Imagine how much more secure your home would be if, every time someone came to visit, you were able to perform a quick background check on them. You might see their criminal record, their current living situation, what job they held, or maybe even what intentions had brought them to your house. Having such a “zero trust” model in real life would make it much more difficult for someone with ill intent to pay you and your family a visit.
Such is the model provided by the modern-day cyber world’s push to zero trust. In the past, a business could build a trusted network, and as long as devices or users were on the network already, they were trusted by default. However, in an age when cyberattacks continue to grow more sophisticated at an alarming rate, more stringent protocols are necessary. A zero trust model — where everything and everyone accessing network resources is authenticated before doing anything — is essential to building a resilient security infrastructure. In other words, assume breach and trust nothing by taking the default position that any entity — user or device — is a potential threat. In a networked world full of threat actors, never trust, always verify.
The Threats in 2022 and Beyond
The cyber threats modern companies face are getting bigger, more sophisticated, and better funded at a rapid pace. Exploding rates of ransomware attacks have enabled organized criminal enterprises, like DarkSide or BlackMatter, to become better funded and more organized, which means their attacks will continue to increase in frequency and success. With nation-state actors remaining an ever-present threat, our cybersecurity paradigms must shift with the evolving threat landscape.
Add to that the trend toward remote work and the disintegrating network borders these arrangements bring, and the need to implement zero trust becomes self-evident. But that task is easier said than done. Zero trust is becoming a buzzword, but very few organizations are actually at a point where they can even understand how their existing architecture can integrate a zero trust model.
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Built for Security – What is Zero Trust?
In the old information security model, network engineers and cybersecurity professionals were responsible for creating a bastion of security at the enterprise’s physical locations. These “trusted networks” were protected by firewalls and had a hardened perimeter, but anything already on the network enjoyed default trust. Gaining access to the network was difficult, but once inside, it was relatively simple to move around, lock down files for ransomware, or gain access to off-limits areas. With the attack surface greatly expanded by work-from-home models, attackers enjoy an almost limitless number of access points to an organization’s critical data.
Zero trust solves this problem by heightening the requirement for authentication from every device and user on the network any time they try to access something. Every device and person is treated as unknown until validated all the way down the stream to every piece of data. Each transaction that takes place is evaluated for risk vs. need; in other words, what is the user/device’s assessed risk level, and does that entity have a need to access the relevant material? These days, you can’t take any actors for granted, even those already on the network.
As AI and cloud-based security systems become more prevalent and cheaper, the tools are in place to establish an infrastructure that seamlessly implements a zero trust model without heavily affecting the user experience. Ideally, your employees won’t even realize they’re encountering more stringent controls, and your entire enterprise is made much more secure in the process.
There are four main guiding principles to the zero trust concept:
- Resources are segmented and accessible only through a “just in time” model, so systems and users only have access to specific resources based on security posture.
- Establish a secure identity-based context for each resource on a network and evaluate in real-time.
- Enable additional authentication through enhanced security protocols.
- Continuously monitor and assess each connection to secure resources and re-evaluate and respond to incidents as soon as they occur.
These additional measures — specifically, inherently distrusting all entities until they authenticate while continuously evaluating their behavior on the network — means that preventing unauthorized access and responding to attacks is a much more constant activity. Moreover, it provides the proactivity modern businesses need to compete with threats.
Migration Won’t Be Easy, But It’s Necessary
Complete migration to a zero trust infrastructure model isn’t easy, and it’s more useful to think of it as a journey rather than a project or set of actions to undertake. It requires a thorough analysis of an organization’s entire information systems architecture, and it requires input from all stakeholders to build the groups and policies necessary to implement it.
Embracing zero trust is a step many organizations are working toward now, but the timing for implementation is crucial. With the ever-evolving threats we’re facing, a zero trust model is more essential to security now than ever before.