What is the Zero Trust Security Model?

Gone are the days of cybersecurity measures that only involved firewalls and anti-viruses. With today’s cloud-forward architectures and remote endpoints, protecting the network perimeter isn’t just impractical – it’s impossible. Threats can now come from anywhere, both externally and internally.

A paradigm shift is needed to protect users and data effectively. Enter zero trust. 

How does zero trust work, and what makes it different from the traditional cybersecurity approaches?

What is Zero Trust Security?

As the name suggests, zero trust is a framework where anyone accessing your network, whether internally or externally, must be constantly authenticated for continued access. This is in contrast to traditional network security, where connections inside the network are always deemed “safe.”

This approach becomes problematic with modern networks that often lack an “edge.” Thanks to cloud infrastructures and remote access, it’s nearly impossible to screen connections at the network perimeter. Thus, everyone is considered not trusted, and constant validation is required to weed out security threats and ransomware.

Zero trust is a relatively new concept, which means software providers typically have liberal interpretations when implementing it. 

However, the NIST and National Cyber Security Center of Excellence (NCCoE) have attempted to develop a standard called NIST 800-207. It describes a zero-trust architecture that outlines best practices and techniques for implementing this approach. 

Specifically, NIST 800-207 outlines three important guidelines for an effective zero trust framework: continuous verification, automated context collection, and minimizing the impact of a breach.

How Does Zero Trust Security Work?

A zero-trust network operates on a simple principle: assume everyone is a threat unless proven otherwise. Therefore, it requires a more comprehensive protocol than perimeter-based defenses like firewalls. In addition, its technologies involve constantly monitoring, verifying, and updating user access privileges when necessary.

To do this, network administrators must have complete visibility over all user account at all times. There also needs to be granular control over which data and applications individual users have access to on the network. This can be done through authorization and authentication methods.

However, doing so can become problematic in larger organizations with thousands of users and events. That’s why zero trust networks often use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to flag suspicious behavior and rapidly mount a response.

Speaking of response, a crucial part of a zero-trust approach is to try and limit the impact of a breach. This can be achieved by segmenting the network or utilizing zero-trust network access (ZTNA), which connects users to apps and resources directly and never through the network.

Benefits of a Zero Trust Model

Comprehensive security

Zero trust provides much more adequate protection against external and internal attacks, with the latter being the hardest to defend against. What’s more, one-to-one access based on an “as-needed” basis reduces the attack surface and prevents hackers from moving laterally through the network.

Better visibility

A big benefit of zero trust is that it gives complete visibility into every connection on their network. This allows administrators to detect and react to suspicious behavior immediately. Additionally, it can log details of a breach for future improvement.

Simplified network management

Zero trust systems greatly simplify network administration by streamlining and (in some cases) automating access protocols. There’s no need for admins to approve access for every user individually.

Skips unreliable endpoint security

Endpoints, like user devices and servers, are often the entry point for most hackers. Unfortunately, sophisticated attacks can often bypass even the tightest security on these endpoints. But with zero trust, you can maintain protection even if an insecure endpoint device connects to your network.

How to Implement Zero Trust Security

Mapping and segmenting data

The first step to a zero-trust network is to classify which data is sensitive. This allows you to isolate them into more secure sections, away from other parts of the network that regular users can access.

Part of this also involves knowing which applications are using the data. With this knowledge, you can map out how the data flows throughout your network to identify vulnerabilities.

Setting up the architecture

Once you have your data “map” on hand, you can now design policies and boundaries around them. This step is crucial since you’ll decide which users can access which data.

Monitoring everything

You also need a way to monitor your architecture 24/7; to see if the policies and safeguards you set are doing their job.

Automation

Finally, to get everything up and running, you need a system that will orchestrate your zero-trust policies for you. This will allow you to enforce zero trust rules without doing it manually.

It All Starts with Data

At the heart of any zero trust implementation is data. It makes sense to get a security solution that will effectively safeguard it. The TokenEx tokenization platform enables seamless data protection, whether you need PCI compliance solutions or want to reduce fraud. Contact us today or request a demo to learn more.

Topic(s): software development