Remote work is excellent for productivity, but companies are finding that it can also increase shadow IT risks. There are several cybersecurity risks of working from home and these threats — which can be difficult to quantify — are some of the most concerning.
Thankfully, the risks of remote work don’t necessarily outweigh the benefits as long as companies can address them appropriately. That starts with understanding the vulnerabilities they face.
What Are Shadow IT Risks?
Shadow IT refers to hardware or software connected to a company network without the administrator’s knowledge or approval. These connections are often innocuous in and of themselves, like using a personal phone on the network for convenience. However, they’re risky because IT departments can’t secure what they don’t know about.
The most common form of shadow IT is personal email, accounting for 42% of unapproved IT services employees used in 2020. Private messenger platforms, videoconferencing services and file storage software fall close behind. While these may not be inherently threatening, they expand the company’s attack surface without IT teams knowing.
While shadow IT risks can happen in any environment, they’re far more frequent with a remote workforce. It’s difficult to tell what services employees use when connecting to company systems from their devices. It’s even harder to enforce rules about these sanctioned connections when team members aren’t in the same building.
How to Prevent Shadow IT Risks
Many businesses today are aware of the cybersecurity risks of working from home. In 2020, 40% of decision-makers had to dismiss employees for breaching cybersecurity policies, but dismissal — however necessary at times — isn’t ideal. It’s better to prevent these risks in the first place. While challenging, that is possible.
The key to shadow IT governance is ensuring company-sanctioned tools provide everything employees need. Workers are more likely to use potentially unsafe technologies if the safe alternatives don’t work well. By that same logic, if businesses make things like file-sharing, communication, productivity and IT help easier with approved tools, they’ll minimize shadow IT.
Next, IT teams should educate employees about the dangers of shadow IT. Many workers may need to realize these unsanctioned tools create risks because they seem perfectly safe initially. If workers know why shadow IT is risky and how those risks could impact them, they’ll be less likely to use it.
Mitigation Steps for When Accidents Happen
While prevention is better than cure, it’s essential to realize no protection is 100% effective. The risks of working from home for employers and employees alike are too high not to have a backup plan.
Because shadow IT is, by nature, difficult to get a complete picture of, businesses should design their networks to mitigate its impact. One of the most important steps toward that goal is segmentation. Restricting networks and access permissions to minimize connections will ensure a breach from an unsanctioned program or device won’t jeopardize the entire network.
Network traffic analysis tools can also help. These automated programs will detect unusual activity or connections, helping identify shadow IT and related risks. Thorough backup and recovery plans are also necessary to minimize the impact of a breach that does go through.
Keep Your Workers Safe From Shadow IT Risks
Shadow IT governance is challenging, but businesses don’t have to accept these risks. When companies know where these vulnerabilities come from and how they endanger networks, they can confidently approach them.
These steps can help any company minimize and mitigate its shadow IT risks. They will then enjoy the benefits of remote work without worrying about related security threats.