For as long as the concept of data protection has existed, not to mention the protection of just about anything, so has the philosophy of perimeter-based security. Medieval castles had moats to protect their residents against attacks, modern communities have gates to keep unwanted visitors out, and organizations have long used firewall-based security systems to protect their sensitive information from a breach. As cybercriminals and their attack methods have grown in frequency and complexity, though, the need for organizations to re-evaluate their approach to protecting their data has also grown. Zero Trust architecture is a modern solution to that growing need.
What is Zero Trust architecture?
Zero Trust architecture, similarly to the traditional perimeter-based approach to network security, is a conceptual framework rather than a standard product or service that can be implemented. A slightly condensed way to understand the distinction between each model is to define them using guiding principles. The traditional approach to security can be reduced to the mantra “trust but verify,” meaning that a network’s security systems assume that any and all users are trustworthy and verify each user’s identity simply to confirm that trustworthiness. A Zero Trust approach, on the other hand, can be reduced to the principle of “never trust, always verify.” Rather than assuming a user is trustworthy, this model assumes that any user could have malicious intentions and that the beginning stages of a cyber-attack may already be in progress. Because of this way of thinking, Zero Trust architecture disconnects a user from all network access until they can verify their identity (and thereby verify their authorization status to access information).
Furthermore, even after a user’s identity is verified, the given user will not necessarily be granted access to all information stored in the network. Zero Trust models take advantage of establishing micro-perimeters through precise network segmentation that only allows users to access specific information when they have a specific and valid reason to do so. In other words, users are only granted access to the least amount of information that is necessary rather than being granted access to all information to minimize the impact of a potential breach.
For even more information on the specifics of Zero Trust architecture, the NIST has compiled a large collection of concepts and definitions with the aim of standardizing its accurate implementation and enforcement. The NCSC has also created an in-depth guide on the principles of Zero Trust.
Why should your organization turn to Zero Trust architecture?
The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a rapid increase in cyber-attacks and the use of malware to the point that damages in 2021 are expected to surpass $20 billion. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s 2021 Annual Data Breach Report, data breaches jumped by an alarming 68% compared to 2020, which is approximately 23% higher than the previous record set five years ago.
Being that organizations store more and more of their sensitive information in the cloud, an increasing number of employees are working from home, and those employees are using more devices to complete their work, clearly defining and being able to see who can access information and when is now more critical than it has ever been. Zero Trust architecture assumes that a breach can happen at any time and that there’s a significant chance one will happen, thus, it continuously works to ensure that a breach can be mitigated quickly while compromising as little data as possible.
How can your organization implement Zero Trust architecture?
Implementing a Zero Trust model within your organization begins with understanding modern data security best practices. Begin by determining what data you need to protect and what the ramifications would be if that data were to be compromised in a breach. After identifying the data that requires protection, every component of that data must be fully understood: where it is, how it flows, when and by whom the data can be accessed, etc.
After learning the specifics of your sensitive data, you can begin to find the right data security solutions for your needs. Zero Trust architecture in and of itself is not a single product that can be bought and then implemented. Rather, implementing Zero Trust architecture within your organization means choosing and layering different data security solutions with one another that will protect your data throughout its entire life cycle.