You’ve heard about the zero trust approach – but why is it important?

Until recently, cyber security followed the motto “trust but verify.” Let’s address that misconception first. It’s a term you’ve likely also heard in recent years. But it doesn’t accurately describe the traditional network approach. Before zero trust, it was more “verify then trust.” We verify by making the user enter credentials. Once they are in, they are trusted.

That model is no longer enough. The steep increase in the complexity and number of cyberattacks pushed security practitioners into continuous security threats quicksand.

And that was before millions of workers transitioned to remote work. Suddenly, security teams must also control access from unmanaged devices and third-party users.

It’s now clear that to be safe, you should trust no one – and that’s where the zero trust model comes in. In this post, I’ll give you an overview of zero trust security and what you need to know to start benefiting from it.

What is zero trust?

Let’s start with a broad definition of zero trust. Zero trust is a security approach that requires all users to be verified before receiving and maintaining access to applications and data. This security framework authenticates, authorizes, and continuously validates entities and users trying to access applications and data.

While traditional castle and moat security focuses on protecting, the network edge continues to expand as cloud services come onboard and distributed staff need access from remote locations. Organizations going through digital transformation often face challenges to secure hybrid environments and their remote workers information, and to protect against advanced persistent threats.

Since its inception, the zero trust model has become more and more popular because it solves most of the current security challenges. Each vendor came out with their own definition of zero trust, which created the need for a standard. The most commonly used standard for zero trust is the NIST SP 800-207. It has the advantage of being vendor neutral and can be applied to enterprises as well as government organizations.

Zero trust is effective against security breaches. That’s one of the reasons behind the May 2021 Biden Executive Order requiring U.S federal agencies to implement zero trust security. Nowadays, both government and private organizations see zero trust as a robust and must-have security model.

What does a zero trust security model require?

Despite the different definitions of zero trust, the model adheres to four common principles.

4 principles of the zero trust model

Know there are threats everywhere, inside and outside the network

The zero trust model assumes you cannot trust anyone who tries to access the network. Assess your default access controls and adjust them so each request is authenticated, authorized, and encrypted. Always verify access, from everywhere, all the time.

Use multiple protection methods

A zero trust implementation requires combining advanced tools and technologies to expand the coverage and, in the event of a breach, minimizing the impact. Tools and methods commonly used among vendors include identity protection and discovery, risk-based identity management, and multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Monitor in real time

Being able to detect and respond to threats as quickly as possible is another key principle of the zero trust model. Zero trust implementations run real-time monitoring and response, enhancing protection using automated data collection and responses to quickly detect, investigate, and respond to threats as they occur.

Don’t forget your security strategy

Even with all its benefits, a zero trust architecture doesn’t cover every aspect of your security strategy. This is why your zero trust implementation needs to align with your security strategy as a whole and integrate with other technologies, like endpoint protection.

How is zero trust different from traditional models of trust?

Zero trust is a step ahead of the traditional network security approach (the approach that many are referring to as “trust but verify”). Zero trust requires orgs to monitor and validate users constantly, not only at the start of a session.

Zero trust solutions are also more advanced in terms of responding to threats. Different from traditional log-based security solutions like security information and event management (SIEM), zero trust solutions identify suspicious events in real time and act accordingly.

Is zero trust only for enterprises?

Almost any org can benefit from a zero trust approach. However, there are some use cases that can start enjoying the advantages of zero trust right away. If your org has any of the following characteristics, it’s a great candidate for zero trust.

  • Your org has a multi-cloud or hybrid infrastructure, and you need to secure unmanaged devices, legacy systems, or SaaS apps.
  • Your org is at a high-risk of internal threats, ransomware, or supply chain attacks.
  • Your org is in a regulated industry with strict compliance requirements, such as healthcare or the financial sector.

These days, securing your org’s network is not only a need and privilege of large enterprises. Every org undergoing digital transformation – or manages sensitive information – faces a heightened risk of a security breach. A zero trust architecture is flexible enough to adjust to specific needs and enhance security postures for companies and orgs of all sizes.

How do security tools like XDR play a role in zero trust?

Zero trust tools, although effective, can’t cover every single aspect of security. That’s where extended detection and response (XDR) tools come to help. What is XDR? Extended detection and response (XDR) expands visibility across your environment and improves network protection by identifying attacks in progress and automatically responding to them.

An XDR solution has features that complement a zero trust implementation – endpoint security controls and expanded data collections and correlation, among other things. When choosing an XDR solution, there are three key capabilities you should look for:

  • Analytics and detection: Analyzing internal and external traffic, leveraging machine learning and threat intelligence for detection.
  • Investigation and response: Advanced correlation of alerts and data, and response orchestration capabilities.
  • Deployment support: XDR solutions support deployments by providing scalable storage, resources, and security orchestration.

Want to learn more about XDR and how it can help small to medium sized orgs? Check out the on-demand recording of my “XDR is the perfect solution for SME’s” webinar. Or you can reach out to us directly!