Worried About Shadow IT? Look to the Cloud!

For organizations concerned about data security, especially as GDPR edges ever closer and the cost of failing to comply becomes ever clearer, there might be few prospects more anxiety-inducing than the problem of shadow IT. While many versed in enterprise data storage are all too familiar with the concept, for others, shadow IT remains a vague, if foreboding term.

At its most basic, shadow IT, as it relates to storage, simply refers to the circumstance of users within an organization turning to individual storage solutions-a personal Dropbox, for instance-in lieu of those solutions that have been vetted and approved by the organization to which they belong. While the term can be used in a host of different situations (such as use of a personal email), shadow IT when it comes to storage is perhaps the most insidious example.

Often, this phenomenon is simply the result of users who are dissatisfied with the capabilities or functionalities of those solutions that the company has mandated, and while the decision to go outside approved channels to find the best solution for individual productivity might seem innocent enough, the dangers it poses to the security of data cannot be understated.

Shadow IT poses a serious risk for organizations that struggle with finding effective enterprise storage and collaboration solutions. Luckily, the problem is far from intractable.

At Cloud FastPath, we’ve written at length about the restrictions and handicaps inherent to on-premises servers. When it comes to collaborative capabilities and maintenance, these servers can often do more to hinder an organization and its users than help them. Service outages, and frustrating limitations on mobile access can leave users feeling annoyed or desperate. The often-productivity-derailing boundaries of these servers are exactly the sort of restrictions that drive users within organizations to seek alternative solutions, and the cost of that to an organization can be ultimately massive.

When users turn to alternative shadow IT solutions, they risk jeopardizing the security of sensitive company data, opening organizations to higher likelihood of cyber-attacks or ransomware. Because IT departments are unable to guarantee the security of the files users are storing on these alternative platforms, the ability of the organization to protect this data is drastically reduced. Unapproved storage solutions also mean that organizations might find themselves violating industry and geographic compliance regulations without even knowing it, opening them up to harsh fines and other penalties. As mild an issue as some enterprises might be able to convince themselves shadow IT is (an inconvenience or nuisance), the reality of the problem is far harsher.

That’s where cloud collaboration solutions come in.

By design, the cloud-based solutions offered by platforms such as Office 365, OneDrive, Box, Egnyte, Sharefile, and Dropbox are flexible, catering to the needs of the enterprises and the users therein. The maintenance issues almost guaranteed by on-premises servers are drastically reduced, and mobile functionalities allow users to work how and where they want, while still benefitting from the security of these platforms. When it comes to preventing shadow IT, the right cloud collaboration platform can quickly nip the problem in the bud, ensuring that users experience adaptable and easy-to-navigate collaborative solutions and never feel the need to turn to other, unsanctioned solutions.

Many cloud storage platforms are well aware of this, and have taken measures to add additional features to help organizations fight the threat of shadow IT.

Take Dropbox, for instance.

When experts discuss shadow IT, Dropbox frequently comes up. Why? Well, consider how simple it is for a user to set up a personal Dropbox. Many users who ultimately turn to shadow IT do so via these individual Dropboxes, specifically because of the ease of set-up.

For this very reason, Dropbox Business includes a feature known as account capture. Via account capture, admins who have verified a domain for a Dropbox enterprise solution are able to discover any individual Dropboxes that employees have set up via their work emails, and either force that user to migrate to the enterprise team or to change the email associated with their personal account. With this feature, IT is able to keep an eye on how users are sharing, downloading, and uploading sensitive information, and corral accounts that are doing so in a way that puts data security in jeopardy. Unfortunately, for organizations still relying on on-premises servers, monitoring capabilities such as these are just not possible, allowing the threat of shadow IT to persist.

Another example is Egnyte Protect, which offers further solutions for organizations worried about the threat of shadow IT. Through Protect, admins are able to centrally manage data stored on servers, via cloud platforms, and ECM systems. This solution–central to the governance model of Egnyte Protect–offers security and flexibility all at once, and ensures that different storage and collaboration models can coexist based on an enterprise’s needs, while also guaranteeing the ability to monitor how each and all are used.

Both of these solutions-along with others offered by other platforms-address a simple truth: IT must eventually embrace the needs and preferences of users within the organization, rather than fight them. The primary reason an employee would use an unsanctioned collaboration tool is that a similar or comparable tool does not exist within an organization. IT typically attempts to fully block these services at the network level to restrict access and counter shadow IT, but this only drives users to increasingly less secure alternatives. The reality is, there are too many services out there to block, and your users will surely find one. Ultimately, they might find the one that’s worst for data security, and settle for it because it’s the last one IT hasn’t blocked.

The solution? Deploy a collaboration platform.

For any enterprise-level storage solution, collaboration is crucial. It’s essential for effective communication with and among users. It’s essential for providing users with the tools they need to work comfortably and effectively. Cloud collaboration platforms provide organizations with the tools to prevent the frustration that leads to shadow IT usage; with the tools to help users feel comfortable in their ability to remain productive and flexible. For this reason, migration to cloud collaboration platforms that allow enhanced admin monitoring of file usage, and increased user adaptability can make the difference when it comes to fighting shadow IT, and-thus-the difference when it comes to protecting your data and that of your users.

As security becomes more complicated and threats to security continue to evolve, businesses need to reckon with all the ways these threats can develop, as well as the best ways to fight them. That’s why the fight against the dangers of shadow IT is so important.

That’s also why there’s no better weapon to fight those dangers than the right cloud collaboration solution.