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Zero Trust Security – A Quick Guide

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Zero Trust is a security framework that requires authentication, authorization, and validation from all users, whether inside or outside the organization's network. This is mandatory for security configuration and precedes granting privileged access to the organization's data or applications. The term Zero Trust means that the network doesn't trust anyone connected to a local network, cloud, or hybrid. 

However, organizations started adopting Zero Trust more rapidly after the pandemic as employees began working remotely. Hastily adopted remote setups made the networks vulnerable, rendering them untrustworthy. Hence, implementing Zero Trust architectures has accelerated after the pandemic.

Zero Trust – Useful For Remote Work

This modern security framework is beneficial to the world after the pandemic since it provides security solutions to scale and secure access and network connections for remote employees. Moreover, it can also granularly control what sensitive data and information an organization allows its remote users to access when connected to the network through segmentation. 

One EMA-led research found that employees who access their corporate network through a secure solution to access their organization's network, such as a VPN, SSL, or a software-defined perimeter, have doubled since the start of the pandemic. 

Organizations that have aced successful implementation of Zero Trust strategies have reported a rise in the use of personally owned devices on their network. As per their suggestion, the Zero Trust initiatives successfully running in IT organizations give them more flexibility to better support them on the network.

Lack Of A Controlled System Contribute To Zero Trust

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic - security leaders realized that firewalls, VPNs, SIEMs, access controls, IPS, IDS, and email gateways were not good enough to satisfy demands like remote working. These instances were occasional but inevitable back then too. 

However, allowing them to work remotely without Zero Trust meant that the organization would lose control over who could access their network, increasing its vulnerability against cyber attacks. 

Traditional network security focuses on blocking the attackers out of the network. However, the users and devices inside the network remain vulnerable. Cyber attackers have learned to breach traditional network security architecture. By default, the "Verify, then trust" security framework implicitly trusts the users inside the organization's network. Hence, anyone with user credentials could access the network's complete array of apps, sites, or devices. 

On the other hand, anytime someone tries to access the organizations, whether inside or outside, Zero Trust assumes the network is compromised. Hence, it tackles the user with several challenges that prove that the user is not an attacker. Without strict identity verification, no user or device can access the resources available on the network, even if they are on a network perimeter. Moreover, Zero Trust organizations can also limit users' access to data. This way, the attacker is prevented from freely accessing a network and its files throughout the network's applications.

Many people believe that Zero Trust is unachievable for small-scale businesses. For anyone who understands technology would know that it is merely a myth. Regardless of the size of your organization, you can implement Zero Trust. 

It might be true that small organizations might not have as extensive resources as their larger counterpart. Since small businesses have relatively more uncomplicated systems and networks, the implementation is more manageable.

Relation Of Zero Trust To NIST

For Zero Trust, organizations often align with the NIST Special Publication SP 800-207. It is the most vendor-neutral and comprehensive standard for any organization and not just government entities. It also includes elements like Gartner's CARTA and Forrester's ZTX from other organizations.

High-profile security breaches have been on the rise. In May 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order that made it mandatory for the U.S. Federal Agencies to adhere to NIST SP 800-207 to implement Zero Trust. 

As a result, many commercial vendors, customers, and government agency stakeholders complied with the standard through heavy inputs and validation. Private organizations and enterprises also consider SP 800-207 the de-facto standard.

Core Tenets Of Zero Trust And Their Use Cases

The NIST guidelines establish the critical tenets that Zero Trust seeks to address. These fundamental principles are:

  1. Continuous verification: Zero Trust verifies access for all resources, all the time.
  2. Limit the "blast radius": Zero Trust minimizes the breach's impact whether it occurs inside or through an external source.
  3. Automate response and context collection: It incorporates behavioral data of the users and gets a context regarding it from the entire IT stack to create the most accurate answer.

Stages Of Implementing Zero Trust

Every organization has unique needs and hence might have different stages of Zero Trust implementations. However, here are a few standard steps for guidance. 

  1. Define the surface that needs protection. 
  2. Outline the flows of transactions. 
  3. Create Zero Trust Architecture. 
  4. Draft the Zero Trust policy. 
  5. Continuously monitor and maintain the network.

Pros And Cons Of Zero Trust 

While Zero Trust is a comprehensive cyber security solution with many advantages. Let's have a look at some strengths of the Zero Trust model:

      • Zero Trust can make the company's data and network less vulnerable. It secures the company against lateral threats in the network that would otherwise get through under a different security model.
  • This framework provides a more robust set of user identification and access policies. It uses multi-factor authentication and security beyond just passwords like biometrics. 
  • The best part about Zero Trust is that the data is segmented and not just kept in one big pool. Segmenting users gives the organization control over providing them access to data and accounts for only particular job tasks where necessary. So, even if an attacker breaches through the security of one segment of data, all of the data, especially the sensitive type, won't be exposed.
  • Zero Trust enhances data protection. It keeps the data well-guarded in both transit and storage. Functionalities like hashed or encrypted message transmission and automated backups are used.
  • It ensures good security orchestration by making the security elements work together effectively and efficiently. Ideally, it does not leave any holes uncovered. They don't present incongruities between the combined elements. Overall, it improves the maturity of your security posture.

Despite the additional security strengths you achieve with Zero Trust, it can further complicate the security policy. Here are some of the challenges that come along with the Zero Trust journey:

  • The security framework requires effort and time to set up. Making the transition of policies within an existing network while keeping the system functions can be difficult. Organizations can set up a new network from scratch and then switch it with the old one to tackle this challenge. It is a lot easier and more time-saving.
  • With Zero Trust, the organization will have to manage more users on the network. Besides setting up policies for the employees, the organization will have to consider customers, clients, and third-party vendors who use the company's access data or website. Managers will have to set up a wide variety of access points for each type of group, making the whole process a lot more complex.
  • The organization will have to manage more devices considering the volume of new technology. These devices are distinct, and their own communication protocols and properties that need to be secured and monitored in different ways.
  • Zero Trust can complicate application management since all the applications have different properties and are often cloud-based. According to Zero Trust's approach, the app should be planned, monitored, and tailored to every user's needs.
  • Data security needs to be more careful when it comes to Zero Trust. For example, the data might be stored in more than one location so the organization will have to protect multiple sites. The highest security standards need to be utilized to do data configuration responsibly.

Conclusion

In today's world, where organizations keep most of their data on the cloud, they need a framework that can effectively protect it, and Zero Trust is the way to it. With this secure framework, the stakeholders will prevent the attackers from accessing their network. Moreover, even if they can access a particular section of data, the segmentation won't let the attacker break through the data all the way. 

However, to decrease the chances of breaches even more while implementing Zero Trust, you need to learn about the vulnerabilities and threats through real-time visibility. You can do this with the help of risk management software that will inform you about risk before it becomes a problem.

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