Gary Audin
Gary Audin is the President of Delphi, Inc. He has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security...
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Gary Audin | June 24, 2016 |


Shadow UC&C Grows Out of Control

Shadow UC&C Grows Out of Control But there are ways for IT to reign in users and gain back control.

But there are ways for IT to reign in users and gain back control.

There are many forms of paid, free, and embedded UC&C on the market. They are convenient and easy to use, making them attractive to users, especially if the users want to work around IT or are not willing to wait for the UC&C features to be delivered by IT. The rise of mobile apps expands the number of opportunities for users to avoid IT, which is referred to as shadow UC&C.

Defining Shadow UC&C

Shadow unified communications and collaboration is a term used to describe systems and services implemented and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval and/or unknown to IT. Another term used for this is "stealth UC," which describes solutions implemented by departments other than the IT or telecom departments. I use shadow UC&C. I use Dropbox to share files or when the file is too large to be sent as an attachment. I collaborate using GoToMeeting and WebEx.

Why is it a Problem?

Like shadow IT, shadow UC&C solutions may not align with an organization's requirements for control, documentation, security, reliability, etc. Shadow UC&C has no enterprise governance. It does not meet corporate, regulatory, or legislative requirements. The question of who owns the media content is open to interpretation. Security and privacy requirements will most likely not be satisfied.

All of these problems are complicated by the fact that different countries have different rules for security, privacy, and compliance. What if a private conversation is leaked on the Internet? In some countries it is a crime to insult government leaders. The end user probably does not know the rules or how to comply, which makes the enterprise vulnerable to fines, penalties, and litigation.

The OTT Dilemma

Over-the-top content (OTT) is the transmission of audio, video, and other media independent of the transport network, for example, over the public Internet (ISP). Although the ISP may be aware of the content, it has no control over and is not involved with the distribution of the content. The content is typically free, embedded in an application, or may have a modest fee for its use, but revenue goes to the OTT organization, not the ISP. Skype is an example. Many OTT offers are part of social network services.

The OTTs are not regulated and do not need to support 911 calls. They may use the media that they transfer for their own purposes because the usage agreement with the user allows them.

I encountered a frustrated IT manager who was trying to rein in nurses at a remote clinic. They were using free Skype with video for medical consultations. These transmissions weren't covered by HIPAA but the nurses did not know nor care about the compliance requirements. Fortunately, once Skype usage was stopped, no problems occurred. What if a financial manager used Skype for customer consultations? Was the conversation recorded in a central depository? Did the communication comply with the required privacy requirements? Probably not.

WebRTC, the Enabler

Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) is an open source technology that allows real-time communication (voice, video, data) to operate natively within a Web browser. It is supported by Google, Mozilla, and Opera browsers. WebRTC emerged as part of the HTML5 WC3 and IETF standard after Google acquired two companies (GIPS and On2) and decided to make their technology available to the open source community. There is a free plug-in for IE and Safari from Temasys which expands the number of WebRTC-enabled browsers.

As can be seen in the graphic below, many organizations have adopted the use of WebRTC in their products and services. Most do not even mention WebRTC as the tool they use. WebRTC allows multi-media communications to be transparently embedded in their applications so that the user doesn't even know that WebRTC is being used.

The use of WebRTC is rapidly expanding UC&C in many forms, producing a growing problem for the enterprise. The number of UC&C choices both visible and invisible make the use of shadow UC&C even more common.


How to Control Shadow UC&C

There are five actions you can take to reduce, mitigate, and hopefully stop shadow UC&C:

  1. Do not assume that your users will not use shadow UC&C. Periodically audit communications to locate unauthorized or uncontrolled use of UC&C functions that are outside the control of IT.
  2. Many recordings of OTT and other applications are stored in the endpoint and not centralized. This means there is no backup and security risks are high. Interrogate the endpoints to see if the OTT and other applications are in use.
  3. If you use third-party vendors or OTT providers, ensure that they are certified for their operations, especially media storage.
  4. Train, train, train the users and IT administrators to keep them aware of issues and solutions.
  5. Never assume a good policy will be followed. Mandate that users read and confirm understanding of the policies and procedures for UC&C use.

I first wrote about Shadow UC in "Coping with Shadow UC"


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