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Managing Shadow IT Assets with External Attack Surface Management


“You can’t protect what you can’t see.” We say this often at Censys because it’s true. Cybersecurity teams can only monitor, manage, and defend the digital assets they know about.

Though most enterprise IT teams have protocols in place for proper tech procurement and onboarding, in today’s rapidly expanding cyber landscape, unauthorized digital assets inevitably fall through the cracks. The rise of remote work has only accelerated this occurrence. Cisco finds that 80% of employees are using Shadow IT.

What Is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT refers to any device, system, software, or application that’s connected to an organization but which didn’t receive approval from the IT team, and is therefore unknown. Common examples of Shadow IT include the use of unauthorized: personal devices for work activity, cloud services, product management software platforms, and digital communication tools. Gartner finds that 41% of employees acquired, modified, or created technology outside of IT’s visibility in 2022.

In most instances, Shadow IT is created when employees are looking for quick solves to facilitate or improve their work. As harmless as this reasoning may seem, the risk it poses to organizations’ security posture is very real. Threat actors look for the path of least resistance when attempting to breach a network, and assets that lack proper security protocols and oversight stand out as easy targets. It’s estimated that seventy-six percent of organizations experienced at least one attack due to an unknown, poorly managed, or unmanaged asset.

Examples of Shadow IT Risks

  • Reduced Visibility: Teams can’t acquire a full, consistent picture of their security perimeter if they don’t know what to look for.
  • Security Vulnerabilities: Expired certificates, misconfigurations, and other risk instances on Shadow IT assets create vulnerabilities in the security perimeter.
  • Data Loss: Unmanaged assets increase the risk of a breach, which could lead to loss of corporate and customer data.
  • Non-Compliance: Teams are unable to apply oversight and protections to unknown assets, putting organizations subject to regulations at risk for non-compliance.
  • Financial Loss: Successful cyber attacks come at a cost, whether it’s cost resulting from system downtime, lost business, or legal repercussions.

So what can security teams do to better manage Shadow IT and minimize risk to the business?

Adopting an External Attack Surface Management (EASM) strategy is key.

Censys EASM Tool

External Attack Surface Management for Shadow IT

Educating employees about the risks of Shadow IT and establishing proper procurement policies are a critical part of managing Shadow IT. These steps are important and will help control the spread of unauthorized assets. However, it’s unrealistic for security teams to think they can rely on the good faith efforts of employees alone. Consider that just one unmanaged asset is all an attacker may need to successfully breach a system.

Teams therefore need a strategy that facilitates the continuous discovery of unknown assets on the attack surface. And that’s where EASM solution comes in.

EASM is a proactive approach to cybersecurity that can identify all of the assets and vulnerabilities that exist on an organization’s external attack surface, including those that are not currently known to the organization (like Shadow IT). With an EASM solution, organizations gain full visibility into what they own and can better understand the risks associated with these assets.

Censys Exposure Management

How Can EASM Minimize the Risk of Shadow IT?

Let’s consider some of the primary benefits of using EASM to address Shadow IT.

Discovery: Automated, continuous scanning and monitoring of all external-facing touch points tied to an organization allow teams to uncover unknown assets.

Assessment: In addition to identifying unknown assets, EASM solutions provide essential context about each asset, including associated vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and threats.

Risk Mitigation: Teams can use what they learn from EASM’s continuous asset discovery and monitoring to take action to eliminate vulnerabilities and reduce the organization’s risk of successful attack.

Policy Enforcement: Real-time detection creates opportunities for policy reinforcement. Security teams can quickly identify when and where unauthorized tech is being created within the organization, and communicate back to employees accordingly.

Reduction & Cost Optimization: A downstream outcome of EASM’s role in Shadow IT management? The opportunity it creates for teams to reduce the size of their attack surface (less to protect) and save expense when Shadow IT assets are decommissioned.

Taking Action

EASM is a proactive solution security teams can leverage to shed light on Shadow IT and minimize the risk it poses to their security posture. EASM provides the discovery, assessment, and control needed to ensure that an organization’s attack surface remains illuminated – and secure.

Discover how Censys External Attack Surface Management can help your organization take control of Shadow IT. 

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About the Author

Rachel Hannenberg
Content Marketing Manager
As the Content Marketing Manager at Censys, Rachel Hannenberg focuses on creating content that engages and informs the Censys community. Rachel has worked in marketing content strategy for nearly a decade, including at B2B SaaS companies and in higher education.

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