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Zero Trust Security

A Comprehensive Guide for Effective Security

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust means that organizations should not automatically trust anything or anyone trying to access their network, machines, IP addresses, etc. Rather, they should treat every user and every device as a threat and verify their access level before actually granting access.

The Four Core Principles of Zero Trust Security

Zero Trust relies on four key principles to secure the enterprise IT environment:

1. Never Trust, Always Verify

The idea of “never trust, always verify” means you should never trust that users are who they say they are. Instead, you should always verify their identity and access level. This increases the chances that you can stop a cybercriminal or malicious program before they access the organization’s sensitive information or cause other kinds of damage.

2. Threats Come from Inside and Outside

Traditional IT security focuses on protecting the organization from external threats to the network, applications, or devices. It assumes that insiders are “safe,” and therefore rarely considers them as threat sources.

Recent surveys show that such thinking is inadequate, and even downright dangerous. In fact, between 2018 and 2020, the number of insider incidents increased by 47%, proving that the risk from internal threats is also serious and on the rise. That’s why you must also acknowledge and deal with insider threats. And this is exactly what Zero Trust does.

3. Use Micro-Segmentation

Micro-segmentation is a method to create network segments or “micro-perimeters'' around specific assets. This reduces the attack surface and enables enterprise IT security teams to implement granular policy controls. The goal is to restrict the lateral movement of attackers and thus, protect the organization from breaches.

4. Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)

According to the “Principle of Least Privilege” or PoLP, any user, device, workload, or process is only given the bare minimum privileges it needs to perform its intended function. This protects enterprise assets from unauthorized users, both internal and external.

Why Do I Need Zero Trust Security?

Between Q1 and Q2 2021, the number of data breaches increased by 38%. In 2021, the average cost of a data breach was $4.24 million, compared to $3.86 million in 2020. Further, by 2025, damages due to cybercrime are estimated to exceed $10.5 trillion. To manage such threats, IT security investments have increased. And yet, 78% of IT security leaders believe that their organizations are not sufficiently protected against cyberattacks. To address this challenge, many enterprises are adopting the Zero Trust security model.

The traditional trust model assumes that everything inside the organization’s network can be trusted. Zero trust security is radically different. It recognizes that “trust” equals “vulnerability.” To secure your organization’s network from threat actors, you must completely eliminate this vulnerability. And that’s why you need Zero Trust security.

What is Zero Trust Architecture?

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) is an enterprise cybersecurity architecture based on zero trust principles, designed to prevent data breaches and limit internal lateral movement.

Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) aims to strengthen an organization’s cybersecurity and protect its assets from threats. It acknowledges that threats exist both inside and outside the traditional network perimeter and assumes that security breaches are inevitable. More importantly, it allows users to access only what they need to perform their jobs. Finally, it identifies anomalous or potentially malicious activities to prevent cyberattacks from spreading across the network.

President Biden’s Executive Order on National Cybersecurity and ZTA

In May 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. This presidential executive order (EO) mandates all government agencies to adopt ZTA in a planned and coordinated manner. Malicious cyber campaigns threaten both the public and private sectors of the United States. The EO recognizes this and encourages the adoption of ZTA by agencies and federal contractors to identify, detect, deter, and protect against such threats.

The federal government contracts with Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) service providers to carry out several day-to-day functions on Federal Information Systems. Following this EO, all contracts between the government and federal contractors, including commercial off-the-shelf software providers, will likely include new built-in cybersecurity practices, such as ZTA. Under the EO, the NIST will publish guidelines for software supply chain security. These initiatives apply only to federal contractors. However, the private sector also may be expected to implement ZTA and other security measures in the future. That’s why all companies must pay attention to these guidelines and use them to improve their cybersecurity readiness.

Zero Trust and Remote Work

Remote work has become the new normal for thousands of organizations in a post-COVID world. However, this new model also creates serious cybersecurity challenges. When people work from home, they often use insecure home devices, remote channels, and collaboration tools. Cybercriminals take advantage of these weaknesses to attack organizations and steal their data. Between February and May 2020, hackers stole the personal data of more than 500,000 video conferencing users and sold it on the dark web. Since the start of the pandemic, ransomware attacks have increased by nearly 500%. COVID-themed phishing attacks have also increased. At one point, such attacks soared by 220% during the pandemic’s peak in 2020.

Many organizations have implemented a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN enables remote workers to access the network assets and data they need to do their work. However, a VPN can compromise a company’s cybersecurity:

  • A VPN cannot completely protect enterprise networks, data, or employees from malware, hackers, or security breaches.

  • VPNs also cannot create or enforce policies to protect credentials, such as passwords. If third-party vendors have access to an organization’s network or data, malicious hackers can exploit weak VPN protocols to cause data breaches.

