Steps to Building a Zero Trust Network

By Shelby Hiter

In nearly every industry’s and organization’s network, sensitive personal, financial, health, and other forms of breachable data abound on platforms that can be easily accessed without proper security measures in place.

Enter the zero trust network: an infrastructural approach to network security that sits on the principle of “trusting no one and verifying everything” in the management of and access to data and applications. Zero trust helps enterprises of all sizes implement dynamic security measures based on authentication and microsegmented data.

Whether your organization is brushing up on its existing zero trust policy or getting started with zero trust infrastructure, take a look at these key steps to building a zero trust infrastructure for your enterprise’s security needs.

Read More: Understanding the Zero Trust Approach to Network Security

Step 1: Apply Microsegmentation to Your Network

In order to effectively apply zero trust to your network, you must first use microsegmentation across your network. Microsegmentation allows you to dissect your applications and devices into their most granular pieces so that you can add security measures and authentication requirements around each of them. Through this approach, you not only get a better understanding of the types and locations of data in your network, but you also build more specific security perimeters that protect against lateral movement from attackers.

More on Microsegmentation: Microsegmentation: The Next Evolution in Cybersecurity

Step 2: Identify Your “Protect Surface”

All of your enterprise data is valuable to your business’s operations, but what data sets contain crucial personal or corporate information that can compromise your stability and credibility if attackers gain access? Those critical features of your network are your “protect surface”.

When establishing your zero trust protocols, it is important to look beyond the greater attack surface of your enterprise network, instead focusing on what constitutes your smaller protect surface and how you can secure that information against breaches. Start by determining where this information lives in your enterprise’s network and ensure that the strongest security measures are implemented there.

Not sure where to start in creating your protect surface? Some cross-industry examples that you should consider adding to your protect surface include:

  • E-commerce software that contains customers’ financial information
  • Scheduling platforms and client profiles that contain PHI (Personal Health Information)
  • HRMS systems that deal with PII (Personal Identifiable Information)
  • Any hardware or software that stores sensitive information about your corporation or its constituents

Step 3: Create and Issue the Zero Trust Policy

Now that you have microsegmented and established your protect surface, it is important to develop a zero trust policy that considers who your enterprise’s users are, what they need access to and when, how their applications and actions interact with the protect surface, and how they access and move across your network.

Your zero trust policy should fit your organization’s specific use cases, based on careful study of how your users interact with the network. From this analysis, create a microperimeter around the identified protect surface and ensure that users, both internal and external, can only access that information through authentication processes and for the limited amount of time that their action requires.

Step 4: Regularly Monitor for Breaches and Update Your Zero Trust Infrastructure Frequently

Now that zero trust infrastructure has been implemented for your enterprise, watch how users move across your network and what they do to access information. Do their actual use cases match the use cases identified in your zero trust policy and original infrastructure? 

Here are just a few changes or events that might require an infrastructural update for your network:

  • If users are accessing certain data or applications more or less frequently than expected, consider adjusting your authentication and firewall processes at those sites in the network to increase efficiency and reduce internal frustration.
  • If you have acquired new sensitive data, immediately add that data to your protect surface and make adjustments to your microperimeter as necessary.
  • If your organization has recently suffered an attack or cybersecurity breach, analyze what path the hacker could have taken to access the data. Did they find a way into your protect surface through a connected outside piece of data? Is sensitive data living outside of your protect surface? Analyze regularly and make adjustments accordingly.

Why Zero Trust Infrastructure Matters for the Future of Enterprise Network Security

Today’s enterprise networks include a continuum of software, servers, and user actions. Because of the blended makeup of the modern network, a one-size-fits-all approach to perimeter security cannot protect the multitudes of sensitive data that live in places all across your network. Zero trust establishes safeguards that cover a wide variety of breach scenarios, because regardless of if a breach occurs through an internal employee’s mistake or an external hacker’s malicious intent, the breach exposes your organization and its sensitive data to danger.

With the continuing growth of network activity outside of onsite and cloud data centers, especially with the rise of 5G, zero trust will play a significant role in network security. The complexity of the 5G framework, as well as the larger number of devices, creates more opportunities for data breaches in traditional perimeter-based security models. Zero trust works hand-in-hand with 5G, meeting its basic security needs in the changing and growing number of users with 5G access.

The fluidity of zero trust infrastructure meets security needs across traditional networks and use cases. Although the growth of 5G is just one example of why enterprises need zero trust infrastructure, it perfectly illustrates why zero trust is here to stay: security needs and landscapes will only grow over time and dynamic solutions are needed for enterprises to meet those changes.

Read More: Approaches to Cybersecurity in 5G-driven Enterprise Networks

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