Shadow IT is such a popular buzzword right now, but what does it actually mean? If you have ever encountered a situation where a team member casually mentions that they began using a mysterious third party app to get work done, then you may have already experienced the dark side of Shadow IT. This article will delve into the world of Shadow IT, its risks, impact on cybersecurity, and how you can detect and prevent it.

Shadow IT refers to any technology or software used within an organization without the knowledge or approval of the IT department. It typically arises when employees adopt applications or services that are not sanctioned by the organization. The allure of convenience and increased productivity often drives individuals to bypass official channels and seek their own solutions. However, this can have severe consequences for both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Understanding the risks of Shadow IT

The risks associated with Shadow IT are numerous and can have far-reaching implications. One of the primary concerns is the potential compromise of sensitive data. When employees use unauthorized applications, they may unknowingly expose confidential information to external threats. These applications may lack the necessary security measures, making them vulnerable to data breaches or leaks.

Another one of the biggest risks that’s more relevant than ever is due to the rise of generative AI platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Gemini. While their use might be appealing for many reasons, often times they will include dangerous language in their terms of service that grants them the rights to intake and use any data that is fed into it. This can include any sensitive company data fed into the system. This is great if you want to intake massive amounts of data to help train your AI model, but not great if you’ve just fed ChatGPT a copy of your company’s internal pay-rate schedule, or a confidential file sent by a client.

Another risk of Shadow IT is the lack of centralized control and visibility. Without proper oversight, it becomes challenging for organizations to enforce compliance with regulatory requirements and maintain a cohesive security strategy. This can result in compliance violations, financial penalties, and reputational damage. Moreover, the proliferation of unauthorized applications can lead to a fragmented IT infrastructure, making it difficult for IT teams to manage and support the diverse range of technologies being used across the organization.

Common examples of Shadow IT apps

Shadow IT can manifest in various forms, and it is crucial to be aware of the common examples that may be lurking within your organization. Cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive are often used to store and share files, bypassing the organization’s approved systems. Communication tools such as WhatsApp or Slack may be employed for work-related conversations, bypassing official channels and compromising data security. Personal email accounts, social media platforms, and even personal smartphones used for work purposes also fall under the umbrella of Shadow IT. The proliferation of these unauthorized applications poses a significant challenge for organizations aiming to maintain effective cybersecurity measures.

How to detect and prevent Shadow IT

To prevent the emergence of Shadow IT, organizations should focus on fostering a culture of openness and collaboration. Encouraging employees to communicate their needs and concerns regarding existing IT infrastructure can help identify gaps and provide opportunities for improvement. Additionally, organizations should provide clear guidelines and policies regarding the use of technology, emphasizing the importance of data security and regulatory compliance.

For example, if your company uses Zoom for all work-related communcations, some employees might find it difficult to complete certain tasks because they might lack access to an add-in. If those employees don’t feel like they have the power to communicate their needs to the business and be heard, they might resort to finding their own solution and make the problem of Shadow IT worse.

Detection of Shadow IT can be very tricky, even with expensive and comprehensive tooling, such as cloud app security or network monitoring tools. However, there are a few things you can do to try and detect Shadow IT, such as:

  1. Check your IDP admin portal (Like for Office 365, or for Google Workspace) for active OAuth app registrations
  2. Communicate! Talk to your team to see if they’ve had to find solutions via Shadow IT
  3. Check for strange applications or bookmarks on team member’s machines
  4. Sign up for our free Human Risk Report! It can help provide valuable information, including any potential breaches or leaks that may have been caused by signing up for Shadow IT apps and services.

The role of information technology in combating Shadow IT

Information technology takes a critical position in combating Shadow IT and safeguarding organizational data. By actively engaging with employees and understanding their technological needs, IT teams can identify potential pain points and offer suitable solutions. Regular communication and training sessions can raise awareness about the risks associated with Shadow IT and educate employees on the approved applications and best practices for data security. Sometimes, the solution can even include formally adopting an application that was formerly considered Shadow IT!

IT teams should continuously evaluate the existing IT infrastructure to ensure it meets the evolving needs of the organization. By embracing agile methodologies and staying up to date regarding emerging technologies, business owners and/or IT departments can provide innovative solutions that address employees’ requirements while maintaining data security and compliance.


Shadow IT poses significant risks to organizations, both in terms of data security and regulatory compliance. By understanding the nature of Shadow IT, its impact on cybersecurity, and implementing proactive measures, organizations can mitigate these risks and protect their valuable data.

If you have concerns about Shadow IT within your organization, Reach out to us at Attainable Security to learn how you can gain an advantage on your next security check! Our team of experts can provide guidance and solutions to ensure your organization remains secure in the face of emerging threats.