Importance of Zero Trust Security: What it Means and Why You Need it

 In Security

The security of an organization’s information technology (IT) systems has never been more important than it is today. The risk of data breaches that compromise sensitive information and malware attacks that target business-critical systems requires that extraordinary steps are taken to protect vital digital resources. 

Multiple security strategies and tactics have been employed by companies to minimize the risk to their computing infrastructure and data assets. These techniques often fail to provide the necessary protection called for by the complexities of modern computing environments.

This article discusses zero trust security and how it can be used to provide enhanced protection to your data resources and vital infrastructure.

 What is Zero Trust Security?

The overarching premise of zero trust security is contained in its name. This approach to security stresses the need to eliminate implicit trust when connecting to computing resources and replace it with rigorous user and device authentication throughout the environment. Every network connection and access to infrastructure elements needs to be verified before permission is granted. The verification is performed each time a connection is established.

Zero trust is a framework that can provide the essential security required by organizations engaged in digital transformation. A zero trust approach addresses the many security challenges faced by modern businesses. These include the prevalence of damaging ransomware attacks, the increased popularity of hybrid cloud environments, and the difficulties encountered securing resources when promoting a mobile work environment.

A standard often used as the foundation for a zero trust initiative is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Specifically, NIST SP 800 207 provides an in-depth look at the building blocks of a zero trust architecture.

How Does Zero Trust Security Work?

Implementing a zero trust computing architecture requires organizations to follow a set of guiding principles that inform every aspect of managing and maintaining their IT environments. 

Monitoring and verification

Zero trust assumes that there are internal and external threats to the environment. This assumption leads to the conclusion that no user or device should automatically be trusted. Systems need to be continuously monitored for suspicious behavior. Strict user and device verification must be performed for every attempted connection. All users and devices must have explicit authorization to obtain access to the infrastructure.

Least privilege

The principle of least privilege provides users with the minimum amount of permission to access the systems and data needed to do their job. Implementing least privilege minimizes the risk of rogue internal actors accessing sensitive data resources.

Network segmentation

Also known as microsegmentation, this principle stresses the importance of dividing a network into distinct zones to restrict access to sensitive infrastructure elements. Authorization is needed to access each zone, controlling risk to the overall environment if a zone’s security is compromised.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

MFA is another guiding principle of zero trust that requires users to provide more than a single type of credential when attempting to access the infrastructure. An access approach employing MFA minimizes the risk to the environment if login credentials are compromised by phishing attacks or misused by unscrupulous employees or contractors.

Preventing lateral movement

This principle is focused on limiting the extent of the damage if security is breached. It builds on the preceding principles of least privilege, monitoring, verification, and segmentation to prevent an attacker from moving laterally through the environment. Unauthorized actors need to be identified and restricted from committing further exploits before being removed from the infrastructure.

Implementing Zero Trust Security

Organizations need to embrace a methodical approach when implementing zero trust security.

Define the organization’s protect surface

The first step in a zero trust security initiative is to identify and define the protect surface that needs to be secured. The protect surface is comprised of the company’s valuable data, applications, assets, and services.

Understand network traffic and transactions

The way users and devices interact with the protect surface influences how it should be secured. Traffic must flow efficiently while simultaneously being kept secure. This requires a deep understanding of how the users and components of your environment use data resources, applications, and networks.

Build a zero trust network

The protect surface also dictates how the network should be constructed to support zero trust security. This begins with a reliable firewall and intelligent segmentation that separates sensitive data resources so they can be afforded additional protection when developing the security policy.

Develop a zero trust policy

Construct a policy that defines which users and processes can access resources based on the evaluation of network traffic and transactions. The policy should enforce the previously discussed principles of zero trust security such as least privilege and MFA. No one should have access to resources that are not required to perform their job.

Perform network monitoring and maintenance

Monitoring and analysis of logs are essential to enforcing the zero trust security policy. Network anomalies or repeated failed attempts for access to sensitive data need to be identified and addressed promptly. Changes in network traffic patterns may necessitate a review and modification of the security policy.

Guidance on the Road to Zero Trust Security

Implementing a robust zero trust security policy can be challenging. It may require a complete overhaul of a company’s current policies and procedures that do not provide them with an adequate level of protection against modern security threats. Digital transformation has made what were once acceptable security measures obsolete and dangerous for organizations to rely on to secure their resources.

Prescient Solutions understands the need to safeguard an organization’s valuable data assets and computing environment. Read our Definitive Guide to Zero Trust Security to get started in the right direction. 

Prescient can help you identify vulnerabilities with a Vulnerability and Security Assessment that will show you where you need to focus your efforts to protect your environment. Following the assessment, we can help you with the tools and processes necessary to implement zero trust security.

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