Zero Trust isn’t a new term, but with the explosion of remote and hybrid work environments in the spring of 2020, it’s become a pressing business priority. The term was created by John Kindervag, considered one of the top cybersecurity experts in the world.
Zero Trust is one of the best ways to approach cybersecurity in the current environment, but is it suitable for your organization? Below we detail everything you should know.
The Basics Of A Zero Trust Network
A Zero Trust approach to cybersecurity is one where every attempt at access, including ones coming from within the perimeter, are seen as a threat.
This is important with the dispersed work environment and also due to the fact that breaches frequently happen within the perimeter. A hacker can steal credentials and get inside a corporate firewall in a traditional security model. Once the hacker does that, there’s little resistance they face.
The old environment was one that was primarily on-premises. You have to think now about the fact that it’s a much different environment. Employees want flexibility, and apps are also moving to the cloud. There are also a lot of organizations with BYOD policies. That means there’s a complete breakdown of the perimeter, making a traditional approach to cybersecurity obsolete.
In a traditional approach to security, there’s a broad classification of everything within a corporate network as trustworthy. Legacy technology verifies the credentials of users’ credentials outside the network before access is granted.
In a traditional cybersecurity model, as such, the focus is on strengthening the perimeter and then the granting of full data after validation. We hear this approach referred to as the castle and the moat. The castle is the enterprise, and the moat is the layers of protection used to keep threats out.
Zero Trust moves away from the trust but verify philosophy, to never trust, always verify. All resources are considered external. There’s continuous verification of trust before any access is granted.
Key Elements Of Zero Trust
The key trust elements in this approach to security include:
- Device trust: For zero trust, an IT admin needs to know the devices. There has to be an inventory of who owns what. There needs to be a solution for monitoring and management of devices. As part of this, there needs to be endpoint detection and response technology.
- User trust: Password-based user authentication lacks efficiency and effectiveness. In Zero Trust, organizations have to use more secure and improved user authentication methods. This may include biometrics or other versions of authentication without passwords, multi-factor authentication and conditional access policies.
- Session trust: Least privilege access is part of Zero Trust. Users or systems should only access the resources needed to do a particular task at hand. There must be no more and no less access than this. The technology used to implement least privilege includes transport encryption, session protection and micro-segmentation.
- Application trust: Employees should be able to easily and securely access any application from any device. Organizations should strive to create a digital workspace that facilitates productivity. This might include single sign-on, for example.
- Data trust: The entire larger goal of Zero Trust is data protection. Data loss prevention technology can be part of Zero Trust and is used to prevent exfiltration or destruction of data.
Is Zero Trust Right For You?
A rent report found 78% of surveyed IT and cybersecurity professionals would like to implement a Zero Trust model. Around 15% of surveyed respondents said they already had.
Some of the factors that could indicate you should consider Zero Trust implementation include:
- You want to protect sensitive customer and company data. The trick here is that this should apply to every company, so as you might have guessed, everyone should be at least thinking about Zero Trust. So many companies, including very small businesses, have faced cyberattacks and breaches in the past few years, leading to disruption, financial loss, and even bankruptcy in some cases. You also have to think about regulatory and compliance issues that could lend to the need for Zero Trust, like GDPR compliance.
- You’re using cloud services. Around 96% of companies use the cloud in some capacity. The use of the cloud, even minimally, expands the firewall around your data. The perimeter is not at the actual access point.
- Your employees access your networks from their personal devices. With remote and hybrid work and a general increase in the flexibility of work environments, Zero Trust may be your only option to have a genuinely secure organization. Your workers are probably using different devices and Wi-Fi networks to access sensitive information. Around 70% of businesses say their employees use their own devices. The benefit of Zero Trust is that each device is identified and trusted at different points of access, and they’re not inherently trusted just because they’re within the network.
- You want to protect user identities and step-up access control. Identity and access management (IAM) is often the first step in rolling out Zero Trust. IAM creates connections that are secure and give control and flexibility. The use of a Zero Trust model will also use multifactor authentication (MFA) to add a layer of security.
- Your employees don’t all need access to everything. More than 70% of employees say they have access to data they don’t need and shouldn’t be able to access. Pair that with the fact that 74% of breaches start with the abuse of privileged credentials, and you see the issue.
- Consider Zero Trust if you want to simplify your security. You can consolidate what you’re using with legacy technologies while also focusing on the basics while supporting a remote work environment.
Are There Any Downsides To The Zero Trust Model?
There are a lot of advantages of Zero Trust, including:
- Less overall vulnerability, particularly from lateral, in-network threats
- Strong user identification and access policies
- Data segmentation based on type, sensitivity, and use
- More overall data protection
- Good efficiency and working together of all security elements
There are challenges to be aware of before you jump in. The potential downsides of Zero Trust include:
- If you’re thinking about moving toward a Zero Trust model in 2022, it’s going to take time and effort to set up. When you’re trying to reorganize within an existing network, it can be challenging because you still need functionality during the transition. Some companies find it’s easier to build a new network and start over. If your legacy systems aren’t compatible with Zero Trust, you won’t have a choice.
- Your employee users will have to be carefully monitored in a Zero Trust framework. Access can only be granted as necessary. Users might also extend past employees to include customers, third-party vendors and clients. There are a lot of access points and you need a framework for each.
- You’re going to be required to manage a lot of devices. Each device will have its own properties.
- Applications are similarly varied.
- There are a lot of sites to protect in a modern environment because data is stored in more than one location.
Implementing Zero Trust
There are some core steps to follow as you begin to implement Zero Trust. These include:
- Identify your sensitive data. You need to figure out where this data “lives” and who has access to it before you can do anything else.
- Once you identify your data, limit access.
- You’ll need to put in place technology that will allow you to detect threats quickly. This means you’re going to be monitoring all activity related to data access.
A few key things to keep in mind include:
- Get buy-in from senior leadership. You may have to sell them on the concept.
- Start small and strategically. Don’t risk being overwhelmed by the scale of the project because you don’t have to do everything at once. For example, focus on first deploying multi-factor authentication. From there, you can start to implement identity management and single sign-on. You also want to focus on protecting your most critical assets initially.
- Zero Trust isn’t a set of all new technologies. Instead, it’s a different philosophy and way of looking at security and boundaries. Yes, you may use some new technology, but Zero Trust isn’t in and of itself technology. Instead, again, try to aim for what some experts call low-hanging fruit like enabling MFA and eliminating bad passwords.
Ultimately, multi-factor authentication is the foundation of Zero Trust, along with least privilege access. If you can start to put those two in place, you’re well on your way to implementing a more extensive Zero Trust architecture.
You also need to make sure that you’re equipped to continuously monitor, inspect and log all activities and traffic. You’ll set baselines of user activity so that you’ll be able to spot abnormalities rapidly.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of Zero Trust. Instead, understand the advantages and break it down piece-by-piece to implement it in your business.
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