Majority of employees use unapproved apps at work

A new study reveals that more than 80 percent of survey respondents admit to using non-approved SaaS applications in their jobs. Furthermore, IT employees use a higher number of non-approved SaaS applications than other company employees.

The study was commissioned by McAfee and conducted by Stratecast (a division of Frost & Sullivan).

These SaaS applications are also referred to as “Shadow IT,” which is broadly defined as the use of technology solutions within an organization that have not been approved by the IT department or obtained according to IT policies. Frost & Sullivan estimates that the overall SaaS market in North America alone will grow at a rate of 16% CAGR, reaching a market value of $23.5B USD by 2017.  The cloud also makes it relatively easy for employees to acquire and deploy SaaS applications without involving the IT department. As a result, many applications are used by corporate employees and others (such as contractors or business partners) without the participation or approval of the corporate IT department.

Nearly 35% of all SaaS applications used within the enterprise are non-approved, contributing to Shadow IT. Microsoft Office 365 is the top unapproved SaaS application (9% of respondents), followed closely by Zoho (8%), LinkedIn (7%) and Facebook (7%).

On average, 15% of users have experienced a security, access, or liability event while using SaaS

IT professionals use Shadow IT more than business users (81% of Line of Business users, and 83% of IT users). The study also revealed that 39% of IT respondents use unauthorized SaaS because, “it allows me to bypass IT processes”, while 18% agreed that IT restrictions “make it difficult to do my job.”

“There are risks associated with non-sanctioned SaaS subscriptions infiltrating the corporation, particularly related to security, compliance, and availability,” said Lynda Stadtmueller, program director of the Cloud Computing analysis service within Stratecast.  “Without appropriate knowledge, non-technical employees may choose SaaS providers or configurations that do not measure up to corporate standards for data protection and encryption. They may not realize that their use of such applications may violate regulations concerning handling and storage of private customer data, leaving the company liable for breaches.”

So what makes these employees act rogue and deploy non approved applications? In many cases it is not malicious at all – in fact they are trying to do their job better, or make it easier. In a hypercompetitive global business environment, in which companies are looking to increase tight margins, employees are increasingly being measured on results—in some cases, with their jobs at risk. So they will do whatever it takes to meet their job objectives, which presumably contribute to the company’s own business objectives.

“With over 80 percent of employees admitting to using non-approved SaaS in their jobs, businesses clearly need to protect themselves while still enabling access to applications that help employees be more productive,” said Pat Calhoun, general manager of network security at McAfee.  “The best approach is to deploy solutions that transparently monitor SaaS applications (and other forms of web traffic) and uniformly apply enterprise policies, without restricting employees’ ability to do their jobs better. These not only enable secure access to SaaS applications, but can also encrypt sensitive information, prevent data loss, protect against malware, and enable IT to enforce acceptable usage policies.”

With SaaS application adoption continuing to grow, companies need to develop policies that strike the right balance between flexibility and control. IT and business leaders need to work together to create and support policies that enable employees to use the apps they need to be productive, with controls in place to protect data and minimize corporate risk. McAfee offers organizations the solutions that can provide the access, security, and control needed to meet the growth of SaaS applications.