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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Zero Trust Model — What is Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a security model, a strategy to protect an organization’s IT assets, including data, services and applications. The Zero Trust Model was created based on research conducted over a decade ago by analysts at Forrester and is now recommended by many security experts and vendors, including Microsoft.

Zero Trust is the security architecture model that requires that no implicit trust be given under any circumstances. NIST SP 800-207 defines Zero Trust as a “collection of concepts and ideas designed to minimize uncertainty in the application of accurate, least-privileged access decisions on demand in information systems and services in the face of a network viewed as compromised.”.

A Microsoft expert calls the method “Denied until verified”.

As the name implies, with Zero Trust, access to resources both inside and outside the network must be restricted until the request validation is confirmed. Regardless of their position in the organization, every user must go through specific protocols to verify their identities so that they are authorized for the level of security they seek.

Because zero trust security policies force users and services to verify their credentials when attempting to access company resources, it is much more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to vital architectures. 

For example, an automation process requesting access to a database must be vetted to ensure that it does not become a path for an attack to be launched.

Another essential thing to understand is that it is impossible to achieve cybersecurity perfectly; it is impossible to embrace the principles of least privilege fully. 

Many companies operate in hybrid mode, with a combination of zero-trust principles and perimeter-based mode, as they work on reinforcing and modernizing various IT initiatives and realizing business process improvements. 

As a result, companies tend to have new zero-trust policies working in tandem with older security workflows.

The core principles of zero trust

According to the book “Zero Trust Networks: Building Secure Systems in Untrusted Networks” written by Evan Gilman and Doug Barth, zero trust is built on five pillars:

  • Assume the network is hostile.
  • Assume that threats from inside and outside the network exist all the time.
  • Don’t trust a network based on its location
  • Authenticate and authorize all requests: devices, users and network.
  • Depend on dynamic policies fed from as many sources as possible.

Why is zero trust important?

Zero trust helps narrow the gap between security issues, including:

  • Errors when giving access rights
  • Unrecognized devices accessing company networks from within
  • Data thieves exploit software vulnerabilities to gain valuable information for sale or hijack the data for profit.

This approach effectively addresses the challenges associated with a changing security perimeter in a cloud-centric, mobile-workforce era. In reality, people are the new corporate perimeter; the “trust” time to be given whenever you are inside the corporate firewall (physically or connected via VPN) is over.

The zero-trust model takes shape as hackers adapt to exploit the shortsightedness of organizations that assume they should only be concerned about outside threats. If attackers can find an opening in the company’s network or steal a user’s credential, they’ve gained the ability to move laterally and gain even more system privileges. 

Zero trust recognizes the importance of installing security controls on all vulnerable access points, including those within the network.

By focusing on identity, zero trust makes it possible to limit hackers’ movements even if they get an initial breach. For example, even if they manage to log into an employee’s account, the protocols would recognize suspicious movements or attempts to access resources outside the scope of the employee’s role.

Zero Trust Architecture

The security of Zero Trust can be fulfilled through technology. Instead of the organization developing a comprehensive strategy that includes changing the company’s culture.

To achieve a Zero Trust architecture network, companies must commit to the following:

  • Understand the current IT ecosystem and business processes, including jobs performed by employees, how the business process works, and your company’s technology capabilities and gaps.
  • Assess where you are strongest and where you will need more reinforcements.
  • Understand how to address current issues in your current security protocol and begin to integrate zero trust concepts into your business and IT processes.

The Zero Trust architecture encompasses the company’s networks and computing services, including connected devices that send data to sources such as databases and SaaS platforms. It would help if you thought beyond network locality when thinking about requirements for access requests sent by connected assets in your network infrastructure.      

The logical components of a Zero Trust infrastructure, as described by NIST SP 800-207, include:

  • Policy Engine (PE) – Controls decisions about giving access to a resource. Depends on the company policy and commands from other security infrastructures.
  • Policy Administrator (PA) – Is responsible for establishing and cutting off communication between the requestor and the resource. Authenticates credentials or security tokens before a session is processed.
  • Policy Enforcement Point (PEP) – Allows, monitors, and terminates connections between requests and enterprise resources.

