The Growing Necessity of Zero-Trust Frameworks

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Recent data breaches have forced enterprises to question everything they know about security. The days when a firewall and software-isolated networks were kept up-to-date on individual endpoints are long gone.

Today, modern applications may be hosted in public clouds, shared among employees, delivered through BYOD (bring your own device) programs, and even accessed by partners or vendors via remote access protocols like RDP (remote desktop protocol).

Each of these scenarios exposes an organization’s sensitive data to unique risks, resulting in new challenges around trust. In recent years, numerous high-profile attacks targeting enterprises illustrate just how easily perimeter defenses can be compromised, leaving companies with no choice but to rethink what counts as secure in today’s environment.

How can we trust that devices accessing our resources are free from malware? How can we ensure that applications used to process sensitive information only do as intended? How can we ensure that third parties accessing our systems follow strict policies while operating within their permissions?

These questions and more need answers. Fortunately, zero trust has emerged as a viable framework for enterprises to consider.

What is Zero-Trust Framework?

A zero-trust security framework assumes that all network traffic is untrusted and should be treated as if it could be malicious. It means assuming every user, device, and application accessing an enterprise network is hostile until proven otherwise.

It’s a major departure from traditional security models that relied on firewalls, IDS/IPS (intrusion detection systems/intrusion prevention systems), and antivirus software to provide network protection. 

Also read: Understanding the Zero Trust Approach to Network Security

The Current State of Enterprise Security

The recent events and cyberattacks, such as the Colonial Pipeline breach, WannaCry, Petya, Cloudbleed (CloudFlare), and Yahoo’s hack, have raised awareness of data security. Enterprises are thinking about implementing a zero-trust framework based on a “trust no one” approach because traditional security solutions like firewalls fail to keep pace with today’s threats. 

With growing concerns from customers and potential lawsuits, companies need to adopt new ways to implement their technology strategies to ensure their enterprises are secure from all angles, whether business- or infrastructure-level attacks. 

The present threat landscape is filled with evolving malware and ransomware and phishing attacks in all forms that target employees who aren’t aware of how they can get hacked. Thus, organizations will become a victim of an attack in some way and end up paying millions to get their sensitive information back without which they might lose their customer base.

Therefore, organizations must be prepared for this kind of situation by having an actionable plan to respond and quickly mitigate any type of attack inside or outside the perimeter.

How are companies implementing this security framework?

Zero-trust concepts allow organizations to keep up with emerging technologies like cloud computing and mobile device usage. Companies are implementing zero-trust security frameworks by

  • Enabling encryption by default 
  • Implementing risk-based authentication 
  • Moving beyond passwords 
  • Giving users access based on context 
  • Enforcing multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • Enabling encryption data in motion

Strategies for Protecting Enterprise Resources

The rapid shift toward mobile and cloud applications has changed security strategies in many ways. Enterprises now have to worry about a greater number of devices and platforms, but that’s just one part of it. Modern security strategies also consider cloud computing, software-as-service platforms, and other concepts that weren’t even on technology professionals’ radars just a few years ago.

This proliferation of IT resources—combined with consumers’ insatiable demand for convenience—has created an unprecedented challenge for enterprises: How can they protect their information while allowing access from any device by any employee at any time?

While most organizations still follow traditional approaches to securing their data, including relying on firewalls and antivirus software, these methods only work against more traditional threats.

To address new challenges, companies need new strategies that rely on zero-trust architecture, which blocks access based on user location/location services, device information/ID integration, risk context associated with user/groups, and time sensitivity/availability of asset among other things.

In short, if you can prove you have permission to access an endpoint—verify your identity—you get access; if you don’t have permission—or something seems off about how you’re attempting to gain access—you don’t get access. 

The core idea behind a zero-trust architecture is eliminating all methods of gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data and company resources. The stakes have never been higher for implementing a zero-trust environment.

Fortunately, there are steps that organizations can take today to create such an environment so long as they begin thinking differently about threats and continue working to remove all points of vulnerability from their network perimeters and systems infrastructure.

