Shadow IT— technology used within an organization without explicit approval — is the modern Trojan horse. It can allow ransomware and malware to invade your network, cause data leaks and even introduce compliance risks.

Here are five easy ways to avoid shadow IT:

1. Understand the risks

Part of what makes the threat of shadow IT so insidious is a common lack of knowledge about the problem. More often than not, employees use unsanctioned technology, not for malicious reasons but rather because they are trying to find an intuitive solution for common business tasks. If your company’s existing technology solutions fail to address the needs of your employees, they will be forced to look to consumer-facing products. To prevent that from happening, your response should be twofold: You must educate all members of your staff about the risks of shadow IT, and you need to find enterprise-level solutions that offer ease-of-use as well as advanced cybersecurity protections.

IT managers and business owners should develop a plan to pinpoint where employees implement non-IT-approved technology, then develop a strategy for eradicating the problem.

2. Boost your cybersecurity

It seems like nearly every day there’s a fresh headline about a major cyber attack on a corporation or government office. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that over 4,000 business-related ransomware attacks have occurred every day since January 1, 2016. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of ransomware attacks rose by 300 percent.

According to the 2017 Thales Data Threat Report, cybersecurity spending is on the rise — but so are the number of successful security breaches. About 26 percent of organizations experienced a breach in 2016, and 73 percent of organizations increased their security budgets.

Worse, 30 percent of surveyed senior IT security executives classified their organizations as very or extremely vulnerable to data attacks.

Your strategy for security technology should encompass the virtualization of applications, desktops and networks, as well as the centralization of data to avoid exposure to risk at end points. Additionally, layered security and controlled access to mission-critical documents should become a priority.

3. Find replacements for shadow IT

To keep employee productivity levels high, they need to be able to access critical documents from any device, at any time. The modern business world waits for no one, and client expectations for timely delivery of services are on the rise.

Bring-your-own-device plans should follow secure-by-design protocols that allow for flexibility and mobility while ensuring that sensitive business information remains protected and private. Utilizing enterprise-level file sharing solutions with consumer-grade UI and UX is one of the best ways to ensure employees remain productive and protected. When your IT-approved solutions are easy to understand and use, your employees will be less likely to turn to shadow IT.

4. Deploy additional security measures

Modern businesses cannot work within a vacuum. To be most effective, your data needs to travel – between employees, contractors, executives and other stakeholders. However, the more your data moves, the more opportunities there are for data loss and theft.

In recent years, data loss prevention (DLP) solutions have become more robust, taking advantage of new technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and behavior analytics. A scalable DLP suite is a good solution for small to medium businesses because it can grow with your company.

Information rights management (IRM) is another highly useful tactic IT managers can rein in data when it goes for a walk. IRM can apply file-level encryption and authorization controls, so you can control who has access to sensitive information. For instance, documents can be restricted to view-only, view- and print-only or fully editable.

5. Develop a preventive strategy

Preventing ransomware and malware attacks is nearly impossible. Walling off employees within a proxy network and deploying firewalls may prevent unskilled attackers from successfully breaching your company, but those solutions aren’t enough any more. Your business needs to be prepared for the worst.

Investing in responsive strategies is the only way to deal with security breaches as they happen. You should utilize solutions designed to rapidly detect, identify and respond to cyber attacks as they happen. Think of it like road safety. A motorcycle driver doesn’t just try to prevent accidents, he also wears a helmet in case an accident does happen. If your organization doesn’t have a responsive plan of action, it needs one — and fast.

To learn more about how to battle shadow IT and protect your business data, visit today.