  • Even one compromised remote worker using the VPN can open the door to a cyberattack.

As more remote workers use a VPN, the risk of cyberattacks also increases. To minimize this risk, Zero Trust architecture is essential.

With a VPN, users can usually access large parts of the enterprise infrastructure. But with ZTA, they can only access the assets and applications they need to perform their function. In a ZTA, devices also are constantly monitored, so only authorized devices can access the corporate network. As an added security measure, all access attempts by users and devices are tracked. Thus, ZTA provides stronger, more reliable security than a VPN.

Does Zero Trust Protect against Hacking?

ZTA eliminates the element of trust. It confirms user identities every single time, limits which users and devices can access corporate resources, and creates smaller zones within the larger network. These principles are extremely important because if there is a breach, you can minimize the possible attack surface. You also can limit lateral movement within the network. This enables you to prevent the spread of malware across the network and limit the impact of a data breach.

For full all-round security, you should implement:

  • Zero Trust Network Access

  • Zero Trust Application Access

  • Zero Trust Data Access

Industries, such as oil and gas, utilities, and energy, have been slower to upgrade their cybersecurity infrastructure. They tend to use a mix of legacy and modern equipment, which makes them harder to secure. Further, they often lack updated and robust security controls to protect passwords, VPN, etc., and struggle to effectively identify, isolate, and address cyber threats. A good example demonstrating these shortcomings in industrial operations is the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. In May 2021, hackers breached Colonial Pipeline’s IT network using a VPN and a single set of stolen credentials from a trusted insider. However, a ZTA might have prevented this attack, which is why Zero Trust is especially crucial for these industries.

ZTA treats the identity of each machine, application, and user as an independent perimeter. This enables such organizations to secure their assets and prevent cyberattacks from spreading.

How to Implement a Comprehensive Zero Trust Architecture

To simplify ZTA implementation, the following tools are crucial:

Single Sign-On

Single Sign-On (SSO) enables users to access all accounts and apps with a single set of credentials. SSO increases security by getting rid of passwords, while increasing usability and employee satisfaction.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a critical Identity and Access Management (IAM) tool that every organization should use to protect their critical IT assets. Unlike password-based systems, MFA requires users to use additional factors to access an account or app. For example, they may be required to provide a PIN or biometrics, in addition to a username and password. This ensures that only the right person can access the right applications or accounts.

Ideally, try to combine MFA with SSO. Otherwise, your users will have to go through more steps to log into a system. This can be a painful and frustrating experience, especially when users must login several times a day.

Fast Provisioning Systems

When you move to Zero Trust, you will need a way to quickly provision and deprovision users. By implementing least privileged access, you might have to make exceptions regularly. So, if your current provisioning system is time-consuming, things are only going to get more complex when you move to Zero Trust. For hassle-free ZTA, make sure you implement a fast provisioning system.

Device Protection

Any user device or “endpoint” is both the focal point of attack, as well as the first line of defense. So, always look for device protection tools that protect and monitor devices, so you can offset the danger at the source.

Adaptive Access Control

Adaptive Access Control continuously monitors user behaviors and updates access privileges in real-time. It also implements User and Entity Behavior Analytics to assess user risk based on their activity. Through continuous trust evaluation, Adaptive Access Control adjusts the trust level of users to adjust their access and thus, mitigate risk.

Security Ratings Platform

With a Security Ratings Platform, you can continuously scan your environment for new risks. The platform and its ratings system provide visibility into all access points and create a more complete risk picture. It also generates prioritized alerts with remediation suggestions, so your security team can take immediate action to enhance the organization’s security posture.

Security Information and Event Management

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) should be an essential part of your Zero Trust strategy. A SIEM platform aggregates multiple data sources and alerts from across the enterprise IT infrastructure. It analyzes this activity to identify suspicious behaviors and also generates automatic notifications of security events.

Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response

Like SIEM, Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) also enables you to collect data about security threats. Further, it investigates threats, and automates incident response and remediation. Thanks to its automation capabilities, SOAR can reduce the time required to qualify and investigate threats and reduces the Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), a “failure metric” that indicates the average time it takes to repair and restore a system to functionality after a failure is detected.

Zero Trust Architecture

Conclusion

As cyberattacks against organizations become more common, the traditional “trust but verify” view of network security is no longer appropriate or adequate. Security teams should know that implicitly trusting users and endpoints places their organization at risk from malicious attackers, unauthorized users, careless insiders, and compromised accounts.

To secure the organization, a Zero Trust model is vital. This model’s “never trust, always verify” approach, as well as its principle of least privilege, provide better protection against the expanding cyberthreat landscape. With Zero Trust, organizations can implement better access control, protect their assets, contain breaches, and minimize the potential for damage.