Time to Put a Light on the Shadows

Missile Controls: During the Cold War, there were hundreds of top-secret nuclear missile silos around the United States and allied countries.  An example of the silo can be seen here in Arizona at the Titan Missile Museum.  Many of the silos are still in use today.  They are guarded with service members with extremely high- level security clearances where the details of the location and security procedures if exposed could give the enemy the upper hand.

National Security Issue: Understanding the importance to national security, what if I told you that for the last seven years, details of operations of nuclear weapons in Europe have been on the internet, freely available to anyone through flashcard-learning applications.  Since 2013, flashcard applications like Quizzlet, Cheg, and Cram were created by service members at six European bases to help them memorize security protocols about US nuclear weapons and the bases.  Details included the location of the exact shelters and “hot” vaults that contain the nuclear weapons.  Camera positions, frequency of patrols, and unique identifiers for restricted area badges were part of the package.  In addition, secret duress words that signal when a guard is being threatened were exposed. 

Security Breach: A journalist from Bellingcat looked up terms associated with nuclear weapons bases, like Weapons Storage and Security Systems (WS3), associated with air bases, and the flashcard apps showed up.  This was a huge security breach, and it went on for more than seven years! 

Shadow IT: This is a perfect example of the risks of Shadow Information Technology (Shadow IT).  Shadow IT is any technology that employees uses without approval or support from their IT department. Examples of Shadow IT include using personal emails, music streaming services, collaboration tools, and storage and sharing applications that have not been approved for use. 

Circumventing the System: The flashcard-learning applications are cloud-based applications open to the public.  The service members did not have a similar technology to help them memorize all the protocols, so they went to the web and used a specific free tool that helped them learn much more efficiently.  The members created Shadow IT because the military did not provide a secure solution. Sometimes, Shadow IT exposes to management the tools required to perform the tasks to get the mission accomplished.  If leadership acknowledged the requirement and created a secure solution, that sensitive information would have been kept secret. 

Big Risks: Shadow IT is a security risk.  It is projected that one-third of successful cyber-attacks are on data located in Shadow IT resources.  That’s because, if the IT department does not know about it, they can’t secure it.  When left unchecked, businesses risk proprietary data or customer data.  If exposed, that means loss in the marketplace, downtime, fines, or damage to reputation. 

How to Avoid It: To protect your business, find out all the tools that are being used by your staff.  Provide amnesty to anyone using unauthorized apps. This provides insight into what is required for their tasks and gives you a chance to confer with your IT or cybersecurity professionals to determine a secure way forward.  Whitelisting application tools provides insight to management into what applications are used on the work network, and management can decide what is allowable.  There are no secrets when a whitelisting tool is used.  Shadow IT is exposed to the light.

Moral of the Story: Whether you are protecting nuclear warhead secrets, or your company’s process to beat the competition, Shadow IT can have a negative impact on your operations.  Discover what is out there and find a way to secure it.