Cybersecurity is paramount to protecting your organization from harmful and costly cyberattacks. With this imperative top of mind, more and more organizations are looking to implement a Zero Trust architecture to ensure that cyber attacks find it significantly more difficult to breach and then spread within an enterprise's infrastructure.
In this in-depth article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of Zero Trust architecture. Our five-step guide will summarize the processes involved, including best practices to potential implementation hurdles and a brief FAQ.
What is Zero Trust, and why is it important?
Zero Trust refers to a cybersecurity philosophy that operates from the principle of "assume breach" and adopts a "least privilege" approach to granting access. This requires, in its purest sense, for the context of every interaction between a set of resources (people, workloads, networks, data and devices) to be validated before the interaction can be allowed to go ahead.
Today, many organizations are increasingly hybrid and dispersed across cloud, on-premises, and endpoints environments. This network expansion results in more vulnerabilities that can be targeted by hackers, not to mention an increase in internal data breaches.
To combat the increase in vulnerability, better access control is required and this is where adopting a Zero Trust approach becomes relevant.
Zero Trust best practices
Implementing a Zero Trust architecture is not always straightforward. However, advancements in processes and technology are helping to simplify the undertaking. With today's new technologies, true Zero Trust is now a practical option for organizations to implement.
Best practices to consider before attempting to implement Zero Trust include:
- Applying multi-factor authentication on all access points within the network.
- Ensuring all connected devices are regularly updated and well-maintained.
- Conducting regular and thorough monitoring to ensure strict access control processes.
- Limiting access to individual components within the network for improved management.
It comes as no surprise that financial institutions and banks, as well as leading organizations such as Google and Microsoft, use Zero Trust network architecture and have moved away from traditional perimeter-based security. More and more organizations worldwide are following suit to protect their data.
5 steps to implementing Zero Trust
Knowing the benefits and the challenges, it's time to think about designing and implementing a Zero Trust strategy to stop the spread of cyberattacks. This can be broken down into five steps to help simplify the process.
1. Create policies
Before your Zero Trust strategy has been segmented, it's important to create the policies that define it. Every question needs to be asked in terms of how the network will be used, who is using it, how they are using it, where, and so on. This will help individuals within the organization understand the new processes and systems, avoiding confusion.
2. Determine the attack surface of your network
The attack surface refers to the number of vulnerabilities on a hybrid network that can be targeted by a "threat actor." A cybercriminal or cyber gang can launch a range of different attacks that can establish an unauthorized, remote connection on your network, allowing them access to key resources and data inside your digital infrastructure.
Mapping the attack surface of your network allows you to prioritize your protection efforts. According to Forrester's Zero Trust model, there are five asset pillars to protect:
People: Users only have access to what they're entitled to in and across your network.
Network: Isolate, segment and secure the network.
Devices: Secure the devices connected to your network.
Workloads: Secure the applications and workloads you use to operate your business.
Data: Isolate, encrypt and control data.
2. Define access control and permissions
Access and permission levels for each user, or user type, must be established. Zero trust policies verify access based on context, including user identity, device, location, type of content, and the application being requested. Policies are adaptive, so user access privileges are continually reassessed as context changes.
3. Choose the right Zero Trust solutions
Every network is different. A solution may be effective for one organization and practically useless for another.
Forrester recommends microsegmentation as a primary Zero Trust security control. Segmentation will separate your hybrid infrastructure into different areas, thus helping you identify what security protocols are needed for each.
4. Conduct ongoing monitoring
Implementing Zero Trust is only the beginning, and if it is to be effective, you must constantly monitor activity on the network to identify weaknesses and allow you to optimize the overall performance of the security systems.
Regular reporting can help spot unusual behavior on the network and assess whether the extra measures have affected performance levels within the business. Your reports will use a range of analytics that can provide valuable insights into almost any aspect of the network and user operations.
In addition, the logs that record network activity can also be looked at analytically, using advanced technology such as machine learning. Combined, this data can help you adapt and improve your Zero Trust network, helping you make the required changes to prevent new and more sophisticated cyberattacks.
Challenges for implementing Zero Trust
There are three key challenges that organizations often need to overcome to successfully implement Zero Trust security.
Secure both physical and cloud-based infrastructure
One major challenge for organizations looking to establish a Zero Trust architecture is the complex makeup of the existing network. Most networks are composed of new and old hardware and software, physical devices, and cloud-based infrastructure. Infrastructure can include cloud-based servers, physical servers, databases, proxies, internal applications and software, VPNs, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and more.
Securing each access point to a Zero Trust level can be extremely difficult using traditional methods, even for experienced engineers. Modern Zero Trust technologies like Illumio can help automate and streamline the process.
The need for software upgrades and alterations
A Zero Trust network requires segmentation technology that makes it easy to build effective policies and then updated them as an organization's digital infrastructure evolves.
Without a unified view of communications traffic and centralized management of segmentation policies, organizations will struggle to orchestrate Zero Trust Segmentation across today's distributed and virtual hybrid networks.
Zero Trust architecture requires flexible tools, such as microsegmentation platforms, identity-aware proxies, and software-defined perimeter (SDP) software.
Plan for a journey
Moving to a Zero Trust security model is a commitment that will require time and learning. The planning of the network, including deciding on permissions and access levels across all aspects of the organization, can seem daunting, especially with hybrid networks running cloud services in conjunction with on-premises data centers.
It's important to understand Zero Trust as a journey rather than a destination. It doesn’t require one complete plan; it can be broken down into multiple, small steps that get tackled over time. This allows organizations to start securing their most business-critical vulnerabilities rather than waiting for a full plan before any security practices get implemented.
Zero Trust: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are answers to frequently asked questions relating to Zero Trust architecture.
How do I choose a Zero Trust provider?
Any Zero Trust provider you choose must comply with the highest security standards, such as ISO 27001 certification and SOC2 security requirements.
Other factors to considered:
- Which technologies does the vendor specialize in?
- Can the platform scale to efficiently segment a global network?
- Is the platform cost-effective for mid-sized and smaller companies?
- Can the platform segment both cloud and on-premise environments?
- Does the vendor provide endpoint management?
- Can the platform provide a unified view of communications pathways and segmentation zones?
- Does the system identify unusual behavior?
- Can the platform support older applications and devices?
- What is the level of support provided?
Does Zero Trust replace a VPN?
No. VPNs still offer a effective tool for securing certain kinds of traffic from remote endpoint devices. Zero Trust Segmentations offers highly complementary security to ensure all the zones outside of the VPN are well protected, helping better security a network.
How does Zero Trust work with guest access?
Zero Trust requires multi-factor authentication from all users and devices on a network. Guests will need to be verified just like an employee, and no exceptions should be made.
How long does it take to implement Zero Trust?
The time to design and implement a Zero Trust network depends entirely on its complexity and how large the network is. The planning and assessment stage of the process — as well as having the right tools and technologies — is vital to reducing the overall implementation time of the project.
Taking the next step with Zero Trust
Zero Trust security is essential to protecting today's hybrid IT environments from growing cyberthreats. Without the protection provided by Zero Trust security, organizations will be at great risk from ransomware and data theft — events that could cause tremendous damage to any organization.
Achieving Zero Trust security requires a comprehensive effort, but Zero Trust Segmentation is essential to making Zero Trust security practical and scalable for virtually any organization.