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Top Cyber Security Threats for 2019: Shadow IT

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By: lpark

June 26, 2019

Shadow IT is a cybersecurity innovation and a natural product of cloud computing services. While shadow IT networks can pose a serious security risk, they can also provide benefits in organizational efficiency. This section explores the concepts and practical applications of shadow IT networks.

Into the Shadowlands

No, not the 1993 movie with Anthony Hopkins… Innovation has been a crucial element in the history of cybersecurity, and new methods and tools are constantly evolving. One development is the advent of IT systems deployed outside of an organization’s IT department. These systems are typically built covertly, and they have been used maliciously or as part of an IT system’s original design. This section will explore the use and origins of shadow IT, how it’s used by hackers to compromise organizational systems, and some practical examples that appear in many organizations.At the most basic level, shadow IT is an organization’s use of IT assets outside the official IT department. This often happens unintentionally, as many new applications rely on access to private networks and cloud computing services. Communications on these networks are outside the awareness and control of IT departments, so they pose a risk to organizational security as a whole. However, a cybersecurity professional or malicious hacker may employ the use of a shadow IT as a means to compromise the network. Organizations may intentionally deploy shadow IT networks as a means of increasing productivity and balancing workload. Cloud based services already have the server infrastructure and free up time for other tasks, but the development of a shadow IT network can pose a serious security risk.While cloud computing services make up a sizable portion of shadow IT networks, they can be deployed from outside the organization with intentions to compromise the network. Hackers try and locate the easiest route into an organization’s network, and a shadow IT network provides an alternate path into the organization. Information is stored on private servers outside the network, and compromising access to that network may be easier than accessing the network directly. Hackers can also deploy shadow IT networks as a form of entrenchment on networks they have already compromised. This allows for covert surveillance and communications in the network.

Let’s get real here…

Some real world examples, such as Office 365, can help clarify the practical meaning of shadow IT networks. This service allows for the use and interaction of multiple office programs, and the application interacts with private servers for updates, communication, and file storage. This network is outside the awareness or control of the organization’s IT network, but it can improve efficiency and allow the IT network to focus on other tasks. Some shadow IT networks are a product of a previously installed network service that has gone out of use.In its many forms, shadow IT networks are simply IT activities outside the scope and awareness of an organization’s IT department or network. Security risks can be mitigated on cloud computing services that create shadow IT networks. Vulnerability analysis and threat detection are necessary to find and remove maliciously installed shadow IT networks. Shadow IT networks can prove to be beneficial as cloud services, but securing the network from attacks through these services is necessary to mitigate the threat. Like many other cybersecurity innovations, shadow IT is a potential security risk and practical organizational tool.
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