In an era where cyber threats are increasingly sophisticated and pervasive, traditional perimeter-based network security strategies are no longer sufficient. Enter zero trust security - a revolutionary approach that turns the conventional "trust but verify" model on its head to instead operate on a "never trust, always verify" principle.
This shift does away with the notion of a trusted internal network versus an untrusted external one. Instead, it advocates for comprehensive verification of all entities - users, devices, applications, and data, regardless of their location within the network.
In this blog, we will delve into the core principles of zero trust security, explore how it enhances organisational defence, and provide practical steps towards its successful implementation.
What is zero trust?
Zero trust is a security framework that, at an organisational level, requires all users to be authenticated, authorised, and validated throughout their session within your IT systems. Without doing so, they will not have access to any data.
This framework assumes and establishes a rule that no network is deemed safe or acceptable for access alone, meaning that verification will be required for whoever needs access to your systems.
With so many companies digitally transforming and moving to hybrid working solutions, your employees will need to be able to access your systems from home or anywhere else, which opens up vulnerabilities to potential hackers. With zero trust, you allow your organisation to still be able to ensure that remote working is an option without exposing these vulnerabilities.
With estimates being that zero trust reduces the cost of a data breach by $1M, its importance for safeguarding IT in the modern world is clear.
Prior to zero trust, the ‘trust but verify’ method was often used. The primary disadvantage of this method is that it inherently assumes trust first, potentially leaving systems vulnerable to internal threats or compromised accounts before verification processes can detect and respond to malicious activities. The main advantage of zero trust security over trust but verify is that it assumes no user or device is trustworthy by default, whether inside or outside the network, thus providing robust security measures through continuous validation and eliminating the potential risks associated with implicit trust.
Zero trust uses the following entities in real-time to ensure that any user within your organisation is constantly being verified:
- User identity and type of credentials
- Credential privileges
- Normal connections for the specific credentials and device
- Endpoint hardware type and functionality
- Firmware details
- Authentication protocol
- OS versions and patch levels
- Applications installed
- Smart security or incident detection software that will be able to pick up suspicious activity
Principles of zero trust
The key principles of zero trust follow the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidelines. The NIST 800-207 guidelines are designed to address the evolving trends in enterprise networks, including remote users, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, and cloud-based assets. The purpose of these guidelines is to minimise uncertainty in enforcing accurate, least privilege per-request access decisions in information systems.
These guidelines are the official guidelines which U.S. Federal Agencies have to follow under executive order, hence why it is generally considered to be the standard.
An important aspect of the NIST guidelines is the concept of continuous verification. All users, whether inside or outside the organisation's network, must be authenticated, authorised, and continuously validated for security configuration and posture before being granted or keeping access to applications and data.
By ensuring that everyone within your system is constantly verified, you reduce the risk of a breach by someone external that could go under the radar as a spoof or a mimic of another user.
Minimise the impact of a breach
The next principle is ensuring that each breach has minimal impact on your organisation. By carefully monitoring and planning, the aim is to isolate the breach and minimise the wider impact by ensuring that it doesn’t gain wider access as quickly as possible.
Automate context collection, detection and response
Automation plays a crucial role in zero trust security. It assists in collecting, detecting, and responding to threats in real-time, minimising human intervention and thereby human error.
The journey to zero trust
As with any framework, implementing zero trust within your organisation is a multi-step process that will require analysis and strategy to be able to use effectively. Working with an experienced Managed Service Provider (MSP) will give you support in ensuring that every step that’s taken is the correct one.
The first step in implementing zero trust within your organisation is identifying every user, device, application, and data source that needs to be protected. The best way of doing this is to use an inventory system to track all assets within the network and use this to define and record the access requirements of each asset.
Secondly, you’ll need to map the data streams within your network. This means identifying how data is transmitted throughout your network between users, devices, and applications. By doing so, you help understand the relationship between different network sources and are able to identify any possible vulnerabilities that arise.
Next, utilising all the data collected in the previous steps, you’ll need to analyse and determine the security risks and threats that exist within your network. This involves analysing access patterns and data flows as well as user behaviour to identify and determine any anomalies or malicious activities.
Using the information gathered, the next stage is to implement zero trust security controls. This will include deploying multi-factor authentication (MFA), access controls, encryption, and other controls such as least privilege access, continuous monitoring, and micro-segmentation.
During this stage, you’ll also need to establish any policies and procedures to ensure that your security measures are effective.
Once implemented, you’ll need to continuously monitor and assess the security controls to ensure that they’re working how you want them to. You’ll also need to analyse user behaviour, access patterns, and data streams to keep alert for any breaches. Anything suspicious should be investigated and addressed immediately to ensure that your organisation isn’t under threat.
How we can help
If you’re looking to get started with zero trust security today but don’t know how to begin, reach out to us today. We’ll be able to help you work through exactly what you need, and ensure that your organisation is protected.