Cyber attacks have grown and impacted businesses significantly in the past few years. Ransomware alone is costing organizations staggering losses. According to IBM, the breaches caused by ransomware have risen to 41% in the last year and it took 49 days longer than average to identify and contain. With businesses moving online and adopting distributed work environments, these cyber attacks can come from anywhere and are only getting worse and difficult to prevent. This is where the network security model zero trust comes into play.
What is zero trust security? This article offers a deep dive into how it works, its history, principles, use case, and implementation.
What is Zero Trust Security?
Zero trust is a security framework that requires all users, whether outside or inside the organization’s network, to undergo authorization, authentication, and verification. This model guards the network using a multi-layered approach involving network segmentation, comprehensive security monitoring, security system automation and granular user-access control.
This model assumes every user is untrustworthy until proven otherwise. Unlike traditional VPNs that require single authentication for access, it asks for constant validation and gives access based on the requirement. This boosts the organization’s network security and ensures it is monitored continuously.
This framework is designed to secure network infrastructure and meet the needs of modern workplace environments, such as performance, speed, remote work, collaboration, safety, and security. By adopting this model, a company can operate the business more effectively from anywhere, protect its data, and enable secure access for every individual or device.
Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is one of the most common implementations of this framework. Gartner defines ZTNA as “a product or service that creates an identity- and context-based, logical access boundary around an application or set of applications. The applications are hidden from discovery, and access is restricted via a trust broker to a set of named entities. The broker verifies the identity, context and policy adherence of the specified participants before allowing access and prohibits lateral movement elsewhere in the network.” Other than ZTNA, other implementations include Zero Trust Application Access (ZTAA) and Zero Trust Access (ZTA).
What is Zero Trust: A Brief History
Before we get into how it works, here’s a quick look at its evolution.
It started in 2010, when Forrester Research analyst John Kindervag popularized the concept of zero trust, which stated that an organization should not extend trust to anything inside or outside its perimeter. In 2011, Google became the first company to implement their version of these systems called BeyondCorp, as a response to the cyber attack Operation Aurora.
In 2014, a Swiss security IT engineer designed a zero trust network to secure the network from threats like malware. The manuscript of this architecture, called the Untrust-Untrust type of network, was later published in 2015 by The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property.
How Does Zero Trust Security Work?
As the name suggests, the concept of this framework is to trust no one and assume the network is always hostile. This model only allows access to the network after performing strict identity verification for every individual or device. If someone is trying to access the network or transfer data, regardless of their network perimeter, this framework will ask for authentication and authorizations before they can do so. In other words, it connects the network securely, does strict identity verification, and constantly guards the network against threats.
What are the Benefits of a Zero Trust Framework?
Here are a few fundamental ways in which this framework can work across the board.
- Provides secure access to a third-party working inside the organization network
- Creates an efficient and safe working of the distributed work environment
- Gives control over the cloud
- Limits access to employees working outside the perimeters
- Limits access to customers and business partners
- Secures multi-cloud and cloud-to-cloud connections
- Reduces the risk of data breach
What are the Three Core Principles of Zero Trust Model?
The model operates on three core principles:
1. Continuous Verification
One of the primary principles of this model is to “never trust, always verify,” which means that, by default, it does not trust any users, credentials, or devices and requires them to go through verification before accessing the network. It uses elements such as a rapid and scalable dynamic policy model and conditional access to conduct continuous verification effectively without sacrificing the user experience.
2. Limit the Blast Radius
An attack on a traditional network security system can potentially expose its resources and internal network. Thus it is crucial to minimize the impact of such attacks by using the model’s architecture. Zero trust limits the scope of credentials, which restricts the attacker’s access paths and reduces the blast radius.
It uses two approaches to do this.
- It segments application access and ensures that users can only access permitted resources
- It grants least privilege access and places role-based policy, which gives users only the necessary network access required to perform the task
3. Automate Context Collection and Response
To make accurate decisions and enhance user experiences, the security model combines and integrates from sources such as:
- User credentials
- Threat intelligence
- Single Sign-On (SSO)
- AD and Identity provider (IDP)
Stages of Implementing the Zero Trust Model
Implementing this model can seem daunting and costly, but this architecture is much simpler than it appears once you understand what is the main concept. It is important to remember that zero trust is not a technology but a framework, thus it can simply be built into the existing architecture of the company. Here are three stages of zero trust implementation as recommended by CrowdStrike:
Stage 1: Visualize: This means to comprehend the risks and examine each resource and access point. The goal here is to check all the entities and understand the areas in the network that are vulnerable.
Stage 2. Mitigate : This involves detecting and trying to stop the attack or limiting the impact of the breach if it cannot be stopped completely.
Stage 3. Optimize: The goal here is to boost security in every aspect of the IT infrastructure and its resources, regardless of the network perimeter, and without compromising the user experience.
To summarize, then, what is zero trust all about? Essentially, to trust no user or device and assume the network is always hostile is simple yet effective. If implemented accurately, it has the potential to protect your business from vulnerabilities and attacks. Check out Emeritus’ online cybersecurity courses from the best universities in the world if you want to learn how to navigate cyberspace, evaluate vulnerabilities, and make digital defense strategies for organizations.
By Krati Joshi
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