Home » Shadow IT » How to Detect Shadow IT in Your Organization
how to manage shadow IT

How to Detect Shadow IT in Your Organization

The perception of shadow IT has evolved over the last few years. Businesses in growing numbers are accepting it as a necessary evil. In that same line, Shadow IT is also being called business-led IT.

However, all the legitimization in the world does not change the fact that the procurement and use of IT-related hardware and software – cloud services, SaaS applications, and devices – without the explicit approval of the IT department is a cybersecurity nightmare.

It is impossible to maintain security and compliance unless the IT department has complete visibility into all the technology resources being used within the organization. Hence, detecting Shadow IT in your organization is imperative. This article will discuss certain steps an organization can take to control and manage shadow IT.

The root cause of Shadow IT

As per the data, Shadow IT owes its prevalence in modern organizations to three factors.

  • The constant race against time to get things done combined with the lack of risk awareness.
  • Insufficient IT resources combined with a slow approval process.
  • Lack of communication between business units and IT departments.

Teams and individuals engage in shadow IT practices without ever realizing the security risk posed by the use of unauthorized tools.

Thanks to browser-driven cloud-based applications that do not even require an installation, it does not even occur to most employees that their use of such applications might be in violation of the organizational IT protocols.

A lot of times, companies fail to provide their employees with sufficient resources, thus, necessitating shadow IT. In other cases, teams might be oblivious to the presence of sanctioned applications for certain tasks. So, they use unapproved software appliances while the sanctioned tools remain underutilized.

Root CausePercentage of Organizations
Lack of visibility and control over IT assets63%
Inadequate IT governance processes58%
Employee frustration with slow or unresponsive IT45%
The rise of cloud computing40%

5 Practical ways to detect shadow IT in an organization

The process of securing and controlling shadow IT begins with the identification of all assets being used outside the IT department’s purview. There is a number of different approaches that an enterprise can adopt.

Identify applications using CASB

Cloud-based SaaS applications form the largest cohort of Shadow IT appliances. An information security administrator, CISO, or IT security professional can enlist the help of a CASB (cloud access security broker) to identify the cloud-based applications running on the business network.

These applications may be assessed for risk and utility. If an application turns out to be insecure or redundant, it may be discarded or else, the IT department can take note of it and apply security controls to govern it.

Follow the money with spend management solutions

Thanks to intuitive and well-integrated spend management platforms, the mammoth task of monitoring expenditure across corporate credit cards and other sanctions has come down to a few clicks. A spend manager can identify appliances that an employee has purchased. Comparing this list of purchases with the inventory of sanctioned IT tools will yield the shadow IT appliances bought by the employee.

SaaS management platforms to detect zombie users

A former employee often retains access to some IT resources due to a lack of oversight during offboarding. A SaaS manager can help an organization identify these zombie users and revoke their access to such appliances.

A platform, as such, can also raise an alert when there is an anomaly in the usage patterns of a particular SaaS app. A SaaS manager can be used to both identify Shadow IT and categorize them based on utility and security.

Using a Shadow IT Monitoring tool

Uniqkey’s shadow IT discovery dashboard gives enterprises a quick, hassle-free, and streamlined way of monitoring access to both approved and unapproved IT resources. It’s incredibly easy to navigate through different filters and visibility options on the dashboard. With just one click, a user can get the list of all unmanaged applications where employees have used business credentials to log in.

Each of these applications is assigned a security score helping admins decide which ones to look into first. Once a user selects a specific application, the dashboard offers a host of metrics through explanatory visuals. One can identify login frequency, most active users, and current active users at a glance.

Thus, every piece of software used within the organization becomes visible without the hassle of interrogating employees about their software usage, or the toil of manually identifying each application that connects to the company network.

Awareness and communication to strengthen shadow IT policies

Automatically identifying shadow IT resources is not the endgame for an enterprise – it is to reliably control and manage shadow IT. It is impossible to prevent shadow IT without active communication involving the IT department, the leadership, and all the teams.

Organizations need to understand the needs of the teams so that they do not have to find their own solutions to the deficiency of resources. Organizations can encourage employees to communicate with the IT department about their new SaaS subscriptions as an alternative to a forceful banishment of shadow IT. These channels of communication can form the basis of a truly agile but adequately secure work environment.

Why is it important to detect Shadow IT?

An IT department approves or sanctions a SaaS application or cloud service after performing due diligence.

A vendor’s reputation, security certificates, encryption levels (in the case of data storage appliances), and track record, among other things, are checked. A tool is sanctioned for business use only if it meets certain criteria in terms of security, scalability, and performance.

Shadow IT bypasses the whole process creating dangerous blind spots within an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Shadow IT risks at a glance

  • Presence of unpatched, misconfigured, and outdated software within the business network
  • Sensitive data is stored without adequate security
  • Unavailability, inaccessibility, and inconsistency of data
  • Violation of security regulations and compliance
  • Data breaches and exposure of confidential data
  • Operational inefficiency due to lack of integration with the sanctioned IT stack  
  • Financial loss incurred by wasted licensing, penalties, and business downtime 

While it is hard to stop or banish the use of shadow IT in the context of agile businesses operating around a DevOps environment, it can be managed, monitored, and controlled. Discovering shadow IT is the first step in the process.


Uniqkey is the perfect password management solution for teams and businesses. Built with high usability in mind, Uniqkey makes it easy for employees to adopt secure password habits, raising company-wide security in a simple and effective way.