Overcoming the Challenges of Sprawl and Shadow IT

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SaaS (software as a service) has become a central part of organizations, with 99% of companies running some SaaS applications. It handles everything from email to accounting to collaboration. Yet, many organizations struggle to understand exactly what applications are a part of their organization. They have no information about who is using them and what sensitive data they contain. This lack of visibility and control exposes organizations to numerous risks, including potential compliance violations, security breaches, and misuse of corporate data. 

In this article, we explore organizations’ expanding SaaS landscape and explore solutions to help manage it. 

Understanding the Sprawl

Companies increasingly grapple with SaaS sprawl—a phenomenon where the rapid and often unchecked adoption of SaaS apps leads to a complex web of overlapping tools and underutilized resources. This sprawl typically emerges when different departments and teams independently subscribe to SaaS solutions that suit their immediate needs without centralized oversight. As a result, organizations struggle with redundancies, inefficiencies, and a bloated tech stack that can obscure visibility and dilute the effectiveness of IT governance. The challenge is not only in the financial wastage due to overlapping subscriptions but also in the heightened security risks and compliance complications arising from unmonitored and unauthorized software use. 

Risks of Shadow IT

Any SaaS app that is untracked and unmanaged centrally by the organization falls under the Shadow IT umbrella. These systems may exist for good reasons, such as helping teams react agilely to business needs. However, despite the reasoning, uncontrolled IT comes with significant security risks due to improper access control and data management practices. Without stringent access controls such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and strong password policies, unauthorized users can easily infiltrate the system. 

In environments where Shadow IT thrives, access permissions are frequently mismanaged. Overly permissive rights grant users more access than necessary, creating “toxic combinations” of access where the blending of certain privileges can unintentionally open pathways for data breaches or misuse. This lack of disciplined access management exposes sensitive company data and undermines the integrity of the entire IT infrastructure.

The exposure of sensitive data is one of the most critical consequences of Shadow IT. As departments and individuals bypass official procurement processes to adopt unsanctioned apps that seem to offer quick solutions. These unauthorized applications are not subject to the same security scrutiny as sanctioned software. This creates the opportunity for users to store sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII) or other regulated data types in places without appropriate security controls, increasing the risk of a breach and serious financial and legal consequences. 

Risks of Sprawl

One of the primary risks associated with SaaS sprawl is data siloing. As organizations hastily adopt multiple SaaS apps across different departments, data becomes trapped within specific tools or business units and inaccessible to other parts of the organization. This fragmentation hampers the seamless flow of information and impedes collaborative efforts and data-driven decision-making. 

Data siloing also leads to inconsistencies, redundant efforts, and a lack of a unified view of the company’s operations, which can significantly detract from competitive edge and operational efficiency. The challenge is further compounded when attempting to consolidate or analyze data across these disparate systems, often resulting in costly integrations or manual workarounds that strain resources.

Compounding the issue of data siloing is the lack of visibility into the full spectrum of SaaS apps being used. Without a clear view of all the SaaS products in operation, managing access effectively or ensuring compliance with internal and external regulations becomes nearly impossible. This obscurity makes it challenging to tie access rights back to individual users, leading to significant security vulnerabilities. When employees or external users have more access than necessary or when their usage isn’t properly tracked, organizations face increased risks of insider threats and external breaches. 

Controlling Shadow IT and Sprawl

Gaining control of SaaS in the organization is not about swooping in and taking over; instead, it is about understanding what products exist and helping guide the users toward appropriate security. Organizations can foster a culture of transparency and accountability by implementing clear guidelines and governance frameworks for SaaS usage. This involves identifying and cataloging all SaaS apps in use across various departments and assessing their security features and compliance with internal standards. By doing so, organizations can ensure that each tool serves a purpose and adheres to the necessary security protocols, reducing the risk of data breaches and compliance issues.

Building Visibility

Gaining visibility into the SaaS tools used across an organization is fundamental to effective SaaS management. It starts with deploying advanced discovery tools to systematically identify and catalog every SaaS apps in use. Many tools are on the market for accomplishing this, but the most effective will come with minimal impact on staff. Those that integrate directly into web browsers or run in the background on user’s machines can collect data without user intervention.

These discovery tools reveal the full spectrum of SaaS apps, helping organizations identify the full scope of SaaS adoption. They then continuously monitor the integration and usage of SaaS apps within the existing IT infrastructure, informing the organization of when new apps are acquired. 

Layering Protection

Once organizations understand what SaaS apps are in use and who is using them, they can take steps to build in protections that help align them with organizational IT practices. In many cases, it starts by adding MFA to reduce the risk of credential theft, making it harder for attackers to use stolen credentials. This can be augmented by integrating centralized authentication via LDAP or OAUTH if available or by improving access controls to ensure employee access to only what is appropriate for their job needs.

Savvy Stops SaaS Sprawl

Savvy assists organizations in effectively managing their SaaS environments through a sophisticated, identity-first strategy. This approach lets organizations thoroughly explore and comprehend their SaaS landscape and operations. With Savvy, businesses can assess risky access combinations, reveal concealed IT resources driven by business needs, and simplify compliance procedures.

Take control over SaaS security, making it part of your overall IT organization rather than an exception. Schedule a demo to see Savvy in action.