What is Zero Trust Security?
Zero trust is a security approach centered on enforcing the authentication, authorization, and continuous validation of all users accessing an organization’s network. It treats every user trying to connect to an organization’s network as untrusted.
Zero trust represents a shift from traditional network security models where users are granted access to resources with minimal review. While more steps in the verification process can sometimes be inconvenient and time-consuming, they can also substantially improve your overall security posture.
Ultimately, a zero trust security framework goes beyond just a buzzword in the tech industry. It provides the opportunity to create more effective security practices focusing on threats from both sides of the firewall.
Zero trust is built on the assumption that any user or device trying to gain access to the system is a threat until they’re authenticated and authorized. This requires enforcing strict security policies related to user access, data transfer, user devices, and data storage.
Some technologies that zero trust leverages include identity and access management (IAM), encryption, multifactor authentication, file system permissions, orchestration, and scoring.
Zero trust also relies on giving users access to only what they need to accomplish specific assigned tasks and adding extra checks for sensitive tasks. For example, an employee trying to access sensitive data like payroll information or credit card numbers may be required to re-enter their password to access that information.
Zero trust encourages the segmentation of the possible attack surface based on the user’s roles, devices, and location, allowing for more granular access control, monitoring, and enforcement levels. This can eliminate security blind spots and increase staff adherence to security best practices when executed well.
There are three main objectives of the zero trust approach:
- Limiting the blast radius: This minimizes the possible damage from a successful breach.
- Carrying out continuous validation: This involves verifying each request for resources before processing it.
- Automating context collection and response: This involves getting the most accurate picture of the potential attack surface. This can help tailor an effective response in case of a successful breach.
Zero Trust Architecture
Zero trust architecture is based on user and device behavior, data, and context. The architecture aims to create a consistent policy enforcement model across all connected environments.
A zero trust framework has three main components: a policy engine (PE), a policy administrator (PA), and a policy enforcement point (PEP).
The PE is responsible for deciding whom to grant permission to and which type of permission to grant. It compares the request with the access policy and concludes whether to permit or deny access.
The PA’s work is to direct when to establish or terminate resource-subject communication. It communicates the decision of the policy engine.
Policy Enforcement Point
The PEP enables, monitors, and terminates communication between the resource and the subject. A subject’s request can only reach the enterprise resource via the policy enforcement point.
One of the most common ways to implement a zero trust security framework is to use identity access management (IAM) to control access to your data and systems. This enables the creation of policies controlling a user’s access levels based on their identity.
In a zero trust architecture, such an access policy is interpreted by the PE and communicated to the PEP by the PA. The PEP can only establish a connection between a user and a system after receiving instructions from the PA.
The key element of a zero trust architecture is its ability to isolate data and applications. For instance, a user’s permissions should allow them access to only the data they need to perform their task and no more.
Zero Trust Versus Traditional Network Security
Traditional network security practices focus on user control. It assumes you know exactly who needs access to what resources and how they should be allowed to use them. However, the growing issue with this framework is that it doesn’t continuously validate users. This exposes systems to threats such as cross-site request forgery (CSRF) that use fake requests from valid users.
While the traditional system was effective for most IT and security teams in the past, it doesn’t provide sufficient security in today’s dynamic work environment. Zero trust solves this problem by adding continuous request validation even when a user is already authenticated. It does this by using CSRF tokens and referrer headers.
Today’s users are often not reliant on a single desktop. They have multiple devices that can access an organization’s system on-site and remotely. This has expanded the possible attack surface, which gives malicious hackers more attack dimensions.
This is why zero trust uses security features such as multifactor authentication, file system permissions, and encryption. Every aspect of an organization’s digital presence is isolated and continuously evaluated for risk since everyone can potentially be adversaries. Utilizing a zero trust architecture to enhance a traditional network security framework allows you to mitigate risks from both sides of the network.
Zero trust Use Cases
Before adopting zero trust, it’s essential to understand the different areas from which an attack can emanate. This will help you customize your zero trust model to secure your resources and limit the potential damage in the event of a breach.
This section explores some use cases that can benefit significantly from zero trust.
Privileged Access Management (PAM)
Privileged access management (PAM) oversees privileged accounts and activities within your organization’s IT systems. You can reduce the possible damage from a malicious insider or external threat by eliminating such accounts that make room for hackers to take complete control of the system and lock out the organization’s system administrators.
For your company to maintain compliance and security in this area, it’s important to trim all unnecessary user privileges. This will help prevent data breaches caused by privilege misuse and minimize the damage from a possible successful breach.
External Suppliers and Third-Party Access
Sharing infrastructure with external parties, such as third-party developers and contractors, comes with a unique set of challenges that traditional security measures can’t solve.
It’s hard to control how partners protect their access credentials. If a hacker gains access to valid third-party credentials, they can easily access sensitive company data such as bank account details.
Within a zero trust framework, controlling access by trusted suppliers or third parties requires multifactor authentication and individual authorization for each request. This can be achieved through CSRF tokens and session cookies, among others. It holds them accountable for keeping your resources safe from unauthorized users or malicious software. This also helps you protect your organization from both internal and external threats.
Remote Access Controls
Today’s workforce is primarily hybrid (both in-office and remote). While a remote-friendly arrangement can benefit organizations for cost savings, enforcing strict security policies for remote system access is paramount. A strong policy enforcer like zero trust can ensure that your organization’s network remains safe while granting enough access to your employees.
For instance, employees may lose their devices while logged into the organization’s network. This can lead to the exposure of sensitive data. A zero trust policy can allow an employee to log out of that device from the organization’s system from another device. The least privilege policy and continuous validation can also minimize the damage a breached device can do.
- A zero trust practice can prevent unauthorized access to the entire system.
- Zero trust security reinforces more authentication and authorization to better manage your system access control.
- One of the most common ways to implement a zero trust security framework is by using identity and access management (IAM) software.
- Traditional security frameworks focus on granting access without questioning that device’s or user’s trust.
- Under a zero trust model, security practices are taken a step further by focusing on trust rather than control, often involving PAM, third-party and supplier access, and remote user access control.