How to Build a Zero-Trust Network Model

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Clearly, modern IT systems are highly advanced. Enterprises must prioritize protecting their IT infrastructure because the cybersecurity landscape is becoming more complex and threatening. Enterprise network experts now require specialized knowledge of cybersecurity to ensure they’re safeguarding company data.

Forrester Research introduced a well-known security framework, called the zero-trust model, in 2010. Many companies use the zero-trust framework to maintain and manage network security. If you know anything about zero trust, you know it’s becoming increasingly popular for enterprises – due to its numerous benefits – around the world.

If you believe a zero-trust approach can benefit your organization, read on to learn how to build a zero-trust network model in a step-by-step guide.

Also see: Top Zero Trust Networking Solutions 

A Brief Overview of Zero-Trust Models

The zero-trust security model is also referred to as zero-trust network access (ZTNA) or zero-trust architecture (ZTA). It’s a prominent IT security framework that focuses on establishing trust through various authentication measures and monitoring network access attempts.

One key difference between zero trust and traditional network security models is that zero trust, as its name implies, assumes users trying to access a corporate network cannot be trusted by default. Rather, every employee, customer, and third-party vendor must be identified and verified before they can access the network.

The main concept behind zero trust is, “never trust, always verify.” Even if a user’s device connects to a corporate network or received verification in the past, they should not be authorized to access the network until they’re verified again.

Each access request is treated like it originates from an open network. It must go through authentication, authorization, and encryption before granting access to the user.

Also see: Best Network Management Solutions 

Zero-Trust Network Terms

On its website, Cisco defines some helpful terms related to zero trust. Take a look at these terms and what they mean to build your understanding of zero trust:

  • Protect surface: Any asset within a network that requires protection.
  • Software-defined network: A zero-trust network is software-defined, meaning it follows a set of predetermined rules and policies implemented by software.
  • Least-privilege access: A practice that limits user access, which only allows them to access certain applications, data, and services on the network.
  • SMS authentication: A popular authentication method that sends users SMS codes to verify their identity and access the network.
  • 2FA/MFA authentication: Similarly, two-factor (or multifactor) authentication requires users to verify their identity by providing specific information or attributes, allowing them to access network resources.
  • Micro-segment: A small yet secure area of a larger network protected by a micro-perimeter.
  • Segmentation gateway: A type of firewall that protects specific micro-segments within a large network.
  • Granular enforcement: A zero-trust practice that requires authentication for specific actions on the network.

In essence, zero-trust models assume any large network is always at risk of a cybersecurity breach. The ultimate goal is to require authentication from every user and reduce the likelihood of a threat actor penetrating the network.

Also see: 7 Enterprise Networking Challenges 

Six Key Areas of Zero-Trust Defense

There are a few important categories of security that fall under a zero-trust model. Below are the six key areas of zero-trust defense with brief descriptions of each:

  • Identities: Companies must verify and authenticate the individual identities of users across their entire organization.
  • Endpoints: In addition to verifying users, every connected device within a network must be authenticated, which helps with compliance and security.
  • Apps: IT teams must control company applications, gate access, and user actions.
  • Data: Companies with zero trust transition from perimeter-based data security to data-driven protection. IT teams can restrict and encrypt access based on the company’s zero-trust policies.
  • Infrastructure: Organizations can protect network infrastructure by receiving alerts if anomalies occur and employing least access privilege principles.
  • Network: This area of defense involves ensuring all users and devices on the network are authenticated and not trusted by default.

Also see: Containing Cyberattacks in IoT

Why Build a Zero-Trust Network?

If you’re questioning whether a zero-trust security is right for your organization, it’s important to analyze the current cybersecurity landscape.

Cybersecurity is a top priority for virtually every business right now, and there’s evidence to justify that prioritization. Research from N-able found that 82% of their customers saw an increase in attempted cyberattacks since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zero trust is becoming more essential for companies as cybersecurity threats steadily increase in frequency and intensity.

There are three core benefits of zero trust: Greater security, simplified IT management, and the ability for companies to handle a dispersed network infrastructure.

How to Build Zero-Trust Architecture: 5 Essential Steps

Here are the five steps your company can take to build and implement a zero-trust architecture to bolster its cybersecurity posture.

1. Segment the Network

First, organizations must segregate the systems and devices on their network. These various network segments will serve as guides for other zero-trust security components.

2. Identify Users and Devices

The next step is to identify which users and devices need to access the network. Most companies use an identity and access management tool during this phase. The verification and authentication processes must be simple and seamless for end users to maintain employee productivity in the workplace.

3. Define and Automate Policies

Your organization should run various assessments and conduct research to define and determine which zero-trust policies are suitable.

Outline the verification processes, employee policies, and general zero-trust guidelines during this stage. It’s always worth considering investing in and adopting automation technologies to ease the burden on your company’s IT department.

4. Set Up Access Controls

In this step, it’s time to establish access controls for different employees within your organization. These controls will automatically grant appropriate access to certain users and devices.

During this step, the main goal is to determine the types of data, resources, services, and applications that employees can or cannot access. In other words, leverage least-privilege access when establishing controls.

5. Deploy Network Monitoring and Alerting

When using a zero-trust approach, it’s crucial to continuously monitor and test its effectiveness. As your company grows, the model might need adjustments, meaning it’s important for the model to be flexible, adaptable, and scalable. Additionally, security teams need to observe network activity to identify anomalies and possible intrusions.

Also see: Best IoT Platforms for Device Management

Other Considerations for Zero-Trust Network Setup

After following the five steps outlined above, your company should be set with a zero-trust network model. However, there are other considerations to take into account with this new framework.

The Role of VPNs in Zero-Trust Networks

A common tool companies leverage, especially with an increasing number of remote employees, is a virtual private network (VPN). Many remote workers use VPNs for security purposes, mainly to protect their company’s sensitive information.

However, experts suggest VPNs will inevitably change as a result of the widespread use of zero-trust networking. Keep this in mind if your company uses VPNs and is developing a zero-trust network.

Potential Vulnerabilities and Threats

Although zero-trust networks offer enhanced security, they are not 100% foolproof networking solutions. Hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, meaning your company needs to be updated regularly on trends in the cybersecurity industry. Identify potential threats regarding zero-trust networks and make necessary changes to your model based on these trends.

The Importance of Employee Training

Another important factor in your new model is employee awareness. Training employees on cybersecurity and basic zero-trust concepts will help your organization stay vigilant. Employees should know about specific policies and procedures regarding zero trust and understand what role they play in the ever-changing IT environment.

Build a Zero-Trust Network to Benefit Your Organization

No company wants to experience a cyberattack, especially as the costs associated with them continue to rise. It’s crucial for organizations to deploy effective IT security solutions to protect their employees and company information assets.

Building a zero-trust network could prove beneficial for your company. Follow the steps above to start your zero-trust journey and see how it will positively impact your business.

Devin Partida
Devin Partida
Devin Partida is a contributing writer for Enterprise Networking Planet who writes about business technology, cybersecurity, and innovation. Her work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance, Entrepreneur, Startups Magazine, and many other industry publications. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.

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