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Shadow IT: Not The Risk You Think

Enterprise cloud services such as Box, Office 365, Salesforce, and Google Apps can make a better case for being called sanctioned than many legacy, on-premises, IT-provisioned applications.

As we near the end of 2014, a multitude of indisputable data points to a simple fact that every security dollar dedicated to reining in Shadow IT through preventative policies or controls is a dollar wasted. In fact, the exact opposite is true: Shadow IT adoption by business units helps to increase IT savvy through a shared focus on innovation as a differentiator.

Verizon recently published its annual "State Of The Market: Enterprise Cloud report for 2014," based on data from independent analyst firm 451 Research, which found that what we know as "Shadow IT" has largely become extinct as a valid business risk. In the report Verizon concludes that the most successful CIOs have made building strong ties with the lines of business a core objective:

Standards have emerged, IT departments have now developed their competencies, providers have clarified their offerings, and both sides understand each other much better. Many buyers now have thorough mechanisms in place for specifying and managing procurement, governance, and performance.

Skyhigh Networks, meanwhile, in their "Q3 2014 Cloud Adoption And Risk Report," found that, "while the average organization employed 831 cloud services, the distribution of data movement across services revealed that 80% of data uploaded to the cloud goes to just 1%, or 11, cloud services."

This is very much in line with findings in Adallom's annual "Cloud Usage Risk Report," which noted that of the 11 cloud services detailed in Skyhigh Networks' report, only four primary services account for the majority of enterprise files in the cloud: Box, Office 365, Salesforce, and Google Apps. This means that of the 831 or so cloud services found in an average organization, only four represent the largest attack surface, none of which would be classified as "Shadow IT."

Rogue consumers vs. enterprise SaaS
There is a distinct difference between "Consumerized Shadow IT," defined as a single "rogue" user interacting with unsanctioned cloud applications, and "Enterprise SaaS," which are cloud applications now included as a prominent piece of IT portfolios across industries. In fact, as evinced in the Verizon report, the status quo has pivoted so profoundly that these Enterprise SaaS services have a better case for being called sanctioned than many legacy IT provisioned on-premises enterprise apps.

The "new" Shadow IT -- the one that represents real, measurable risk -- is the proliferation of third-party apps built on top of the dominant SaaS platforms -- The Salesforce AppExchange, Google Apps Marketplace, etc. Millions of applications are developed and released into these SaaS ecosystems on an on-going basis, and understanding which are installed and the potential risks they pose can be a daunting task.

The Adallom report also found that there have already been scenarios where malicious ecosystem applications have tricked users into handing over access to privileged data. Governance over third-party SaaS ecosystem application access becomes increasingly difficult as SaaS platforms intersect with each other. For example, there are already cross-platform third-party applications that integrate services like Dropbox with Salesforce, or Google Drive with Huddle -- meaning a compromised account in one cloud service could become an attack vector into another.

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Editors' Choice
Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5