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What Are the Zero Trust Principles and How to Implement Them?


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What Is Zero Trust?

Zero trust is a security model that addresses internal network vulnerabilities by eliminating implicit trust. The basic premise of zero trust is that trusting devices and individuals can open the door to exploits and cyberattacks. Organizations should distrust all access requests by default, even from authenticated users, allowing only explicitly authorized actions for the specific user or entity.

Traditional security approaches like firewalls and VPNs focus on securing the network from external threats. Zero trust principles help protect against insider threats (i.e., compromised users or devices). They require the system to authenticate all devices and identities across the entire network rather than relying on the perimeter.

Restricting who can access each part of the network can significantly reduce the likelihood of hackers accessing secured content. Internal network security is especially important for organizations with many employees accessing corporate assets remotely. Zero trust provides stronger protection against advanced attacks that target cloud environments and remote devices, where traditional perimeter-based security is ineffective.

The zero trust security model incorporates network security principles like microsegmentation, which allows IT teams to isolate resources to contain potential threats and prevent them from spreading across the enterprise. It helps mitigate identity theft and user account compromise, enabling organizations to enforce fine-grained role-based access policies and protect sensitive data.

Core Principles of the Zero Trust Model

While the specific zero trust strategy depends on the organization and its unique challenges, the zero trust model should always incorporate the following principles.

Understanding the Protected Surface

The protected IT surface encompasses all the devices, services, users, and data connected to an organization’s network. It includes the network backbone, which provides the means for transferring sensitive data.

A major advantage of zero trust is that it addresses the growing problem of securing a modern protected surface, which usually spans beyond the firewalled network or LAN. Conventional edge and perimeter-based tools don’t offer the same security coverage as a zero trust network architecture, making them inadequate for protecting devices outside the corporate network.

Changing data flow patterns has prompted security vendors to offer security tools outside the network edge to protect devices, applications, and data. Automated service and asset inventory tools should supplement the manual inventory process—a hybrid approach helps security teams prioritize the assets requiring protection.

Understanding Existing Security Controls

Once an organization has mapped the protected surface, the next step is identifying and evaluating the network security controls already in place. The IT department likely has many useful tools for implementing zero trust, but they might not be in the right location or have up-to-date configurations.

This evaluation complements the protected surface mapping because it allows the IT security team to determine the best place to redeploy or repurpose existing tools while identifying gaps they cannot cover. In most cases, the team will adjust the settings to extend to the Internet and cloud-based resources.

Incorporating a New Architecture and Tools

The existing security stack is usually insufficient to implement a comprehensive zero trust architecture. Most organizations add new tools to provide an additional protection layer and fill the security gaps. Security vendors offer specially designed to help implement a zero trust model.

For example, many enterprises use access controls, network microsegmentation, single sign-on (SSO), and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to implement a zero trust framework. They can also leverage advanced threat protection solutions to detect emerging threats and apply security policies to vulnerable resources throughout the protected surface.

Authorizing Requests

The zero trust system must check all data and service requests against specified access policies. Zero trust relies on granular access policies defined by the organization. These policies also help manage the risk of sharing data and services with third parties such as partners or guest users.

The zero trust architecture must have a powerful security policy engine, providing a secure, flexible access control mechanism that can adapt to changing resources and request patterns.

Monitoring and Alerting

The final zero trust principle involves monitoring activity across the protected surface and leveraging the right alerting tools. These tools enable security teams to properly understand how effective the security policies are and whether attackers have exploited gaps in the zero trust framework.

Even with a zero trust architecture, security can never be complete and requires ongoing efforts to track activity and identify malicious behavior. The sooner the teams catch the threat, the faster they can remove it and minimize the damage. Businesses should also conduct root cause analysis to find and fix deficiencies in their existing security strategy.

Distributed security approaches like zero trust can be difficult for security administrators to monitor properly. However, modern network security monitoring tools combine automation with artificial intelligence to ease the burden.

Monitoring tools like network detection and response (NDR) and security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) help identify the root cause of security threats and offer remediation steps, reducing the human effort required to address security incidents.

Learn more in our guides to:

  • Zero trust architecture (coming soon)
  • Zero trust policy (coming soon)

Implementing Zero Trust Security Principles

The first challenge when implementing a zero trust security strategy is to gain the support of stakeholders—the people who can benefit most from a zero trust architecture. Administrators should work with various teams to plan the steps involved in the zero trust implementation process.

This process should include the following steps:

  • Understanding the organization—admins should learn about the employees and their existing access permissions. They should inventory the organization’s IT assets, such as systems and equipment. Ultimately, they should have a complete picture of the teams’ workloads and the connections needed to run them.
  • Setting security baselines—the SOC should establish a baseline to compare security goals against current capabilities. This baseline helps set zero trust goals and evaluate progress.
  • Identifying business priorities—the planning phase should include evaluating each service and workflow’s importance to the organization and how it aligns with the security goals.
  • Perform a risk assessment—the security team should assess risks based on the performance of network processes. This assessment helps inform risk-based security policies to close gaps and build on the organization’s strengths.

Organizations often begin this process gradually, observing the impact of the transition to zero trust. For instance, they might start by introducing MFA to establish trust when entities request access to the corporate network. Next, they might apply security controls to endpoint devices to avoid exploits. Microsegmentation adds another protection layer, while cybersecurity policies control access throughout the organization.

Organizations should operate in a report-only mode in the early stages to evaluate the zero trust strategy. This mode allows most access requests while evaluating the impact of security decisions. When security teams are more confident, they can implement the changes fully.

Zero Trust Principles with Cynet

Cynet 360 AutoXDR helps organizations align with the zero trust principles discussed above. Cynet 360 customers improve their understanding of their architecture and how effective the security policies are, as well as whether attackers have exploited gaps in the zero trust framework.

Beyond XDR-Autonomous Breach Protection

Cynet 360 AutoXDR™ is the world’s first Autonomous Breach Protection platform that natively integrates the endpoint, network and user attack prevention & detection of XDR with the automated investigation and remediation capabilities of SOAR, backed by a 24/7 world-class MDR service. End to end, fully automated breach protection is now within reach of any organization, regardless of security team size and skill level.

XDR Layer: End-to-End Prevention & Detection

  • Endpoint protection-multilayered protection against malware, ransomware, exploits and fileless attacks
  • Network protection-protecting against scanning attacks, MITM, lateral movement and data exfiltration
  • User protection-preset behavior rules coupled with dynamic behavior profiling to detect malicious anomalies
  • Deception-wide array of network, user, file decoys to lure advanced attackers into revealing their hidden presence

SOAR Layer: Response Automation

  • Investigation-automated root cause and impact analysis
  • Findings-actionable conclusions on the attack’s origin and its affected entities
  • Remediation-elimination of malicious presence, activity and infrastructure across user, network and endpoint attacks
  • Visualization-intuitive flow layout of the attack and the automated response flow

MDR Layer: Expert Monitoring and Oversight

  • Alert monitoring-First line of defense against incoming alerts, prioritizing and notifying customer on critical events
  • Attack investigation-Detailed analysis reports on the attacks that targeted the customer
  • Proactive threat hunting-Search for malicious artifacts and IoC within the customer’s environment
  • Incident response guidance-Remote assistance in isolation and removal of malicious infrastructure, presence and activity

Simple Deployment

Cynet 360 AutoXDR™ can be deployed across thousands of endpoints in less than two hours. It can be immediately used to uncover advanced threats and then perform automatic or manual remediation, disrupt malicious activity and minimize damage caused by attacks.

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