Zero trust is an identity-focused security framework that uses identity and access management (IAM), microsegmentation, and the principle of least privilege to independently assess user requests before permitting them access to corporate resources. This strategy holds true whether the request comes from within or outside the enterprise’s network perimeter.
The zero-trust model works on the principle of not trusting anyone or anything until they are verified. By default, zero trust assumes that until a device or a user is authenticated, they’re untrustworthy and not allowed access to the corporate network. Zero-trust architecture microsegments networks and uses multi-factor authentication (MFA) and other granular controls to provide access on a need-to-know basis. This increased level of security helps enterprises tackle cybersecurity threats and future-proof the network.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on how companies operate. Many businesses were forced to adopt the hybrid work model, where a significant chunk of the workforce worked outside of the secure perimeter of the office. Additionally, the pandemic also accelerated digital transformation efforts, with enterprises realizing the benefits of moving to cloud-based models.
However, this quick pivot to newer working methods led to increased cybersecurity challenges. As a result, security incidents became more common and more drastic. As per the 2021 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report, data breaches cost companies $4.24 million per incident on average — the highest cost in the 17-year history of the report. Nevertheless, the report highlighted that embracing automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and building a zero-trust deployment can reduce security incidents to a large extent.
Also see: Top Zero Trust Networking Solutions
The Principles of Zero Trust
Historically, enterprises have secured their networks with virtual private networks (VPNs), where data travels through secure tunnels within a company’s network. But this method doesn’t serve its purpose well when workers are distributed across the globe. So, how do you secure your networks in light of these new changes?
“Zero trust is a trend that has continued to grow over the past few years,” said Tommy Gallahger, founder of Top Mobile Banks. “This approach has many benefits, including increased security, faster response times to cybercrime scenarios, and improved compliance standards. In addition, it allows companies to operate autonomously without relying on third-party providers or intermediaries.”
What enterprises need to remember is that zero trust is not a single tool that can magically secure their endpoint devices and networks. Instead, zero trust is a methodology that radically changes how we have been approaching network security up till now.
Zero trust works on the following principles:
- All assets require mandatory authentication like MFA before granting access.
- All data is identified and microsegmented to inhibit the damage caused by lateral traffic.
- Continuous security management is required for all accounts and sessions.
- Access is provided on a need-to-know basis.
- The policy of least privilege is enforced by the enterprise.
- All endpoints are validated.
- All activities are documented, and all traffic within the network is inspected.
Also see: Steps to Building a Zero Trust Network
Zero Trust Going Forward
Challenges posed by the pandemic, like work-from-home and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, have increased cybersecurity risks. Further, the process of securing endpoints has become much more difficult. Together, this has contributed to the increased interest in zero-trust network access (ZTNA). Organizations now want ZTNA not only for their remote workers, but they also want to implement it in their offices.
Given the shift to a distributed enterprise and naturally an increase in the attack surface, it is no wonder Gartner predicts that by 2023, ZTNA will grow to 31%. Gartner also reports that by 2025, at least 70% of remote deployments will implement ZTNA — up from less than 10% at the end of 2021.
Further, it is worth mentioning that the U.S. federal government has made a big push to include zero trust as part of improving U.S. cybersecurity. The executive order states:
“The Federal Government must adopt security best practices; advance toward Zero Trust Architecture; accelerate movement to secure cloud services…drive analytics for identifying and managing cybersecurity risks; and invest in both technology and personnel to match these modernization goals.”
Looking Ahead to Handle Zero-Trust Challenges
While security has to move beyond the traditional moat-and-castle concept to focus on all the endpoints, several challenges can hinder its adoption. Yet, with the right measures, the challenges can easily be overcome.
Patchwork zero-trust solutions
A zero-trust solution has the potential to lessen an organization’s cybersecurity woes. Organizations buy a patchwork of zero-trust products and believe they have taken all adequate precautions. However, this leaves security holes in the network cyber criminals can easily exploit.
To overcome an overdose of tools, buy tools that can solve multiple problems. Also, identify the gaps in your security posture that require immediate attention, and fix them fast.
Zero trust involves a new way of protecting resources. Unfortunately, businesses with legacy systems have difficulty in adapting to zero trust.
Enterprises need not adopt zero trust in a single step. Instead, they can start small and begin with the most critical areas. Then, once they develop confidence, they can gradually extend it to the entire network.
Ongoing management needs
With zero trust, you cannot just implement it and forget about it. It requires continuous monitoring of systems and resources. Often, organizations, especially small and medium businesses (SMBs), do not have the means to invest in ongoing management.
Routine checks are necessary to ensure everything is patched and that measures are in place to counteract zero-day attacks. Automation tools can help businesses monitor attacks and stay a step ahead of threat actors.
Constant and ongoing management of networks has another drawback. Monitoring and troubleshooting network problems can hinder staff productivity.
“Today, some may say that zero trust can hinder productivity, which could be the case if back-end management processes and governance operations are granted manually,” said CTO at StrongDM, Justin McCarthy. “In the future, zero-trust technologies must also take the user experience into account, improving productivity as well as security.
“One example is making it easy to grant access and audit access control. This type of zero-trust architecture can drive higher overall levels of security, simplify accessibility, and deliver reduced operational overhead.”
Zero Trust in the Years Ahead
With the ever-growing trend in digital transformation, further exacerbated by the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, zero trust has garnered increased adoption across many industries. Despite its challenges, there’s no denying the way zero-trust policies ensure organizations’ networks are secured from many cybersecurity threats among other benefits.
As organizations place greater importance in cybersecurity and data protection, we’ll begin to see an increase in the importance of zero trust.