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What the Heck is Zero Trust and Why Should You Care?

Cybersecurity threats are changing at a rapid pace, but security frameworks have not changed in a long time. By “frameworks” we mean how we look at a particular problem and, correspondingly, how we approach the solutions. If a business truly wants to stay ahead of the curve, it is time to rethink the know, traditional, and comfortable approaches to securing their network and data. 

 

Security professionals at the cutting edge of innovation have developed a new framework that seeks to do a better job of securing data in our increasingly virtualized and cloud-based world. This IT architecture model is called Zero Trust. 

 

So, what exactly is Zero Trust and why should you care about it? Let us dive in and see!

 

For years, the main focus around security has been placed on users and devices. Devices may be considered “trusted,” but what happens when that trusted device is compromised? In that case, the hacker essentially has access to anything and everything they want. Not a great scenario, especially considering that the most damage occurs from malware or phishing attacks that compromise internal hosts! 

 

Compare that with the Zero Trust model. In that framework, the focus of isolation and protection tactics is on the data rather than the devices or users. Zero Trust no longer distinguishes between “inside” network perimeters traditionally considered safe, and the “unsafe” “outside” ones. In this model, all devices handling sensitive data are considered untrusted, whether they belong to the network or not, until they are validated by network traffic and behavior.

 

Some people seem to think that Zero Trust eliminates the perimeter altogether. However, they need to think again! In practice, it does not eliminate the perimeter but rather moves the perimeter closer to the protected apps through micro-segmentation. 

 

Micro-segmentation is an extremely important aspect of the Zero Trust architecture. It seeks to stop lateral movement during an attack. Traditionally, once a hacker gained access to a system, they could often move laterally across many other systems and applications to compromise those as well. This reduction in lateral movement reduces the post-compromise risk when an attacker does gain access to a network device.

 

Another foundational element of this new model is identity and access management. Users and access rights have always played a large role in security operations, and Zero Trust model is no different! Any Zero Trust technology must be able to interact with identity stores and policies in real-time to make enforcement decisions on allowed and disallowed actions. Access management is a large topic to cover, but organizations must ensure that they commit the necessary resources to this piece of the puzzle or some aspects of their Zero Trust implementation will be left lacking.

 

While Zero Trust is still an emerging and evolving architecture, one thing is for certain. The inherent focus on removing implicit trust in access to data does no good without a detection and response strategy. Many consider the monitoring plane to be the missing link when it comes to this new Zero Trust model. Automatic detection and alerting of threats to a monitoring team is crucial to allowing organizations to fully manage their network security needs. Unfortunately, many common Zero Trust models omit this crucial element in their framework.

 

If you are considering implementing a Zero Trust architecture in your organization, keep the following things in mind. 

  1. First, it is likely that you already have some aspects of the architecture existing in your current setup, but they may just not be working in conjunction with each other as they should. 
  2. Base your architecture on how data moves across the network instead of on specific devices and users. 
  3. Make sure that your identity and access controls are integrated closely into your approach
  4. Finally, do not forget the monitoring piece! Real-time monitoring and alerting may be missing from some frameworks, but it is one thing you truly don’t want to forget. 

 

No single technology is going to give you everything you need, so you will need to select a combination of tools that will provide what you need. Since this framework is still evolving, this is going to take time. It could very well take several years in some environments before things are properly functioning together. Do not get discouraged if this is the case and keep pushing forward toward implementing this cohesive set of controls that will make your data more secure and your processes more efficient and streamlined. Working with the right partner with an advanced knowledge of Zero Trust and other security frameworks, as well as the latest security technologies emerging in the market is the best way to ensure you are making the most of this tech and spending your resources wisely. A win-win for the entire organization! 

 

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