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Shadow IT: Why danger lurks in dark spaces

08 Mar 17

Make no mistake — shadow IT as a security problem is here to stay. Many CIOs are fighting to maintain their traditional control over enterprise IT assets, but the ubiquity and convenience of the cloud-based solutions are allowing individual lines of business to make their own IT purchases. These purchases are often outside “traditional” procurement controls, and therefore are taking place outside of the purview of the IT and security organisations.

Unsanctioned use of cloud services drives increased risks of data breaches and resulting financial liabilities. According to Gartner’s December 2015 research report, “Predicts 2016: Threat and Vulnerability Management,” “by 2020, a third of successful attacks experienced by enterprises will be on their shadow IT resources.”

The business impact 

The presence of unknown cloud services makes it difficult for security teams to identify and manage the organisations total attack surface. Despite this challenge, the answer is not a wholesale ban on the use of these popular services. 

Many employees turn to unsanctioned cloud services because they often allow them to be more efficient and productive, solving a real business problem. Although blocking may be a quick-fix for the associated security issues, this does nothing to correct the underlying business problem that led to the unsanctioned applications in the first place.

Discovering and embracing the unknown

Not knowing what cloud services are present represents something dangerous – an unknown threat surface. Security departments need to understand what cloud services are being used within the organisation in order to get a handle on the real risk.

Security and IT organisations must embark on a proactive discovery mission where the infrastructure is instrumented to help identify what cloud services are being used and who is using them. When administrators are armed with this information, services can be analysed. Those with a legitimate business purpose can be properly secured, embraced and maintained. Those services which expose the organisation to excessive risk or which are superfluous in nature can be blocked. 

Technology and its role in the workplace are changing constantly, and because of shadow IT, many of these changes go undetected by those responsible for securing the workplace. Before any cloud-based application is used, the risks associated with that application must be understood and mitigated. Discovery of all unknown soft assets, such as SaaS, is critical to having a secure IT infrastructure. Once soft assets are discovered and associated risks are identified, teams can create appropriate controls.

Article by Dick Bussiere, technical director, Asia Pacific, Tenable Network Security.

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