Zero trust networking is a complex yet game-changing approach to network security that challenges traditional notions of trust.
Rather than relying on the presumption that everything within the organizational firewall is secure, the zero trust approach bolsters your security posture by abandoning exclusively perimeter-based defenses and instead emphasizing rigorous authentication at every entry point. In the Zero Trust model, no device, user, system, or workload is trusted by default, regardless of its operating location.
Here’s how to build and implement a zero trust framework for more robust cybersecurity for your organization:
1. Assess the current network infrastructure
Before deploying a zero trust network, it is crucial to conduct an in-depth assessment of the existing network infrastructure. This process involves identifying and verifying trust on all current devices, users, applications, and data flows. It also incorporates understanding the risks that come with every organizational asset, such as its vulnerabilities.
2. Define the attack surface
Defining the attack surface goes hand in hand with network infrastructure assessment. It entails determining the areas exposed to threats and needing protection. These may include sensitive data, applications used in business operations, and physical assets like point-of-sale (PoS) terminals or medical devices. This step simplifies imposing policies and setting up zero trust networking tools across the entire network.
3. Enable network microsegmentation
Microsegmentation reduces the attack surface by dividing the network into smaller segments, thereby decreasing the number of potential targets for attackers. This makes it more difficult for attackers to gain access to sensitive data or disrupt critical systems. Organizations can implement this step through various means, including firewalls and software-defined networking (SDN).
4. Create a zero trust network
Keep in mind that there’s no universal answer to how to build a zero trust network architecture. The specific steps will vary depending on the organization’s unique needs. However, the process typically involves the following:
- Enforce robust identity and access management (IAM) controls by using multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) software.
- Secure individual business applications for more granular control.
- Boost endpoint security by installing antivirus, anti-malware, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions.
- Encrypt all data both in transit and at rest.
5. Establish a zero trust policy
Once the network architecture is in place, the organization must develop zero trust policies. This encompasses evaluating each user, device, and network entity seeking access to the network and determining who, what, when, where, why, and how they should be allowed access.
It is worth noting that access should be restricted to the minimum level of privileges required to complete a task. In addition, permissions should be modified based on changes in circumstances and risk levels.
6. Increase employee awareness
Employee awareness and engagement are essential to the efficacy of zero trust network security. Organizations must keep their employees informed and encourage them to continue learning through customized training, interactive learning, sharing real-world examples, and maintaining regular communication.
7. Monitor network traffic and user behavior continuously
Constant monitoring is indispensable in zero trust security. Tools for intrusion detection and prevention (IDPS), security information and event management (SIEM), and zero trust network access (ZTNA) help to detect network anomalies and potential security threats in real-time. These tools collect and analyze data from multiple sources, such as network traffic, endpoint logs, and user activity.
8. Continuously improve zero trust implementation
Zero trust is an ongoing cybersecurity approach, not a one-time effort. It needs regular assessment and adaptation to address emerging threats and changing business needs. Implementing zero trust can be complex, but is necessary for countering advanced threats. Organizations must commit to continuous monitoring and adjustment to maintain high security levels.
Other considerations for zero trust network setup
Aside from knowing how to implement a zero trust network architecture, there are additional important factors that must be considered for an extensive and resilient zero trust security setup, including privacy implications, scaling concerns, insider threats, and user experience.
Privacy concerns must be a priority in zero trust networks. When collecting and analyzing user data, it is critical to be aware of privacy implications and comply with regulations. Organizations must protect user confidentiality and demonstrate a commitment to ethical data handling.
Instead of deploying a full-scale zero trust model for the organization, starting small and planning for scalability and growth over time is a smarter strategy to ensure a smoother transition while minimizing potential disruptions and risks.
It is crucial to be vigilant and check legacy systems, applications, and protocols that are usually left forgotten and unprotected. These assets that are currently not in use may not support modern security protocols or zero trust principles. Therefore, it is important to develop strategies to secure and gradually phase them out.
Trusted insiders like employees, contractors, or business partners often have privileged access to sensitive systems and data. Ignoring this potential threat can lead to devastating breaches. Utilizing mechanisms to detect and mitigate malicious activities by these insiders can prevent data leaks, espionage, or sabotage — whether intentional or, more likely, accidental — from within the organization.
Complete documentation in zero trust networking is a fundamental component for maintaining security and operational efficiency. It fosters clarity, consistency, and accountability while supporting the network’s adaptability. Moreover, detailed documentation proves invaluable during audits, serving as concrete evidence that the organization adheres to security protocols and regulatory requirements.
User feedback should be taken into account in executing zero trust measures. It’s important to note that ZTNA can cause some user frustration due to complex and repetitive login processes. Take care to implement any steps that can be taken to remediate those headaches without sacrificing security. For example, it can help create buy-in if employees understand the importance of cybersecurity for the organization and how they can do their part.
Additionally, IT staff must be involved in the planning and administration of ZTNA to make sure that it is technically feasible and can be managed effectively.
Why build a zero trust network?
Building a zero trust network is of utmost importance due to the shortcomings of traditional security models — particularly when cybercriminals continue to develop more advanced attacks every day, and such threats may originate from unexpected sources. ZTNA significantly reduces the attack surface by assuming threats can emerge from both within and outside the network.
Effective zero trust networking solutions enforce thorough user and device authentication, coupled with strict access controls, ultimately minimizing vulnerabilities. They enable a proactive stance and early threat detection, facilitating swift responses to potential breaches. Furthermore, knowing how to implement a zero trust network empowers organizations to be resilient and deal with different network setups, including on-premises, hybrid, and remote.
What are the key areas of zero trust defense?
In a zero trust network, organizations must handle and secure several key areas for more comprehensive cybersecurity, namely identities, endpoints, applications, data, infrastructure, and network.
Organizations should manage identities and conditional access policies to connect people to their apps, devices, and data. Data should be protected from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction.
Endpoints are another significant area of defense because they are frequently targeted by attackers and serve as entry points to the network. Carrying out continuous verification and access controls on endpoints like laptops, desktops, smartphones, and servers is a must to maintain effective zero trust security.
Application security is vital to prevent exploitation and protect against vulnerabilities. Organizations should ensure that appropriate in-app permissions are granted, access is gated based on real-time analytics, and user actions are monitored and controlled.
In many cyberattacks, the ultimate goal of the attacker is to access and compromise sensitive data. Organizations must protect data with encryption, data loss prevention (DLP), and data classification, and safeguard it where it lives — whether in the cloud, apps, or devices.
Infrastructure forms the foundation for implementing stringent access controls, constant verification, and segmentation. It also plays a pivotal role in tracking and logging activities, aiding early threat detection.
Networks provide the architecture and controls to administer the core principles of zero trust, making it a cornerstone of defense. By securing the network, organizations can reliably protect their digital assets and sensitive data.
Bottom line: Protecting your network with zero trust
The zero trust model is a preventive and holistic approach to security that is increasingly being adopted by forward-looking organizations. It addresses the growing sophistication of cyberthreats and the complexity of networks by asserting that no component, resource, or account is inherently trustworthy and by requiring continuous, session-based authentication and authorization.
Implementing a zero trust model requires careful planning, collaboration among several teams, and ongoing commitment to security. It is a dynamic approach that prioritizes security at every level of the network architecture and is paramount for modern cybersecurity.
By following the steps outlined in this guide on how to build a zero trust network and considering the key areas of defense, organizations can strengthen their cybersecurity posture and protect their assets.
When you’re ready to take the next step in zero trust implementation, you can explore the best zero trust security and solutions in our comprehensive guide.