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What Is a Zero Trust Network (ZTN)?

A Zero Trust Network (ZTN) is an IT network that operates according to zero trust security principles. Users and devices that want to access resources must pass strict authentication processes, whether inside or outside the corporate network.

Traditional cybersecurity models rely on the concept of a network protected by a security perimeter. The network is not easily accessible from the outside but implicitly trusts every user and entity within the network. The drawback of this approach is that after an attacker gains access to the network, there is nothing to block lateral movement and privilege escalation to gain access to sensitive assets.

This traditional security approach is inadequate for modern IT environments with systems and data distributed across cloud-based hosts and on-premises. Maintaining consistent security controls using a monolithic security perimeter is virtually impossible when employees work remotely. Organizations must adopt a new approach to protect their networks.

Adopting a zero trust model prevents the network from implicitly trusting any internal or external entity. A ZTN solution continuously verifies that all users and devices have access only to the resources required to do their job, with time-based, geographic, and behavioral attributes determining access. The security team can immediately detect and address unauthorized access patterns.

In this article:

The Importance of a Zero Trust Network Architecture

As the complexity of enterprise networks and the applications distributed within them continues to evolve, so do the threat models and methodologies used to infiltrate them. A security perimeter serves only as the first line of defense to protect the internal network, not a complete strategy to protect data and infrastructure. A strong security profile requires organizations to combine security strategies and controls.

By making internal application traffic more secure, zero trust networks provide an important component of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. The zero trust model overturns the long-standing belief that all traffic within firewalled networks is legitimate. It assumes that every network connection is unsafe unless otherwise proven.

The problem with traditional network security

Network administrators have traditionally worked with the assumption that any entity in an internal network (i.e., applications, servers, software, and hardware) belongs to the network and is trustworthy. Under this model, not all applications require client connection authentication—some apps rely on static shared credentials like database passwords. Each application handles the authentication or authorization scheme if required, while most internal network connections are unencrypted, even for sensitive services.

Many corporate networks still use this outdated pattern, making them vulnerable when malicious actors infiltrate the loose environment through direct hacking, a Trojan, or firewall vulnerabilities. Once attackers are inside the network, they can leverage the implicit trust to escalate attacks. They can sniff plaintext packets, retrieve application passwords to sensitive systems, exfiltrate data, and take control over network devices.

How zero trust improves security

Zero trust is the foundation of many production architectures that prioritize security. Rather than assuming that all entities in the network are trustworthy, it requires verification for everything, including the network infrastructure. The zero trust framework is not a single prescribed implementation or toolkit; it covers several objectives and principles. The individual organization must determine the specifics.

A zero trust network offers the following advantages over a traditional network security model:

  • Eliminates implicit trust—the ZTN model allows access based on attributes like user identity, location, time, device, and device health. It requires continuous verification instead of allowing one-time authentication.
  • Ensures least privilege access—ZTN restricts network access to authorized users based on the principle of least privilege. It can deny access rights using various dynamic, behavioral, and adaptive risk assessments.
  • Minimizes the impact of a breach—unlike a traditional network access control model, ZTN divides the network into multiple segments based on application security policies. It analyzes each device and user, restricting the range for lateral movement and minimizing disruption to the network.

Learn more in our detailed guide to zero trust architecture (coming soon)

How to Implement Zero Trust Network Security

Here are some practices for implementing a ZTN security model.

Traffic Discovery

Identifying the network’s attack surface and discovering traffic between services and applications can be challenging, but it is crucial to implementing a zero trust model. Traffic and network changes are often difficult to capture, but the security model must reflect these changes accurately. It is important to discover all applications and their dependencies before proceeding to the next step.

Policy Creation

Creating zero trust policies is easier when you have visibility into network traffic. The foundation of a ZTN policy is to deny all access by default. Admins should determine the micro-perimeter of each network segment —for example, for each application. Visibility also lets the team track privileged access traffic across application boundaries.

This process should include testing the policies to ensure their effectiveness before applying them to the network. It reduces risk and minimizes failure rates.

Enforcement

Enforcing policies is challenging in a traditional network model because any policy change can lead to a network outage or make applications unavailable. Testing network security policies can minimize this risk, enabling smooth policy enforcement.

The team should track policy violation alerts and leverage contextual information to enrich alerts and make them actionable. Organizations should use transparent east-west traffic encryption to maintain visibility across the application lifecycle.

Monitoring and Maintenance

Maintaining network security and monitoring the zero trust implementation requires continuous efforts. Zero trust is a framework and a process, not a technology, so each organization is responsible for planning and maintaining zero trust technologies and practices. Monitoring helps ensure the ZTN policies remain effective and helps inform workflow decisions for new applications.

XDR with Zero Trust Networks

Extended Detection and Response (XDR) platforms support zero trust networks by combining data across all layers of the IT infrastructure, including endpoints, cloud systems, networks, and email systems. By continuously collecting and analyzing data, XDR establishes the backbone of an ongoing evaluation of zero trust policies in a complex IT environment.

Securing Your Business Against Cyber Risks with Cynet

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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