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Should your organization adopt Zero Trust security model?

Learn the key principles of Zero Trust and find out how to reliably implement it.
A cybersecurity expert working on zero trust implementation.
Published on
July 26, 2023
Last updated on
April 11, 2024

With a steady rise in cybercrime incidents worldwide and more than 800,000 cybercrime complaints received by the FBI in 2022, business users have started to acknowledge the importance of security operations in technology. As a result, many entrepreneurs and company leaders with no cybersecurity background show curiosity about Zero Trust solutions.

Read this article to learn the key principles of the Zero Trust model, discover its advantages, best practices, and use cases, and find a solution to reliable Zero Trust Architecture implementation.

What is the Zero Trust security model?

The Zero Trust security model (or Zero Trust Architecture - ZTA) is an approach to cybersecurity where users and devices are never trusted by default, and user identity verification is always needed to access the systems and data of an organization.

While the traditional approach to cybersecurity often falls short when it comes to protecting organizations’ data, applications, and software in modern cloud environments, the Zero Trust model is built with current technologies in mind, allowing secure remote access needed to reap all benefits of the Internet era.

Where did the Zero Trust strategy come from?

Although Stephen Paul Marsh coined the term “Zero Trust” in his doctoral thesis on computer security in 1994, it was first used to describe a security model similar to what we understand as Zero Trust today by analyst John Kindervag of Forrester Research in 2010.

In 2020, a US government organization, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, also known for its cybersecurity framework), published a comprehensive report called “Zero Trust Architecture.” The agency defines Zero Trust as an evolving set of paradigms that seeks to move cybersecurity from being static and network-based to focusing on users, assets, and resources. Zero Trust Architecture is an approach to industrial and enterprise infrastructure planning which utilizes Zero Trust principles.

Why is Zero Trust Architecture needed?

Zero Trust Architecture represents an enterprise-wide commitment to a secure IT environment. Zero Trust concepts like strict access policies, persistent verification, and continuous evaluation of users and devices are harsh for a reason. Including them in your organization’s strategy provides the security framework needed to pursue digital transformation benefits like cloud migration, remote access to the organization’s network, and advanced data analytics with minimal harm to your digital resources.

How does Zero Trust network access work?

Zero Trust network access (ZTNA) is a tool that provides secure access to organizational resources to remote users. Unlike a popular solution known as a virtual private network (VPN), ZTNA operates on predefined access control policies that deny all access by default. Users must make explicit requests, and authentication is performed via an encrypted tunnel. Users can access only those applications and services they have permission to use.

Advantages of Zero Trust Architecture

Zero Trust strategy offers many benefits to organizations looking to improve cybersecurity. The list below is just the tip of the iceberg. To learn more about how a Zero Trust initiative can advantage your organization, consider booking a free consultation with one of our expert consultants.

Well-suited for modern technology

A properly-implemented Zero Trust model has no equals when dealing with modern cloud environments and contemporary network infrastructure based on mainframes.

Tip: Zero Trust security strategy is fully compatible with modern development methodologies enabled by the evolution of Agile, like Site Reliability Engineering and DevSecOps.

Lower risk of a data breach

With user and device access being subject to sophisticated identity and access management solutions, data breaches pose less of a threat.

Improved threat intelligence

Enterprise systems remain tasty bites for malicious actors no matter how well-refined the security strategy is. But with Zero Trust, the entire network traffic is subject to constant monitoring in an effort to detect threats as promptly as possible.

Appropriate alerts and notifications inform your security teams of suspicious user behavior, allowing them to step in, authenticate user and device identity or isolate the compromised device, and protect your network resources from attackers and mistakes of your workers alike.

Reduced attack surface

Even in the case of successful cyber attacks that result in a compromised device or user account, Zero Trust security solutions manage to reduce the threat to critical assets and valuable resources.

The core concepts of the Zero Trust approach, namely the principle of least privilege access and the practice of micro-segmentation, produce a secure environment where lateral movement inside the corporate network is limited by design.

Consequently, even attacks that manage to penetrate your network perimeter only gain access to a fraction of your data and resources.

Constant evolution

Zero Trust is not only a set of tools and principles but also a collection of living ideas designed to adapt easily to changing user requirements, evolving cyber risks, and an always-changing global network environment.

Your current security strategy based on Zero Trust network access may be noticeably different from a Zero Trust strategy your organization will follow a year from now.

Top use cases of Zero Trust

From giant corporations to digitally-enabled SMEs, the Zero Trust approach brings benefits to organizations across the world. So when should your business consider implementing Zero Trust?

  • You want to boost the productivity of your employees by enabling remote workers to connect to your enterprise network securely via the Internet.
  • You want to reduce risks related to your company’s digital transformation efforts, such as the risk of lateral movement during cyber-attacks and the risk of data breaches.
  • You need to implement access control to your cloud environments in order to secure your company’s sensitive data while maintaining the advantages of remote user access.
  • You want to achieve and promote compliance with recommended privacy standards and required customer data and intellectual property regulations.
  • You want to improve your company’s security posture and limit the attack surface so that even successful attacks won’t reach your most critical assets.
  • You want to improve your data access control when sharing your internal resources with external partners so only authorized users can connect to your network and additional resources.

What are core Zero Trust principles?

Core Zero Trust principles infographic.

