The zero trust model is becoming more commonplace in security. It’s based on the realization that threats exist inside and outside of a network.

Limiting those requires verifying a person’s permission to access something during every request they make.

Zero Trust Computing is a security concept that operates on the premise “never trust, always verify.” Instead of assuming that everything inside an organization’s network can be trusted, it advocates for treating every access request as if it originates from an untrusted network, even if it comes from inside the organization’s own perimeter.

Here are the primary benefits of implementing a Zero Trust model:

Conventional Security Methods Are Outdated

In the past, the primary aim of security models was to fortify an organization’s outer boundaries. Once secured, everything within was deemed safe. Yet, the digital evolution experienced by numerous businesses means that these older strategies no longer hold water.

The rise of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the increasing trend of employees working on the move, and a heightened dependence on third-party vendors have all amplified potential risks. It’s a misconception for firms to believe in completely threat-free zones. They need to recognize the urgent need for a revamped security strategy. Just as businesses have pivoted their practices in the digital age, they must understand that a contemporary security framework is indispensable.

One of the principle goals in traditional security models was to keep an organization’s perimeter secure. Then, a firm could feel confident that anything within it was safe. However, the digital transformations that many companies have gone through mean that the old way of doing things is no longer sufficient.

Things like Internet of Things (IoT) devices, employees working while traveling and a greater reliance on third-party providers can all make threats go up. Companies cannot assume that threat-free environments exist, and they must understand that it’s time for a new security approach. In the same ways that businesses have adjusted their operations due to digitization, they must realize that the shift necessitates an updated security model.

Organizations Adopting Zero Trust

(Infographic Source: Okta)

Zero Trust Is Not Bound by Location

Rather than anchoring security on an organization’s physical boundaries, the zero trust model prioritizes identity verification. This approach means that whether someone aims to retrieve data stored on-site or in the cloud, access is granted based on verified credentials, not location.

In the same vein, zero trust is relevant when accessing data from any device, eliminating the need for users to be in a specific locale to confirm their identity. This flexibility resonates with companies that frequently employ remote staff, considering the myriad of devices available for global data access.

With the ubiquity of mobile apps and handheld devices in our modern world, working from any location has never been easier. Zero trust ensures this flexibility does not compromise an organization’s security integrity.

Rise in Insider Threats Prompts Zero Trust Adoption

One significant factor driving the surge in zero trust adoption among companies is the mounting concern over insider threats. Studies show that internal threats are on an upward trajectory. At times, this is fueled by disgruntled employees seeking retribution for perceived slights. However, unintentional mistakes by employees or cybercriminals gaining access to employee accounts can also be the culprits.

The essence of zero trust is not to grant inherent trust to anyone, not even to system administrators. With this model, no individual can single-handedly implement changes that compromise system security. Operating on the premise that all networks are potentially hostile, zero trust underscores the vulnerabilities that even employees can present. By adopting zero trust, businesses can substantially mitigate these internal risks.

The Competitive Edge with Zero Trust Security

Many firms recognize the risk of being outpaced by their competitors if they don’t adopt a zero trust security approach.

Notably, giants like Kayak, Siemens, and Google have incorporated zero trust into their security infrastructures. Google, in particular, was an early proponent of this approach. Kayak has a unique system that distinguishes between company-owned devices and those belonging to employees, even pinpointing devices running outdated software.

Companies need to be aware that sticking to dated security protocols might render them as outdated. Shifting to the zero-trust model is fast becoming the modern standard.

Adapting to Workforce Changes with Zero Trust

Central to the zero trust approach is the concept of ‘least privilege’. This means individuals are granted only the access necessary for their specific roles. As employees transition to new roles within a company, their access permissions should adjust accordingly. Some companies expose themselves to security risks when they allow employees to retain excessive access even as their positions change.

For instance, an employee may begin in one sector of a company and retain their initial access rights even after transitioning to a completely different role in another department. The zero trust framework eliminates this risk, ensuring that each individual possesses only the access needed for their current duties.

Enhancing Precision in Access Control

Earlier versions of access control largely depended on elements like IP addresses, which could be effortlessly altered using tools like virtual private networks (VPNs). In contrast, zero trust delves deeper when deciding if access should be granted. It evaluates factors such as the individual requesting access, the specific applications they aim to access, and the timing of their request.

If the system identifies numerous deviations from the norm, it denies access. Additionally, if there’s a consistent trend of unusual behavior, it could prompt the company to initiate an internal probe to determine any potential unauthorized data access attempts.

Zero Trust Benefits

  1. Improved Security: By defaulting to distrust, Zero Trust minimizes the chances of unauthorized access. Every user, device, and application request is authenticated and authorized before gaining access.
  2. Reduction in Insider Threats: Zero Trust is not just about external threats. By assuming every request is potentially malicious, it helps mitigate the risks posed by malicious insiders or compromised accounts within an organization.
  3. Flexibility and Scalability: As organizations continue to evolve and adapt to cloud environments and remote work, Zero Trust models provide a scalable way to secure different types of network architectures, from traditional infrastructures to fully cloud-based models.
  4. Adaptability to Modern Work Environments: With the rise of remote work and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, there’s a need to secure data that’s accessed from various devices and locations. Zero Trust ensures that all devices and users are treated with the same level of scrutiny, regardless of where they’re connecting from.
  5. Reduced Attack Surface: By segmenting the network and granting minimal necessary access, Zero Trust reduces the potential pathways attackers can use to move laterally within an organization.
  6. Enhanced Compliance and Reporting: With stricter controls and more granular access policies, organizations can more easily demonstrate compliance with various regulations. This can be particularly useful for industries that are subject to strict regulatory requirements.
  7. Data-Centric Security: Zero Trust emphasizes the protection of data, no matter where it resides. By focusing on securing data rather than just the perimeter, it ensures that sensitive information is safeguarded even as it travels outside the traditional network boundaries.
  8. Integration with Modern Technologies: Zero Trust can be integrated with AI and machine learning for adaptive authentication processes, which can learn and adapt based on user behavior and other contextual information, thereby enhancing security while maintaining user experience.
  9. Reduction of Network Complexity: Traditional security models often involve a multitude of solutions cobbled together to protect various aspects of the network. Zero Trust can simplify this by focusing on unified policies and consistent verification procedures.
  10. Proactive Stance on Security: Instead of waiting for a breach to happen and then responding, Zero Trust is proactive, continuously monitoring and verifying the legitimacy of all access requests and activities within the network.

Adopting a Zero Trust model does come with its challenges, such as the initial complexity of setting it up, potential costs, and the need for continuous management and updating of policies. However, with the evolving threat landscape, the benefits it offers in enhancing organizational security are substantial.

By Gary Bernstein

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