by Thor Olavsrud

Employees Engage in Rogue Cloud Use Regardless of Security Policies

Nov 13, 20124 mins
Cloud ComputingComplianceData and Information Security

Studies show that employees are engaging in rogue use of the cloud, even when IT organizations say they have clear formal cloud policies and penalties for violation of the policies.

Employees are increasingly turning to the cloud to get their work done, whether IT has a policy about cloud use or not, according to research studies by Symantec and cloud backup provider Symform.

“I don’t think IT realizes how much the way we live life as individuals has completely permeated the enterprise,” says Margaret Dawson, vice president of product management at Symform. “This is happening whether you want it to or not.”

Analysis: Does ‘Shadow IT’ Lurk in Your Company?

In a survey of about 500 companies across a range of industries and sizes, Symform found that nearly 20 percent of businesses have no clear security policies or standards around employee or departmental use of cloud. Of the 39 percent of IT organizations that say they are not using the cloud, 65 percent said they allow employees or teams to use cloud services and 35 percent allow employees to put company data in cloud applications.

“This research validates how cloud applications and services are being purchased and managed increasingly by non-IT departments and illustrates the need for IT to reclaim control from a policy and governance standpoint while still enabling the business to benefit from the cloud’s agility and cost effectiveness,” Dawson says. “I always advise IT leaders to be the centralized source of all IT policy, vendor criteria, compliance management and the definition of ‘trust’ for their organizations. Cloud usage is inevitable, but loss of control is not.”

Employees Frequently Go Rogue When It Comes to Cloud

Even when organizations do have formal policies around cloud use, employees frequently make an end-run around IT. Symantec conducted a survey of 111 knowledge workers and 165 IT managers in November and found a significant disconnect between employee behavior and IT policy when it comes to cloud applications at work.

According to Symantec, even though the majority of IT managers report their organization has formal policies for cloud use, 71 percent of employees do not think there is a policy to control their use of cloud applications in at least one category (online email/communications, file sharing, online storage or backup, productivity apps or contact manager apps). And 28 percent of employees don’t know of a policy for any of the categories.

No matter the type of cloud application, many employees say they never go around IT and use cloud applications outside of policy, but IT says it’s much more common than employees admit. For instance, only 69 percent of employees admit they go rogue with cloud-based email/communications, while IT reports 88 percent of employees go rogue. Cloud-based storage or backup apps lead to some of the biggest discrepancies: 38 percent of employees admit to rogue use of such applications, while IT says 81 percent of employees engage in rogue use of those services.

Employees Don’t Believe There Are Consequences for Rogue Cloud Use

Even employees that know of a formal policy think there are no consequences for policy violations. Symantec found that 76 percent of IT monitors cloud policies with manual audits or technology to watch for it, while 55 percent of employees do not think there is a policy or have no idea. Additionally, 81 percent of IT managers believe there are clear consequences for violations, while 49 percent of employees say their company doesn’t have consequences for violating cloud policies or they just don’t know.

Related: Why Marketing Departments Turns to Rogue IT—and How To Stop Them

“People are learning to get around the corporate rules,” Dawson says. “People are still going around it. Organizations need to develop strong governance, develop strong policies and implement them. They need to make collaboration and access so easy that employees aren’t going to go around them. To do that, you need to focus on where the data is going. Tracking and reporting is really vital.”

For IT managers, the No. 1 concern and key criteria when evaluating the cloud was access controls. They also cite auditing and tracking, security of data in motion and at rest, vulnerability management and strong security service level agreements (SLAs) as key security criteria when evaluating cloud services.

Despite the gap between cloud utilization and security policies, Symform found that among respondents, cloud is gaining credibility as a safe place to store or use data. Fifty percent of survey respondents said they believe even sensitive data can be stored in the cloud. This aligns with the finding that data protection is the highest perceived benefit of using the cloud. Credit card data remains the exception: 70 percent of respondents would not put credit card data in the cloud.

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at