Zero Trust is a proactive defense strategy, which is why technologies supporting it are observing wider adoption these days in response to increased security concerns.
That said, trust has acquired the center stage when talking about cybersecurity. Cybersecurity’s fundamental elements are ‘trusted’ network infrastructure, users, devices or endpoints, suppliers, and others.
No doubt, this approach played an instrumental role in protecting businesses, their data, and even individuals. But as we delve into the more technically advanced world, the approach is being exploited by cyberattackers for so long due to:
- Weak security model or ‘castle-and-moat’ concept where security screening takes place outside the perimeter of the building where a business runs. If a hacker or malware manages to break that perimeter somehow and enters it, damages happen.
- Obsolete access controls such as a network firewall with no visibility or control on users’ applications and/or services they use. If hackers compromise the network, they can easily access those applications.
- VPN technologies are great for securing data communication and maintaining secrecy and privacy, but authorization and authentication are still not achieved perfectly.
- Changing workflows such as BYOD policies and remote workers using their devices. If a proper security system is not implemented, data leaks happen.
All these security challenges faced by the organizations led to the foundation of such a system that is flexible, dynamic, simple, and provides high-level security from above and beyond.
Zero Trust Security is the model we’re talking about.
In this article, you’ll learn about Zero Trust Security, its principles, how to implement it, and a few more interesting things about it.
What Is Zero Trust?
Zero Trust is an advanced security approach where all users, inside and outside an organization’s network, must be authorized, authenticated, and validated continuously of their security posture and configuration before they are granted access to the network, data, and applications.
This approach utilizes high-end security technologies, including multi-factor authentication, next-gen endpoint security, and identity & access management (IAM) to verify a user identity while maintaining tight security.
In addition to offering strict user identity verification, Zero Trust protects the users and applications from sophisticated internet threats.
The phrase “Zero Trust” was popularized by John Kindervag of Forrester but actually coined by Stephen Paul Marsh in April 1994 after his thesis at the University of Stirling on computational security.
In reality, most concepts of Zero Trust aren’t new. Based on Marsh’s study, trust is finite, which transcends human aspects like ethics, morality, justice, judgments, and lawfulness. According to him, trust can be illustrated as a mathematical construct.
Zero Trust aims to spread the idea that organizations must not trust devices or users by default even if connected to their corporate LAN or were verified previously. It relies on clear visibility in real-time into user attributes like user identity, firmware versions, endpoint hardware type, OS versions, vulnerabilities, patch levels, user logins, applications installed, incident detections, etc.
As a result of its sturdy security capabilities, Zero Trust is becoming more famous, and organizations have begun adopting it, including Google with its BeyondCorp project.
Major drivers of this adoption are the growing frequency of cyberattacks, targeting endpoints, on-premises devices, networks, data, cloud apps, and other IT infrastructure. In addition to this, the covid-19 pandemic, forcing people to work from home, further increased the number of online attacks globally.
Hence, security practices like Zero Trust seem to be a viable choice.
A report says that the global market size of Zero Trust security is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.4% and reach US$ 51.6 billion by 2026 from US$ 19.6 billion in 2020.
Some of the popular Zero Trust Access terminologies are Zero Trust Application Access (ZTAA), Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), Zero Trust Identity Protection (ZTIP), etc.
What Are the Core Principles of Zero Trust?
Zero Trust Security concept is based on the below-mentioned principles, using which it helps secure an organization’s network.
Least Privilege Access 🔐
This is a fundamental concept where users must be given only the level of access they need when necessary to work and fulfill their role. It reduces a user’s exposure to your network’s sensitive components.
User identification ✔️
You ought to know who all have been granted access to your network, applications, data, and so on. Always check authentication and authorization at each access request to maintain stronger security in your organization.
It is an important practice where you need to break security perimeter into smaller zones. This process is also known as zoning, and it is done to ensure there is separate access provided for different parts of your network.
You also need to manage and monitor data continuously between these zones, and it offers granular access control to eliminate excess privileges.
Leveraging advanced preventive techniques 🛑
Zero Trust suggests you adopt advanced preventive techniques that can stop online breaches and reduce the damages.
Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is such a technique to confirm user identity and fortify network security. It works by asking security questions to the user, sending text/email confirmation messages, or assessing users through logic-based exercises. The more authentication points you incorporate in your network, the stronger your organization’s security will be.
Monitoring device access in real-time 👁️
Apart from controlling user access, you need to monitor and control device access in real-time regarding how many of them are seeking access into your network. All of these devices must be authorized to minimize the possibility of attacks.
What Are Its Benefits?
Zero Trust provides you with a sturdy strategy for organizational security and network resilience. It provides you with several benefits for your business, such as:
Protection from Both External and Internal Threats
Zero Trust offers stringent policies to stop external threats, protect your business, and safeguard you from harmful internal agents. As a matter of fact, internal threats are even graver, and they exploit the trust you have in them.
This Verizon report says that approximately 30% of all data breaches involve internal players.
Hence, Zero Trust focuses on this concept “never trust, always verify”.
And when you implement extended and explicit authentication and monitor and verify every access to your data, devices, servers, and applications, no insider would be capable of misusing their privileges.
Zero Trust helps prevent malware or your employees from accessing your network’s larger parts. Hence, limiting their access and the duration of their access helps reduce attacks, and even if a breach happens, the impact can be reduced to prevent more damages.
As a result of this, you can secure your business data from getting hacked. And when malware breaches your firewall, it can only access certain parts of your data in a time-bound manner.
Zero Trust protects not only your data but also your intellectual property and customers’ data. And when you can prevent attacks, you are preserving your business’s reputation and keeping your customers’ trust. In addition to this, you also save yourself from losing a huge amount of money and other financial repercussions.
Greater Visibility on Your Network
As Zero Trust doesn’t allow you to trust anything or anyone, you can decide the activities and resources you want to keep your eyes on. With intensive monitoring across your organization, including computing sources and data, you can gain complete visibility into what devices and users are granted access to your network.
Therefore, you will be fully aware of the applications, users, location, and time associated with each access request. In case of any unusual behavior, your security infrastructure will immediately flag it and track all the activity occurring in real-time for comprehensive security.
Securing Remote Workforce
Remote work is being accepted across industries and businesses heavily, especially after the covid-19 pandemic. It also has increased cyber risks and vulnerabilities due to weak security practices on devices and networks of employees working from any part of the world. Even firewalls are becoming inefficient now and causing risks to data that’s stored across the cloud.
By utilizing Zero Trust, user identification and verification at each level takes over the perimeter concept or castle-and-moat approach. Identity attaches to every device, user, and application wanting to enter the network.
In this way, Zero Trust provides a robust protection to all your workforce no matter where they are situated in the world, or their data is stored.
Eases IT Management
Zero Trust security relies on continuous monitoring, control, and analytics; hence, using automation can ease the process of evaluating the access requests. Because if everything is done manually, it will consume a lot of time to approve each request, and the workflow would drastically slow down, affecting the business goals and revenue.
But if you use automation like the Privileged Access Management (PAM), it can judge the access requests based on certain security identifiers to grant the access automatically. Hence, you don’t have to involve your IT team necessarily in approving every request, including some human errors.
And when the system flags a request as suspicious, the admins can take charge. In this way, you can leverage the power of automation and allow your workforce to indulge in improvement and innovation instead of doing mundane tasks.
As each access request gets evaluated first and then logged with details, Zero Trust helps you stay compliant always. The system tracks each request’s time, applications, and location to create a flawless audit trail that forms a chain of evidence.
As a result, you don’t have to struggle to maintain or produce evidence, making the governance efficient and faster. At the same time, you are miles away from compliance risks.
How to Implement Zero Trust?
Every organization has unique needs and challenges, but certain aspects remain common to every organization. This is why Zero Trust can be implemented across organizations no matter what the type of business or industry is.
So, here’s how you can implement Zero Trust security in your organization.
Identify Sensitive Data
When you know what kind of sensitive data you have and where and how it flows, it will help you determine the best security strategy.
In addition to that, identify your assets, services, and applications as well. You also need to examine the current toolsets and gaps in your infrastructure that might serve as a security loophole.
- Give the highest order of protection to your most critical data and assets to ensure they are not compromised.