Data sources that typically power components of a Zero Trust architecture include:

  • Continuous mitigation and diagnostics (CDM) system – Collects information about company assets to update software and configuration components.
  • Threat Intelligence Feed – Delivers information from external and internal sources that helps the policy engine make access decisions.
  • System and Network Activity Logs – Provides real-time information about events in the IT environment.
  • Data Access Policies – A set of rules and attributes that define access rights to specific company resources.
  • ID Management System – Creates, stores, and manages a company’s user accounts and identity records.

Standard Components of a Zero Trust Architecture

There are several ways in which an organization can implement the Zero Trust architecture for various workflows. Their implementations may depend on the components used. Below are some of the most common methods:

  • Micro-segmentation – Involves setting up granular security zones within the company’s network. The technology allows organizations to place individual or groups of resources on a single network segment protected by a security gateway component.
  • Improved Governance Identity – Depends on users’ identity and other factors to automatically calculate the trust level in the process. Factors that can influence access decisions include:
  • The user’s current access privileges
  • Devices being used to access company networks
  • The user’s status

Depending on the final confidence level in the level calculation, the access given to the user must be changed, including giving them only partial access to the resources.

  • Defined Software Perimeter and Network Infrastructure – The policy administrator works as a network controller responsible for configuring and reconfiguring the network based on policy engine decisions. The implementation may include using an overlay network, commonly referred to as a defined software perimeter. In this scenario, clients would continue to receive access via the Policy Enforcement Point managed by the policy administrator.
  • Gateway-based device/implementation agent – ​​PEP is split into two separate components that reside on the resource or exist directly in front of it. An example of this architecture is having an agent installed on an enterprise asset to coordinate connections to that asset and the feature in front of the asset that prevents the asset from communicating with anything other than the gateway.
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Principles for adapting to Zero Trust architecture

  1. Meet with company leaders and stakeholders
  • Start by getting approval from those who have benefited from the move to the Zero Trust architecture. Working together, mapping the steps needed to make zero trust a core of your company’s security posture.
  1. plan first
  • Learn everything you can about the organization. Learn more about the people working at your company and what kind of access they have. Then, inventory the company’s IT assets, including systems and devices. Ultimately, you want complete visibility into your workloads and the connections that keep them running.
  • Establish a secure baseline – Baseline your current security capabilities and then start setting goals for changing different parts of the company’s infrastructure
  • Determine business priorities for the Zero Trust migration. During the planning phase, it is essential to assess how important the workflow or service is to the organization and how this ties into the overall objective of improving security.
  • Conduct risk assessments. Conduct risk assessments based on performing different processes and develop risk-based policies to help build your strengths and address security gaps.
  1. Implement zero-trust principles
  • Many companies start the process gradually to see the effects of the changes. For example, use MFA to establish the authenticity of entities requesting access to your organization’s networks. Try configuring a security control device to prevent exploitation of one of a device’s weak points. Use micro-segmentation to add a layer of protection around vital infrastructure. Set up a network security standard that applies across the organization
  • Consider operating in report-only mode to see how the changes work. In this mode, you would give most access requests while you analyze the effects of various decisions. Once you have the trust, you can put the changes into action.

Technologies that support Zero Trust

Zero Trust architecture typically contains one or more of the following technologies:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication – Force users to confirm their identity in more than one way before allowing them to access company applications and systems
  • Security Monitoring – Audit network activity for threats to company resources
  • Privileged Access Management (PAM) – Helps manage accounts with elevated permissions to critical enterprise resources and control usage of those accounts.
  • Security Device Controls – Reduce the risk caused by devices; examples include firewalls, antivirus software, and interface restrictions.
  • Encryption – Used to make the information unreadable by unauthorized parties.

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