The zero-trust security model continued to gain momentum during 2022 with considerable support from governments and enterprises as a core piece of their IT Strategy. As ransomware and data breaches continue to rise, we can expect more of the same this year.
When it comes to security-sensitive enterprise data, zero-trust security is far superior to perimeter-based security. According to Nemertes, companies that benefit from the best cybersecurity outcomes are 137% more likely to have leveraged a zero-trust approach. However, to fortify enterprise infrastructure, organizations must make zero trust frictionless.
Before implementing zero-trust security, organizations must take the time to prepare. Although companies will need to use some security tools, most will focus their efforts on administration. As such, it's best to start by making a list of everyone at the organization and the minimum or least privileged access they require to complete their tasks.
Furthermore, enterprises must engage in a comprehensive data discovery effort and a cybersecurity assessment before formulating a zero-trust implementation strategy. After all, IT teams must know what data they are going to protect and where it lives. Although this process may sound straightforward, it's a massive challenge.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's define it.
What Is Zero Trust?
A zero-trust security model is an approach to cybersecurity in which organizations do not trust any user, device, or network communication by default. This implicit trust model requires all traffic attempting to traverse the network to be authenticated and authorized before it's granted access. This approach ensures that users, devices, and other resources on a trusted network are given access to data only after they have been verified as legitimate and safe.
In contrast, traditional cybersecurity protocols simply trust endpoints and users within the perimeter. This approach considerably increases the risk of unauthorized access, insider threats, and lateral movement.
In a digitally transformed world where most businesses operate from public clouds, traditional security approaches simply fail to ensure security. With continuous authentication, authorization, and validation of both internal and external users, organizations enable secure network access to data and apps on enterprise networks.
Whether organizations operate on an on-premises data center or on a public cloud, enterprise zero-trust strategies must include the following principles:
- Always perceive that an "inside the network" doesn't exist.
- Consistently implement security policies that are clear and adaptive to the evolving threat level.
- Always trust no one and verify everything!
In the zero-trust model, there isn't a traditional network edge. This makes it a perfect security framework to secure enterprise networks and data in a highly connected world. For example, this approach helps address malware and ransomware attacks, remote working, and cloud security challenges.
Therefore, it's no surprise that zero-trust network access (ZTNA) is forecasted to be the fastest-growing network security market segment globally between 2021 and 2026 (growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.5%).
Furthermore, zero-trust also complements security standards and compliance models like Service Organization Control 2 (SOC 2) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology 800-207 (NIST 800-207).
What Is Zero-Trust Network Access?
Zero-trust network access is a security model that requires all users to identify and authenticate themselves before accessing any network resources. It uses additional layers of protection, such as data encryption and virtual private networks (VPNs), to ensure that only authorized individuals can access a network.
The primary purpose of zero-trust network access is to reduce the chances of an insider threat or a malicious actor gaining access to sensitive information. ZTNA tools help build an identity- and context-based logical access boundary that works like a network perimeter around an enterprise app or set of apps.
Organizations that adopt this approach benefit from restricted access to a group of named entities through a trusted broker that keeps apps hidden from discovery. In this scenario, the trust broker will verify the identity and analyze the end-user’s contact and policy adherence before enabling access.
As such, ZTNA helps reduce the attack surface by removing application assets from public visibility. This approach also prohibits lateral movement, significantly reducing the risk of a security event.
How Does Zero Trust Work?
Security teams must leverage multiple security tools to execute a robust zero-trust strategy. For example, successful zero-trust security implementations combine biometrics, device certification, VPNs, cloud workload management protocols, multi-factor authentication (MFA), next-generation endpoint security solutions, single sign-on (SSO) tools, encryption tools, identity protection protocols, and much more.
Zero-trust architecture demands continuous monitoring and verification to ensure that users and related devices only gain access to data and applications necessary to accomplish a task.
Security teams must consistently enforce cybersecurity policies and best practices in this scenario. For example, they must consider the following:
- Regulatory compliance
- User and device access to enterprise infrastructure
- Industry-specific requirements
The first step is establishing individual access controls after identifying all services and privileged accounts. It's critical to note that on-time validations are unsuitable as user attributes and the latest threats will evolve rapidly.
Gaining complete visibility into the environment helps security teams identify the following:
- Apps installed on endpoints
- Authentication protocol and risk
- Different endpoint hardware types and their functions
- Firmware versions
- Individual credential privileges
- Incident detections or security event recognitions
- Geo locations
- Various operating systems and their different patch levels
- User and device behavior over standard connections
- User identity and credentials (programmatic or human)
The zero-trust security tools also leverage automation by incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning. Furthermore, the addition of threat intelligence and analytics solutions enables hyper-accurate policy response.
How to Implement Zero Trust
The following briefly overviews how companies implement the zero-trust model across enterprise networks.
1. Form a Dedicated Team
Your IT team will already have to-do lists, and they might not prioritize the transition to the zero-trust security model. It's best to form a small dedicated zero-trust team to plan and initiate the migration to zero-trust architecture.