- Another thing you can implement is classifying your data into: confidential, internal, and public. You can leverage micro-segmentation or zoning. Additionally, create small chunks of data for different zones connected across an extended ecosystem of networks.
Map Data Flows
Assess how your data flows across the network, including transactional flows, which could be multi-directional. It helps encourage data flow optimization and the creation of micro-networks.
Also, keep in mind the location of sensitive data and who all users can access awareness and implement tighter security practices.
Establish Zero Trust Micro networks
When the information is on your hands regarding how sensitive data flows in your network, create micro-networks for each data flow. Architect them so that only the best suitable security practice is used for every use case.
At this step, use virtual and physical security controls, such as:
- Enforcing your micro perimeter to prevent unauthorized movement laterally. You can segment your organization based on locations, user groups, applications, etc.
- Introduce multi-factor authentication like two-factor authentication (2FA) or three-factor authentication (3FA). These security controls offer an additional security layer and verification to each user outside and inside your organization.
- Initiate Least Privilege Access to users needed to complete their tasks and fulfill their roles. It must be based on where your sensitive data is stored and how they flow.
Monitor the Zero Trust System Continuously
Monitor your entire network and micro perimeter ecosystems continuously to inspect, log, and analyze every data, traffic, and activity. Using these details, you can find out malicious activities and their source of origin to strengthen the security.
It will provide you with a wider view of how security is maintained and whether Zero Trust works for your network.
Leverage Automation Tools and Orchestration Systems
Automate the processes with the help of automation tools and orchestration systems to make the most of your Zero Trust implementation. It will help you save your time and reduce the risks of organizational flaws or human errors.
Now that you have a better view of Zero Trust, how it works, how to implement it, and the benefits, let’s look at some of the tools that can help the implementation even easier for you.
What Are Some Zero Trust Security Solutions?
Many vendors offer Zero Trust solutions, such as Akamai, Palo Alto, Cisco, Illumio, Okta, Unisys, Symantec, Appgate SDP, and others.
Zero Trust Networking solution or software is an identity management and network security solution that helps you implement the Zero Trust model. The software allows you to monitor your network activity along with user behavior continuously and authenticates every request.
If a user attempts to violate permissions or behaves abnormally, the system prompts them to provide more authentication. At the same time, the software collects data from traffic logs, user behaviors, and access points to provide details analytics.
The software may utilize risk-based authentication, especially for controlling network access. Here are some of the Zero Trust networking software:
- Okta: It leverages the cloud and enforces stronger security policies. The software integrates with existing identity systems and directories of your organization along with 4000+ apps.
- Perimeter 81: It uses a robust architecture of software-defined perimeter, offering broader network visibility, full compatibility, seamless onboarding, and offers 256-bit bank-grade encryption.
- SecureAuth Identity Management: It is known for delivering a flexible and secure authentication experience to users and works across all environments.
Other notable Zero Trust Networking software solutions are BetterCloud, Centrify Zero Trust Privilege, DuoSecurity, NetMotion, and more.
What Are the Challenges in Implementing Zero Trust?
There are many reasons why implementing Zero Trust is challenging for organizations that include:
- Legacy systems: Many legacy systems like tools, applications, network resources, and protocols are utilized for business operations. Identity verification cannot protect all of them, and re-architecting them would be hugely expensive.
- Limited controls & visibility: Most organizations lack comprehensive visibility into their networks and users, or they can’t set strict protocols around them due to whatsoever reason.
- Regulations: Regulatory bodies are yet to adopt Zero Trust; hence, organizations will be troubled while passing security audits for compliance.
For example, PCI-DSS needs you to use segmentation and firewalls to protect sensitive data. But you have no firewall with the Zero Trust model, hence, compliance risks. Therefore, significant amendments in regulations must be there if we are to adopt Zero Trust security.
Although in the growing stage, Zero Trust is making a buzz in the security industry. With more and more cyberattacks across the globe, there’s a need to have a robust system like Zero Trust.
Zero Trust provides a stronger security architecture with identity and access controls to your data and transactions by verifying all your devices and users at each access point. It can protect organizations from all kinds of online threats – humans and programs, foreign and domestic to your network.