Tackling Shadow IT: The Unseen Network Security Risk

Tackling Shadow IT: The Unseen Network Security Risk

Shadow IT has emerged as a critical challenge for businesses worldwide. This hidden part of the computer network is growing and without proper checks, is a big risk to network safety and keeping data safe. It’s very important to know about and reduce the risks from this shadow IT to keep security strong and protect the organization’s assets.

Understanding Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the use of IT systems, software, devices, and services without explicit approval from the IT department. This phenomenon is driven by the burgeoning demand for agile and flexible technological solutions that traditional IT processes may not swiftly accommodate. While shadow IT can boost productivity and innovation, it simultaneously opens the door to numerous security vulnerabilities and compliance issues.

The Security Implications of Shadow IT

The proliferation of shadow IT significantly complicates the security landscape for organizations. Without visibility into the unauthorized applications and devices in use, IT departments are at a disadvantage in protecting their networks against breaches and cyber threats. Shadow IT can inadvertently expose sensitive data to unsecured environments, making it susceptible to interception and exploitation.

Strategies for Mitigating Shadow IT Risks

To effectively manage the risks associated with shadow IT, organizations must adopt a multifaceted approach:

Enhanced Visibility and Monitoring:

Implementing tools that provide comprehensive visibility into the organization’s network can identify unauthorized devices and applications. Regular audits and monitoring efforts are crucial for detecting shadow IT and assessing its impact on security. These tools not only help in identifying the presence of shadow IT but also in assessing its potential impact on network security and compliance. Below, we delve into examples of applications that facilitate enhanced visibility and monitoring, highlighting their capabilities and how they contribute to mitigating the risks associated with shadow IT.

1. Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs)

CASBs are security policy enforcement points that sit between cloud service consumers and cloud service providers to monitor all activity and enforce security policies. They provide deep visibility into cloud applications and services usage, making them invaluable for identifying shadow IT practices within cloud environments. CASBs can detect unauthorized cloud services and enforce policies like encryption and access control to mitigate risks.


  • McAfee MVISION Cloud: Offers comprehensive visibility into cloud usage and risk assessment, enabling organizations to identify unauthorized cloud services and enforce security policies.
  • Netskope Security Cloud: Provides real-time data and threat protection when accessing cloud services, websites, and private apps from anywhere, on any device.

2. Network Traffic Analysis Tools

These tools analyze network traffic to identify devices and applications that are communicating over the network. They are particularly useful for detecting shadow IT by monitoring for unusual traffic patterns or the use of unauthorized applications.


  • SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor: Offers network device and traffic monitoring capabilities to detect unusual activity that could indicate shadow IT. It provides deep visibility into network performance and the types of traffic passing through.
  • Darktrace: Uses AI algorithms to understand ‘normal’ network behavior and detect deviations that might suggest unauthorized devices or applications are in use.

3. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) Solutions

EDR solutions monitor endpoint and network events and record the information in a centralized database where further analysis, detection, investigation, reporting, and alerting take place. EDR tools are essential for spotting signs of shadow IT on individual devices, especially when unauthorized applications are installed or used.


  • CrowdStrike Falcon: Provides cloud-delivered endpoint protection, offering visibility across the enterprise to detect and prevent threats in real-time.
  • SentinelOne: Delivers autonomous endpoint protection that not only prevents threats but also provides insights into unauthorized applications running on endpoints.

4. Software Asset Management (SAM) Tools

SAM tools are designed to manage, control, and protect software assets within an organization. They can inventory and manage software usage, making it easier to identify unauthorized applications that could signify shadow IT.


  • Flexera: Helps organizations maximize business value from their software and hardware assets by ensuring compliance and optimizing spend.
  • Snow Software: Provides visibility and control across all software, cloud, and hardware assets, helping to minimize risks and costs associated with shadow IT.

Developing IT Governance Policies:

Establishing clear IT governance policies can help manage the use of unauthorized technologies. These policies should outline acceptable use, security protocols, and the procedure for requesting new software and devices.

Promoting Security Awareness and Training:

Educating employees about the risks associated with shadow IT and the importance of adhering to IT policies is vital. Regular training sessions can foster a culture of security awareness and encourage the use of approved technologies.

Offering Authorized Alternatives:

Providing employees with approved, secure, and flexible technological solutions can reduce the reliance on shadow IT. IT departments should work closely with other departments to understand their needs and offer authorized alternatives that meet these requirements without compromising security.

Collaboration Between IT and Business Units:

Encouraging open dialogue and collaboration between IT departments and business units can bridge the gap between security requirements and operational needs. This collaborative approach ensures that the adoption of new technologies is both secure and aligned with business objectives.


Shadow IT represents a significant and growing challenge for organizations, posing risks to network security, data integrity, and compliance. By understanding the drivers behind shadow IT and implementing strategic measures to mitigate its risks, organizations can protect their digital assets while fostering innovation and productivity. It requires a delicate balance between security and flexibility, emphasizing the need for visibility, governance, education, and collaboration.

Efforts to tackle shadow IT should be viewed as an ongoing process, adapting to new technological advancements and changing organizational needs. Through proactive management and strategic planning, businesses can harness the benefits of new technologies while minimizing the security risks associated with shadow IT.

I hope this article was helpful! You can find more here: Network Security Articles.

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Patrick Domingues

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