Shadow IT: Regain Control Of Your Data!

Dane Meah
October 14, 2017


Most organisations significantly underestimate the scale of Shadow IT within their organisations, often by factors of 10x or more. This issue is growing and represents a significant business risk, especially as we move into tighter data privacy legislation, with Notifiable Data Breach amendment coming into effect in February 2018.


Shadow IT are the applications being used by employees that are unsanctioned by the IT Department. Common examples include file sharing, note keeping, project management, task management, email and marketing applications. Alarmingly, employees will readily use these applications to store all varieties of information, from your companies Intellectual Property (IP), your customers Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and other confidential information. The use of cloud applications in itself should not be a concern, however, not all applications are created equal. In many cases, applications were not built with the Enterprise standard of security in mind and this is rarely a requirement when employees choose applications. Instead, the focus is on user interface, ease of use and cost.

The lack of visibility, control and governance is what represents the biggest risk to your business of unsactioned cloud applications.

The sheer volume is not truly understood by the vast majority. In a recent example, we pulled a few hours of firewall logs from a medium sized business and ran this through our CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker) analyser to find several hundred unsanctioned applications. Everything from Mega Share, Evernote, Google Apps, Dropbox, Box, iCloud to name a few. Not only did this organisation have no idea about the usage of these applications, they were amazed by how broadly these apps were being used – and that was just a short 3 hour view of their traffic. A recent study by SkyHigh found an average of 1,437 cloud applications per company, growing at a rate of 23 percent quarter on quarter.


First, what not to do: There’s a number of band-aid approaches to stop Shadow IT, which not only do not work, but may be counterproductive as they prevent productivity of your staff. Some organisations have taken the draconian approach to attempt to block use of unsanctioned applications by preventing installation of new applications, blocking certain protocols or access to certain websites. However, if we’ve learnt anything from this it is that where there’s will, there’s a way! Your users either find alternative, potentially lesser known, less secure apps, or the providers themselves build workarounds into the apps, such as use of different protocols or web addresses to bypass your attempts to block the app.

There’s a reason your employees are using these applications and on the most part it’s to be more productive and solve problems that existed in how they were working. Whether it’s having the ability to access large files from anywhere, collaborate with internal and external parties on projects or keep tabs on their current priorities, Shadow IT is a byproduct of unfulfilled need of your business users.

What to do… There are 4 elements in regaining control of your data that must consider all of the common factors – People, Process and Technology.

1. Gain visibility. Perform a Shadow IT Audit of your environment with a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB). A good CASB solution will provide insights about the security profile of each given application so you have a common criterion to decide whether the application is up to the standard, but also the analyse the types of data being stored in the cloud, whether it be PII, PCI or source code.

2. Create policy. Define what is acceptable to your organisation for the types of applications being used based on a common criterion and also what types of data you are happy to move into these applications. Factors could include:

  • Types of data being stored
  • Location of infrastructure
  • Financial stability of vendor
  • Application Security profile.
  • Does the provider maintain ISO or another recognized security standard.
  • Is the data encrypted?
  • Are their data centers secured?
  • What are the privacy standards of the provider? (e.g. how will they use it?)
  • What controls can be placed on the data
  • Is the provider financially secure (i.e. What risk could there be if they went bust)

(Tip: collating the above information can be cumbersome and take weeks, if not months, but luckily a good CASB solution will have done the leg work for you and will even allow you to set your priorities about what is important.)

3. Policy Governance

Ensure your policy is known by your people to start to shift the culture of app adoption towards secure and approved methods. Coaching users is the first step in your Governance journey.

4. Policy Enforcement

Using DLP and CASB technical controls, you can start to enforce your companies Cloud Application policy. A good approach is to begin by coaching staff – some controls have the ability to advise the user of the correct policy when unsanctioned applications are being used, but not block access, ensuring minimal business disruption.


Infotrust is supporting Australian businesses gain visibility and regain control of their data and typically the first steps towards this will involve:

  1. Dropbox domain insight report – Dropbox is the most widely used cloud application being used by your business users. This report provides insights into existing usage of Dropbox personal accounts within your business and the flow of information internally and externally.
  2. Shadow IT Audit – leveraging a Cloud Access Security Broker, Infotrust can provide a 30 day audit of the cloud applications being used and the data being placed into the cloud.

Please contact the team at Infotrust for more information at or 02 9221 5555.