Embracing the Shadow – Wait! What?

December 28, 2015  |  Cheryl Biswas

There was a time when the IT security lords ruled. Mere mortals only had whatever devices and access they were issued. Companies had “standards” and if you wanted something it had to exist on the approved equipment list. But decisions took time and the lines of business didn’t always get the answer they wanted. Regulating tech was getting in the way of getting stuff done. Security had become an inconvenience.

It was easier to regulate things back then, when there were fewer things. The available tech was enough to get the job done. But that’s the thing. Tech is always evolving, to meet the demands for faster, better, more. And how do you do more better and faster? Shadow IT and Shadow Data.

Welcome to GenMobile, “a flexible, transparent and collaborative presence, ” which actually means folks who don’t follow the rules. Yes, Houston, we have a problem and it’s called self-service IT. Guess what percentage of workers are doing it for themselves? Aruba Networks cites 77%. Hello Shadow.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because we can’t see all the stuff, all the time. Easy-to-use devices are everywhere, creating an unprecedented level of end user entitlement. And a little knowledge has become a very dangerous thing by letting people “help themselves” to data and network access.

So what do you do when employees make independent decisions about devices, data storage and transmission? Accept it? Regulate it? Or ban it? Because “keep it secret” definitely does not keep IT safe.

No Idea What They’re Using, No Idea What They’re Losing

We need to start by getting our head in the cloud. Ah, the Cloud. It’s the solution to everything: storage, countless productivity applications, Office 365, Google Docs. Face it. Cloud is accessible anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anywhen. But the truth hurts:

  • 15x more cloud services are used to store critical data than CIOs have authorized
  • IT says 51 active cloud services. Survey says 730
  • Use growing exponentially
  • 1000 external services per company by 2016
  • 30% of business critical info is in the cloud

Here’s where we worry: The combination of Insider Threat plus Shadow IT. What if the interfaces and APIs with which users interact aren't secure? Attackers are actively searching for these types of vulnerabilities to exploit them. And how do you protect against what you don’t know, because there’s a whole lotta activity going on up there unreported.

Shadow as the New Norm?

What if I said to you Shadow IT isn’t going away. In fact, it’s being heralded as the new norm, the way work is going to get done. Ponemon Institute reports an average of 50% of cloud services are deployed by departments other than corporate IT. And an average of 44% of corporate data stored in the cloud is neither managed not controlled by the IT department. Control over network infrastructure and physical hardware like firewalls is supposed to be the realm of the IT folks in charge of securing proprietary data. But the cloud has a way of making things go all fuzzy.

Twelve years ago technology spending outside of IT was 20 percent of total technology spending. But according to the experts at Gartner, it will become almost 90 percent by the end of the decade. At the Gartner Symposium in Orlando in June this year, the new attitude toward Shadow IT was this: “to empower their organizations to innovate, grow, and succeed, IT departments must embrace and manage this phenomenon.”

Hank Marquis, research director at Gartner, declared:

“Shadow IT looks a lot more scary than it is. Shadow IT is the future happening today. It’s called innovation. It’s happening in the edges where we don’t deliver the solutions. You might not agree with it but you should think that way. You’re not going to stop shadow IT. It’s not going to go away. You’re not going to suppress it. You might as well embrace it, leverage it, use it.”

His is not the only voice out there with that message. Jeanne Ross, Research Director and Principal Research Scientist, Center for Information Systems Research, MIT Sloan School of Management expressed similar sentiments in the HP Enterprise blog for December 10, entitled “Why Smart Companies are Embracing Shadow IT.” She talks about how business is using “demand shaping”, where companies identify their most “valuable and achievable business –change opportunities”, and then use this to select those projects best suited to invest IT dollars in. As for those rejected projects that would find their way into Shadow IT:

“This all comes down to relationships, and to the right conversations happening between people at all levels of IT and business. But if mutual respect exists between IT architects and program managers and their counterparts within the business units, demand shaping and shadow IT can forge an extraordinarily productive partnership.” Read more.

And then world peace can happen?

Ed Macnair, CEO, CensorNet, weighs in with this. "There is a case here for innovation versus risk. By allowing shadow IT, new solutions that will benefit the wider business can be found. However, shadow IT is a security nightmare as those members of staff who are likely to use their own solutions will inherently be from the generation of risk takers and will therefore be less concerned by the need for all encompassing security measures."

The Innovation Trade Off

The recommendation by Gartner is that Shadow IT not be contained but encouraged and allowed within established boundaries to abide by existing compliance, regulatory and security rules. Innovation without peril. Even better, it’s a more prevalent and well-understood aspect of technology management among companies, and leaders might want to take a completely different approach to handling this matter.

As illustrated by IDC Senior Research Analyst Mark Yates, employees are operating with tacit permission, making their own decisions, and nobody is in control. The business environment has become a “Wild West.” Entitlement and empowerment are enabling employees to fake compliance and use what they want.

Simon Mingay, Vice President of Research, Gartner Inc., drives the point home. “For most IT organizations, resistance is futile. Better to embrace it and acknowledge that employee IT and digital skills in the increasingly digital workplace are an opportunity to innovate and create more value from IT and digital investments.”

And there we have the corporate buy-in. Lower IT costs, increased flexibility, speedier task completion and less interference from IT. Yes, it is being echoed from suite to suite. Because innovation leads to profit. But at what price to security?

A New Hope for The Phantom Menace?

Again, there is a collective chorus on the new approach to take. There need to be guidelines and boundaries to help corral Shadow IT without driving it completely underground and out of scope. Mingay advised “bring shadow IT out of the shadows, make it transparent, provide services that support it.” He advocates “Rather than try to eradicate shadow IT, let’s rename it “dispersed IT,” since everyone has a piece of it.” Frank discussions need to happen to identify why Shadow IT is happening, and those users and business units engaging most heavily identified and consulted. Why are existing policies and rules being circumvented when the consequences are known?

Is it possible to construct a mutually viable arrangement whereby IT can assume the role of broker, an intermediary between users and their apps? Gartner recommends IT organizations engage the business as a partner, and ask senior executives what they think IT’s role should be. And the conversation should extend to outliers and users not operating within the daily confines. Marquis reiterates points we’ve all been saying, like the importance of having visible support from the top execs. Of great importance is IT collaborating efficiently with audit and asset management to ensure compliance.

Clearly, the game has changed and there’s no going back. We have to shift gears, project from the rapid developments of Cloud, Everything as a service, and Big Data. It’s going to mean moving out of our comfort zone to get a better handle on what people really need and want. Buy-in comes when we show the CSuites how security is the strategic partner to help them move toward innovation. It’s a different terrain, but we’ve still got to run it faster, better than the guys who are out there waiting, counting on what our end users will do and the rules they won’t follow.

About the Author

Follow Cheryl Biswas on Twitter @3ncr1pt3d

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