Creating a dependable Zero Trust network demands in-depth expertise, data analytics skills, familiarity with modern cloud services, and compliance with relevant standards and regulations. Many organizations depend on outside vendors to augment their existing teams with Zero Trust experts.

A specific Zero Trust framework is usually designed to satisfy the unique requirements of a given organization’s network security. Even though a tailor-made Zero Trust solution may greatly differ from company to company, some core principles are always present.

1. Never trust; always verify

Zero Trust network access clearly demands a complete lack of trust. No users or devices are trusted by default - each must be routinely verified and authenticated. The integrity of a user account and a specific endpoint is repeatedly established based on all available data, including identity, location, state of device security controls, and any abnormal behavior.

2. Employ least-privilege access

To reduce risk when granting access to your data, Zero Trust-driven organizations limit the access rights of a user to a minimum that is needed to perform expected tasks. No user is given additional permissions by default. Gaining atypical access permission requires an explicit access request, and all such access requests are monitored and archived along with user identity.

Just-in-time and just-enough access (JIT/JEA) approach decreases the risk of bad-faith actors accessing sensitive data and limits the attack surface. Even if attackers manage to take over an authenticated device, they would need additional authentication to enter the next layers of your systems.

Combining this approach with multi-factor authentication (MFA) methods further improves network security, as users are notified of login attempts and access requests on their separate devices. If such an endpoint remains uncompromised, they can deny the request and report the suspicious behavior to your security team.

3. Utilize micro-segmentation

Micro-segmentation is a powerful tool that enables effective and secure access policies and better control over critical data. It reduces the risk of extensive damage in case of successful attacks without limiting the productivity of employees and access to assets they really need. By dividing your systems into small zones that must be accessed separately, you protect your valuable resources by containing potential threats to one such zone, as accessing another would require another authentication.

4. React with an assumption of breach

Systems designed with an assumption that the worst happens are the most secure and resilient ones. Zero Trust initiatives usually utilize robust alerts software that notifies the company’s security teams of any suspicious and abnormal behavior.

Just as all automated processes are programmed to assume breach, the cybersecurity experts acquainted with the Zero Trust approach also know to treat all such incidents seriously and with the required urgency.

Tip: Combining Zero Trust with a proactive security stance enabled by OSINT may yield even better protection of your enterprise data.

How to implement the Zero Trust security model?

Zero Trust implementation strategy should always be custom-fit to the unique business situation and industry-specific needs of an enterprise.

Step 1: Acknowledge the necessity of change

Organizations that embrace digital transformation quickly realize that traditional security strategies are not particularly well-suited for today’s rapidly evolving IT environments. Continuous technological, cultural, and political changes demand a new approach to cybersecurity.

Step 2: Evaluate your existing assets

Analyze how your current software and infrastructure solutions fit the Zero Trust model and build upon what you already have. Browse new solutions and tools developed by your existing technology partners for a familiar user experience, but don’t avoid new partnerships on principle, as specialized vendors often provide the best deals.

Step 3: Get your priorities right

Start small but effectively with clearly-defined goals. On the one hand, prioritize quick wins to start bringing value quickly and convince the skeptics. On the other, recognize the scope of change, understand how it will impact everyone in the organization, and identify the destination you want to reach as well as the timeframe to do so.

Step 4: Get stakeholders on board

To get the leadership buy-in, explain how the traditional cybersecurity approach undermines the usefulness of digital transformation. Follow by demonstrating ways in which you can build upon existing assets and additional advantages of the Zero Trust security model. Present your adoption roadmap and show the added value of each adoption step.

Step 5: Formulate a structured implementation strategy

Define an overarching vision of what you want to achieve with a Zero Trust model implementation and characterize its impact on users. Divide the program into smaller initiatives and provide ways to measure their success. Then, make a detailed plan for the coming months and a simplified outline of a whole timeline. Evaluate how your existing in-house expertise aligns with your requirements and consider bringing in external partners to augment your capabilities.

Step 6: Measure your Zero Trust initiative progress

Identify performance goals that align with your company’s business goals and ways to measure them. Focus on how the adoption program influences the business side and user experience and on how effectively implemented Zero Trust policies reduce the number and severity of security incidents. Report on your successes to build support for the Zero Trust Architecture and address the program’s shortcomings to learn from them and adjust your strategy.

Step 7: Continue to evaluate and make improvements

Recognize that in today’s constantly evolving IT environment nothing is constant. Make sure your security teams have procedures in place to evaluate your policies and adjust them to meet new business requirements and respond to independent factors. Encourage creativity and inquisitiveness to allow for even more improvements.

Tip: Researching new ways of improving data security is easier with security automation, which enables your security experts to focus on critical duties, leaving the menial tasks to bots.

Adopt Zero Trust with Maxima Consulting

To summarize, Zero Trust security Architecture enables IT security teams to minimize the frequency and severity of data breaches and other cyber threats, resulting in an overall more appropriate enterprise security posture. By strengthening access control and constantly developing internal Zero Trust security policies, companies become well-protected regardless of the cloud adoption levels.

However, implementing Zero Trust is a complex process that demands a tailored security strategy and company-wide adoption to bring the full scope of its benefits. Many organizations around the globe lack the required expertise in-house and urn for guidance to specialized external vendors like Maxima Consulting.

Schedule a free consultation with our security expert to ensure your Zero Trust journey reaches the desired destination.

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