It's important to include professionals from risk management, security operations, applications, data security, and user and device security. Once the team is together, they can start assessing the current environment.
2. Map Hybrid Environments
Hybrid cloud environments and the Internet of Things or IoT devices will expand the attack surface exponentially. This will make it increasingly challenging to stay a step ahead of threat actors and ensure network security.
It's crucial to map hybrid environments during the initial stages of your zero-trust journey and examine different use cases. This approach helps security teams quickly identify potential cyberattack paths and limit exposure to a possible security breach. For example, security teams can leverage network segmentation to segment device types, group functions, and identities.
It's vital to note that without a thorough understanding of the organization's current security posture, your zero-trust implementation will be a complete waste of time and resources. So, getting your dedicated team to map your environment is important.
3. Determine Critical Process Flows
Determining critical process flows is important as it's increasingly difficult to establish a protect surface digitally transformed infrastructure. Assessing process flows and pathways across users, devices, apps, and services will help dedicated zero-trust teams develop rules and policies and purchase the right tools to enforce them.
This is also an excellent time to think about what tools can help boost employee productivity and efficiency. Furthermore, although it's vital only to provide user access to data and applications necessary to get the job done, fortifying the enterprise security posture shouldn't impact user experience.
Organizations can leverage access management solutions by determining critical process flows by following the least-privileged-access approach to minimize the attack surface (and prevent lateral movement). They can also achieve this without impacting user experience.
4. Develop Policies and Rules to Govern the Micro-Perimeter
Once the teams have mapped all pathways and process flows, they can define and establish the protect surface. For example, they can set up rules and policies that govern the network perimeter. This approach allows companies to achieve greater granularity across endpoints.
The zero-trust security model focuses on the micro-level of the attack surface by default. Therefore, it's much easier to define the protect surface, which usually comprises digital assets, sensitive data, business-critical applications, and services.
Mapping traffic flows across enterprise networks also helps provide security teams with the information they need to formulate a plan to secure it. In this scenario, contextual insights into applications and data interdependencies will help teams enforce secure access controls while optimizing operations by correctly documenting them.
Most often, the protect surface will include intellectual property (IP), personally identifiable information (PII), and protected health information (PHI). After defining the protect surface, moving user access and security controls as close as possible to the attack surface is best. Zero-trust dedicated teams can establish a micro-perimeter with precise and easily understandable limited policy statements by getting as close as possible to the attack surface.
Zero-trust security teams must engage all organizational stakeholders to ensure that only the most appropriate policies are enforced. This approach also provides an opportunity to educate staff about them.
5. Deploy a Next-Generation Firewall
A next-generation firewall is a vital part of your zero-trust strategy. In this case, it will build a micro-perimeter around the protect surface and act like a micro-segmentation gateway. This approach helps enforce additional layers of access control and comprehensively inspect traffic trying to access network resources within the micro-perimeter.
6. Devise a Robust Zero-Trust Policy
Once the zero-trust security team architects the network, it's time to develop and enforce zero-trust policies. The Kipling Method is a leading approach to whitelisting which resources should have secure access.
The Kipling Method concentrates on the "who, what, when, where, why, and how." This idea was first established by renowned poet and author Rudyard Kipling in his poem, Six Serving Men.
As such, when applying this concept to your cybersecurity strategy, you have to ask questions like:
- Which users have permission to access a specific resource?
- When do they need to access the resource?
- Where is the packet destination?
- What are the various ways in which the packet can access the protect surface?
- Why is a packet trying to access resources inside the protect surface?
- What applications are employees supposed to use to access resources within the micro-perimeter?
Adopting the Kipling Method ensures that only verified and legitimate traffic and applications pass through the network.
7. Continuously Monitor and Enforce Zero-Trust Architecture
Cybersecurity protocols and security strategies must be proactive in the current threat landscape. There is simply no other option. In a rapidly evolving threat landscape, it's the only way organizations can mitigate risk and avert a potential data breach.
Complementing your zero-trust approach with real-time monitoring and dynamic governance protocols is important. Zero-trust security teams can also enforce policies and rules at the micro-perimeter and then deploy zero-trust network architecture.
This part of the zero-trust implementation can be time- and resource-intensive. Thus, it'll help to take the time to plan and avoid any potential downtime.
As it's impossible for humans to stay alert and monitor traffic in real-time and around the clock, it's critical to leverage cutting-edge AI and ML-powered tools. These robust tools will alert security teams in real-time while fortifying enterprise infrastructure.
Zero-trust teams can leverage security information and event management (SIEM) systems to gain a comprehensive understanding of security events.
8. Create and Nurture a Culture of Security and Accountability
The zero-trust model demands a collective effort from all stakeholders. If everyone in the organization isn't on board with following security best practices, the organization won't reap all the benefits.
Furthermore, it's important to establish responsibilities related to different sections of the zero-trust framework. The best approach is to get security and non security focused teams to work together to find and fix potential vulnerabilities. Enterprises can avoid catastrophic security events by detecting potential vulnerabilities and resolving them before threat actors exploit them.