Shadow IT – Outside CISO’s Visibility

In this article, you’ll learn more about shadow IT, shadow AI and the associated risks, costs, and benefits, and how to successfully discover and manage these tools that’s off the radar.


If you are experienced CISO, for sure you encountered this (or similar) situation – where some business unit set up an online questionnaire for employees. They used a free version of some SaaS which IT had no clue about. The questionnaire asked for sensitive information from the respondents. But since there was no contract in place with the SaaS provider, there was no agreement on data usage, storage, protection or maintenance. Unfortunately, the SaaS provider had a security vulnerability in their solution, and this resulted in a massive data breach of the questionnaire answers… Sounds familiar?

Do you know that by 2027, 75% of employees will acquire or create technology outside IT’s visibility?

Shadow IT can include IaaS, PaaS and SaaS services. There are also traditional computers, phones, APIs, browser plugins, to mention the most obvious. And on top of all the above there is another shadow lurking – Shadow AI.

Valuable insights into new trends and opinions related to combating shadow IT

Even though unmanaged apps can refer to many things, the main concern enterprises have today is the increase of SaaS and AI applications that haven’t been approved by IT departments.

Risks of shadow AI

Risks are numerous, such as data privacy and compliance violations, security vulnerabilities, financial and reputational risks, intellectual property risks, regulatory and legal challenges.

Questionable Shadow IT benefits

Some immediate benefits are: improved productivity – when employees find that the current inhouse solutions aren’t sufficient, they start using more suitable SaaS applications. Another benefit is improved employee satisfaction – slow IT approval processes can cause great frustration and a lack of motivation, so quick adoption of new technology improves staff satisfaction.

So what can you do?

Here are some advices.

1. Automate shadow IT discovery for full visibility

2. Schedule risk assessments

3. Analyse application usage

4. Evaluate and rationalise applications

5. Implement buying and renewal processes

6. Continuously monitor and review.

Are organisations equipped with effective strategies to safeguard against unauthorised technology usage?

While many organisations have adopted basic measures to combat unauthorised technology usage, there is still much room for improvement. Effective safeguards require robust policies and an organisational culture that prioritises cybersecurity.

Comprehensive security policies must be established and enforced across all departments. These policies should outline acceptable and unacceptable technologies, communicate the risks associated with Shadow IT, and detail the consequences of non-compliance.

Platform-level safeguards like secure access management and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are essential. These tools ensure that only approved users can access sensitive data and applications, creating an additional layer of security.

Next, the deployment of cloud governance tools is critical for controlling Shadow IT. These tools help in policy enforcement and provide visibility into cloud usage across different departments.

Features like real-time monitoring, automated compliance checks, and detailed reporting enhance your ability to manage and govern cloud resources effectively.

Regular audits and risk assessments are vital in identifying existing vulnerabilities and potential unauthorised applications. Conducting these audits periodically allows you to maintain an updated inventory of your IT assets and detect Shadow IT instances more efficiently.

Lastly, fostering a collaborative environment between IT and other business units can significantly reduce the prevalence of Shadow IT. By understanding the technology needs of different departments and providing sanctioned alternatives, you decrease the likelihood of employees seeking out unauthorised solutions.

How can Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) help in the fight against Shadow IT?

These technologies provide critical capabilities for real-time detection and mitigation of unauthorised applications and activities. AI-driven applications can continuously analyse network traffic and usage patterns to identify deviations from the norm. By examining these patterns, AI is able to flag potential instances of Shadow IT quickly and with higher accuracy. This proactive approach allows you to address vulnerabilities before they escalate into more significant security threats.

ML models can differentiate between legitimate and illicit software, even as the latter evolves and becomes more sophisticated.

Moreover, AI and ML can help automate the enforcement of security policies. When suspicious activities are detected, these technologies can trigger automated responses, such as isolating affected systems and notifying security personnel.

Integrating AI and ML into your cybersecurity framework isn’t merely about detection and response. These technologies also provide predictive insights, enabling you to anticipate future Shadow IT trends and adjust your defences accordingly.

Predictive analytics can uncover emerging patterns and potential risks, allowing you to stay one step ahead of unauthorised technology usage.

Shadow IT user education and engagement

User education and engagement are pivotal in mitigating the risks associated with Shadow IT. Informing employees about the dangers of unauthorised technology usage can significantly lower instances of Shadow IT.

Start by implementing continuous security awareness training programs. These programs should educate employees on how Shadow IT comprises organisational security, leads to data breaches, and results in regulatory non-compliance.

Real-world case studies can illustrate these risks compellingly and encourage adherence to approved tools and practices.

Interactive workshops and seminars can further enhance employee engagement. These sessions should not only highlight the dangers but also demonstrate secure alternatives and best practices.

By providing hands-on experience with authorised tools and technologies, you empower employees to make informed decisions.

Creating an open dialogue about technology needs and challenges can also be beneficial. Encourage employees to communicate their requirements and difficulties openly. This transparency allows IT departments to recommend secure and compliant alternatives, reducing the temptation to resort to unapproved applications.

Implementing a rewards and recognition program can incentivize compliance. Recognize and reward employees who adhere to security policies and report potential Shadow IT activities.

Regularly updated communication channels, such as newsletters and intranet portals, can keep employees informed about the latest security policies, threat landscapes, and approved technologies.

Ongoing communication ensures that cybersecurity remains top of mind and ingrained in the organisational culture.

Employee awareness programs 

Training sessions focused on the dangers and impacts of Shadow IT can significantly reduce unauthorised technology usage.

By fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness, you enable your workforce to make informed decisions about the tools they use.

Another emerging opinion stresses the importance of collaboration between IT and other departments. Encouraging open communication channels allows employees to express their technology needs. These needs can then be evaluated and approved by the IT department, reducing the allure of Shadow IT by providing safer, sanctioned alternatives.

Discussion point

As we can see, with its risks and challenges it also might have its benefits. But it definitely creates a gap between Business and IT. to discover more – Attend this Expert Panel – Shadow IT – Outside CISO’s Visibility, designed just to answer your concerns (Amsterdam Nov 14, at 13:35) at the most exclusive cybersecurity event – Next IT Security.

Share this post
Next IT Security Team
Next IT Security Team
Articles: 71

Nordics Edition

C-Level IT Security Event

BeNeLux Edition

C-Level IT Security Event

DACH Edition

C-Level IT Security Event