeniably poses significant risks to organizations. From data loss to compliance issues, the potential consequences of unregulated IT use are far-reaching and potentially severe.

However, with a proactive and comprehensive strategy, organizations can significantly reduce their Shadow IT risk. As the trend of remote work continues to grow, managing these risks becomes not just beneficial, but imperative to maintaining a secure, efficient, and productive work environment.

 IT professionals are not just guardians of the organization’s tech infrastructure but also enablers of productivity and efficiency. By working together with employees and understanding their needs, they can mitigate the risks of Shadow IT and ensure a safer and more secure digital workspace for all.

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