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Shadow IT: Eliminate the risk of employee workarounds

by ​Mike Melloy


Prevent compromised data by properly storing sensitive information

Time: 4 minute read
You’re probably aware that not all of your employees follow company protocol for transferring files. A few may be emailing documents to their personal accounts or using consumer apps for storage or sharing.

But most people follow the rules, so it’s not a big deal — right?

Unfortunately, employee workarounds are a much bigger problem than you think. When a recent Cisco study1 asked CIOs how many unauthorized cloud service apps they thought were running at their organizations, they estimated an average of 51. The actual average number was 730 —more than 14 times what CIOs believed!


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Business in the shadows

Employee workarounds — also known as shadow IT services — are everywhere. Even Hillary Clinton famously got in on the act when she used a BlackBerry® tied to her home server while serving as Secretary of State.2

Though your company’s information may not be a prized target for foreign spies, you can still get slammed by security issues if employees use shadow IT to find their own solutions for transferring files. Consumer apps and personal email accounts aren’t equipped with enterprise-grade firewalls. Hackers troll the Internet looking for weak links, and would be overjoyed to find corporate financial or ERP information they could sell on the black market. Even worse, customer information could be stolen, leading to unhappy customers, lawsuits and a nasty black eye.

You can train employees on security, but it doesn’t always help. When they want to finish up a project at home, add comments to their colleague’s report, or drop a large file where they can easily get to it, convenience is often the trump card.

​Having all your information in a central online hub gives you a window on how data flows through your organization.

Enhance the way sensitive information flows through your small business

Check out our free book — "The Small Business Security Playbook" — and learn how you can improve IT security to help avoid data breaches.

End the blame game

You can’t blame employees, really. FTP servers are clunky and VPNs are slow. Photo and video files can get stuck in transit if you try to send them as email attachments. On-premise storage forces employees to work nine to five.

Today’s workers want, and even need, to be flexible; therefore, collaboration is a must. It’s no wonder they’re using Evernote®, Box®, Dropbox® and other consumer apps on the sly. The good news is that there are solutions you can put in place to better manage and prevent these risks from occurring.

File sync & share: Despite the desire to bring shadow IT into the workplace, you don’t have to turn a blind eye and take your chances. There are enterprise-grade solutions for file syncing and sharing that allow workers to access information anywhere, including on mobile devices. And, unlike the consumer apps of the world, technologies like Enterprise File Sync & Share (EFSS) ensure your data is encrypted per your preferences, while allowing you to set authentication requirements. You can also monitor activity, generate reports, and limit or remove access for a device, an employee or a file.

Employees will be able to work on files together securely without worrying about version control. Depending on your preferences, you can also let them share information with customers. They can get e-signatures on contracts, for example, speeding up deals and offering buyers convenience.

Document management:
Employees not only want to share and collaborate — they want to stash documents where they can find them without jumping through hoops or making a trip to the office. You can help them by setting up your own centralized storage hub. All your data can be indexed and tagged so that workers can find documents easily without having to remember the file name or the date it was created. You can set up sharing and remote access for authorized employees or for groups collaborating on a project.

Having all your information in a central online hub gives you a window on how data flows through your organization. You can spot bottlenecks, learn what kind of information employees need most, and gain other actionable business insights. You can’t get this level of intelligence if workers use consumer apps in the dark.

File sharing apps and cloud storage are a part of your business, whether your company is officially using them or not. But shadow IT doesn’t need to be. Give your employees the functionality they need while ensuring you keep your information safe and flowing efficiently. This makes your business more productive, and it helps you sleep better at night.

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1 Kenneth Corbin, "CIOs Vastly Underestimate Extent of Shadow IT." CIO From IDG, August 10, 2015. http://www.cio.com/article/2968281/cio-role/cios-vastly-underestimate-extent-of-shadow-it.html
2 Robert O'Harrow Jr., "How Clinton’s Email Scandal Took Root." The Washington Post, March 27, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/how-clintons-email-scandal-took-root/2016/03/27/ee301168-e162-11e5-846c-10191d1fc4ec_story.html?utm_term=.f60c7db75dc6