From placing greater importance on MFA to embracing application mobility practices to creating more robust password hygiene policies, organizations will want to explore these best practices and more. 

Also read: Steps to Building a Zero Trust Network

Best Practices of Zero-Trust Framework

Implementing a zero-trust framework doesn’t need to be a costly exercise. Here are 10 best practices of zero-trust frameworks in today’s threat landscape:

  • Always implement two-factor authentication (2FA). 
  • Restrict privileged access with the least privilege rights granted on a need-to-have basis only. 
  • Allow for separation of duties for those with privileged rights; never giving them all at once. If an employee leaves, their access is removed from existing systems immediately. 
  • Audit and manage your identity-management system (IDMS) logs frequently. 
  • Adopt behavioral analytics tools that monitor system usage patterns for anomalies, and advise IT to shut down suspicious activity before it can damage your network or infiltrate sensitive data like customer information or personally identifiable information (PII). 
  • Using encryption within cloud services will limit the damage caused by a breach. 
  • Employ a failover process when dealing with third parties providing resources, so you don’t lose access if they experience a breach. 
  • Use isolation technology to protect mission-critical applications used by most employees, so fewer users can have higher privileges for more time and so bad actors will get nothing useful when attacking those apps. 
  • Require MFA from end users accessing SaaS apps. This level of security will make it much harder for malicious actors to gain access to those apps. 
  • Deploy obfuscation technologies everywhere sensitive data resides, whether stored locally on servers or passed through public clouds and managed service providers (MSPs). Obfuscation technologies hide sensitive data from prying eyes but still ensure authorized users can always find what they’re looking for quickly.

The zero-trust security framework has proven increasingly valuable in recent years, especially as more companies and industries embrace digital transformation strategies. Without advanced network security systems, large organizations can’t adequately protect their assets or their customers’ information. 

Understand your data protection requirements

The concept of zero trust is about verifying who a user is and what their intentions are before you grant them access to your data. This means organizations must first understand precisely what sort of information they have, who’s accessing it, where it’s being accessed from, and why it’s being accessed.

Once you have a grasp on these things, you can apply your zero-trust framework to make sure only authorized individuals access your critical information. If a policy has been breached, you want to know immediately, so swift action can be taken; one way of ensuring this is by putting protocols in place that let security teams know right away when something unusual happens.

Five steps to understand your data protection requirements.

  1. Inventory: Create an inventory of everything, such as hardware, software, and cloud solutions, where sensitive data resides or moves through. 
  2. Identify: Identify locations, areas, resources, and people with access to sensitive company data (e.g., employees, vendors) as well as all points at which sensitive company data flows across enterprise borders or is accessible by external parties outside a company. 
  3. Establish: Establish data privacy and control policies based on your risk profile (i.e., internal vs. external threats). 
  4. Apply: Apply cybersecurity best practices and controls based on identified needs for each system (e.g., single sign-on). 
  5. Monitor: Monitor activity and changes over time, enforcing new rules when required or adding new systems that need to be protected.

Shifting Toward Modern Security Practices

With an ever-increasing number of cyberattacks and data breaches, enterprises can no longer afford to adopt a trust-first mentality. CIOs should consider a zero-trust approach to security, shifting their focus from preventing attacks to detecting and mitigating them as quickly as possible.

Many companies are still transitioning from traditional security models, like firewall protection and malware signatures, toward advanced machine learning tools that continuously analyze network traffic and user behavior to detect anomalous activity before it’s too late. While many organizations are beginning to shift their security posture towards zero trust, there is still plenty of room for growth in most industries.

So long as criminals continue to innovate attack methods with increasingly sophisticated technology, enterprises will need to stay ahead by working together and adopting new technologies that enable real-time monitoring and preventative action against threats.

Read next: Top Zero Trust Networking Solutions

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an experienced B2B technology and finance writer and award-winning public speaker. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook, and has written for various publications, including eWEEK, Enterprise Networking Planet, Tech Republic, eSecurity Planet, CIO Insight, Enterprise Storage Forum, IT Business Edge, Webopedia, Software Pundit, and Geekflare.

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