The zero-trust security model has proven to be one of the most successful cybersecurity strategies ever created.
Zero trust, also known as zero trust architecture (ZTA), zero trust network architecture (ZTNA), and perimeter-less security, operates on the principle of “deny by default.” Access to network resources must be continuously verified and explicitly granted to users and devices every time they are utilized.
By implementing micro-segmentation and adhering to the principle of least privileged access, zero trust not only blocks breaches but also restricts lateral movement in the event of a breach. In today’s digital landscape, this approach has proven to be invaluable.
Zero Trust Succeeds When Nothing Else Does
Traditional security models were largely based on perimeter protection, where a company’s firewall was expected to safeguard its computers and services from external threats. However, the effectiveness of perimeter security has diminished over time, as it relied on a combination of physical security measures and VPNs to provide remote access to individuals outside the perimeter.
Perimeter-based security is now near extinction, as current business networking and cybersecurity trends such as mobile computing, insider threats, remote work, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and advanced malware have rendered it an ineffective defense.
Zero trust security operates differently, it employs constant surveillance, verification, and recurrent authentication of users and devices. This approach is highly effective as each network resource has its own unique security needs that need to be met. For instance, if a hacker gains access to a machine that is already logged in and has authorized software installed, they should not be granted further authorization.
In another scenario, if an attacker obtains user names and passwords from the dark web, they will still not be able to gain access if they try to log in using unauthorized systems, or software, or if their location displays other signs of suspicious activity.
Even if an attacker manages to pass user, system, software, and contextual authentication checks, such as in the case of a rogue insider, their access will still be restricted to a narrowly defined set of permissions.
How Zero Trust Principles Compliment Zero Trust Technologies
Zero trust is a conceptual security model built on four overarching principles:
- Continuously verify every individual and device every time they try to access network resources. This process is governed by policies that take into account factors such as location, IP address, and operating system.
- Operate under the principle of “deny by default,” which denies access to individuals, devices, or applications unless they are successfully authenticated based on specific criteria.
- Divide networks into smaller segments, known as zones, and enforce complete authentication for access to each of these zones.
- Real-time, continuous monitoring for breaches and anomalous behavior.
Zero trust is not a technology in itself, but it necessitates the use of technology products or services from the following categories:
- Identity and Access Management (IAM)
- Strong encryption
- Network micro-segmentation technologies in the categories of agent-based, network-based, or native cloud controls
- Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)
- Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)
To implement zero trust security, it is crucial to design the architecture, deploy the appropriate technologies, and follow the principles of zero trust in a consistent manner.
How and Why Zero Trust Implementation is Lagging
While most security professionals consider the implementation of zero trust to be a top priority, only a small fraction of organizations have fully adopted it or even started the transition. A survey revealed that while 75% of organizations believe zero trust to be crucial, only 14% have established a zero trust strategy.
Why is that?
According to the same survey, a “lack of clarity” or unclear understanding within organizations is the primary obstacle to adopting zero trust, with 94% of organizations reporting this challenge.
The significant time and effort required to make the transition is another significant barrier to implementing zero trust. The process of fully adopting zero trust can take anywhere from two to three years to complete and fully mature.
A common challenge is a lack of clarity – both in understanding what zero trust is and how to implement it.
Why Zero Trust Should Be a Higher Priority
In the past, zero trust was often seen as an intriguing concept that should eventually be embraced by everyone.
Recently, the perception of zero trust has shifted. In the last few years, there’s been a growing realization that organizations should actively pursue a significant zero-trust initiative.
Nowadays, the shift towards zero trust has gained momentum and it is becoming increasingly likely for organizations to adopt it in the near future. As a result, those who do not adopt it may become targets for malicious activity. The pressure to implement zero trust has never been greater.
President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order requiring all federal agencies to adopt zero trust security. This has increased the pressure on organizations to implement this approach. The Office of Management and Budget, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have provided guidance in response to the president’s order, with a deadline set for federal departments and agencies to implement zero trust by 2024.
The federal government’s extensive adoption of zero-trust security is driving growth in industry knowledge, expertise, and product development in the field, which can inspire organizations of all kinds to adopt zero-trust practices.
Take caution, as “zero trust” has become a vague term used for marketing purposes in some areas. Due to its perceived effectiveness, some companies are promoting their products as zero-trust solutions.
It’s important to keep in mind that “zero trust” is not a product, but rather a methodology and a design. The implementation of zero trust security starts with creating a roadmap that outlines the steps for educating stakeholders, starting with small initiatives and gradually increasing the scope.
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