It’s high time to finally accept that users will get hacked and thus organizations will get hacked — so what next? This is the founding principle of zero trust, a concept that is steadily gaining traction in the ever-evolving world of cybersecurity: But what exactly is zero trust architecture.? And why is it important? This guide aims to provide comprehensive answers to these questions–and more.
What is zero trust architecture?
Zero trust architecture (ZTA) is a cybersecurity philosophy built on the premise that no user or device should be trusted by default, whether inside or outside the network perimeter. In other words, trust is never automatically given—not even if the user or device has previously been verified.
The importance of zero trust: “Never trust, always verify”
A traditional “trust but verify” approach is no longer sufficient in a digital environment increasingly threatened by sophisticated cyber attacks. The importance of ZTA lies in its proactive stance toward potential threats—it operates on a “never trust, always verify” basis. This level of scrutiny provides enhanced security, reducing the risk of breaches and data leaks.
Put a stop to social engineering
Social engineering is a tactic used to trick an individual into providing the necessary credentials to compromise a system. If the opportunity presents itself, rather than outrightly hacking the security technology itself, hackers will take advantage of human error in order to thwart security. Because of how devious it is, social engineering is one of cybersecurity’s thorniest problems. Until now.
Understanding the 7 core pillars of zero trust architecture
To implement a successful zero trust architecture, there are 7 core pillars to consider. These form the basis of a robust approach, and understanding them is the first step toward enhancing your organization’s cybersecurity.
- Identity verification: This is a cornerstone of ZTA. Users must verify their identity to ensure they are who they claim to be. This pillar involves implementing stringent verification processes, such as multi-factor authentication. It also includes managing identities and access to ensure robust identity governance. With identity verification, zero trust architecture significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access.
2. Device security: Every device that attempts to access resources, whether it’s a desktop computer, a laptop, or a mobile device, is considered a potential threat. Therefore, maintaining device health and leveraging endpoint security solutions is critical. This approach not only involves checking the security status of a device but also continuously monitoring it for potential security risks.
3. Network segmentation: Under ZTA, the network is divided into smaller, isolated segments, each with its own access controls. If a breach occurs in one segment, it can’t spread to the others. This pillar involves not just segmenting the network, but also implementing strict controls on communication between segments.
4. Data protection: Data is an attractive target for cybercriminals, and protecting it requires classifying data based on sensitivity, and encrypting it both in transit and at rest, while implementing robust data loss prevention strategies. A strong data protection strategy will ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive data, and even then, only for approved purposes.
5. Security orchestration: Security orchestration is the integration and automation of security processes, playing a critical role in ZTA. It involves automating security policies and coordinating defenses to ensure a timely and effective response to potential threats. This can help organizations streamline their security operations, making them more efficient and effective.
6. Visibility and analytics: This involves constant monitoring and analysis of the security state of all network resources. Logging events, monitoring network activity, and using advanced analytics can help identify unusual activity or potential threats. By keeping a close eye on the network, organizations can spot and address security issues before they cause significant damage.
7. User privacy and compliance: User privacy and compliance are also integral to zero trust. This involves implementing privacy controls to protect user data and ensuring all activities align with relevant regulations. Maintaining compliance not only helps organizations avoid legal issues, but also enhances trust with users, customers, and partners.
Implementing zero trust architecture
Transitioning to a zero trust architecture from a traditional cybersecurity model is a significant undertaking, especially for larger organizations with complex networks. It requires a strategic, phased approach that accounts for potential challenges. However, with understanding and careful planning, any organization can effectively implement a zero trust model. Here are some steps to guide you through the process:
Establish identity verification
Invariably, the first thing a CISO does when arriving at an organization is to implement robust authentication processes for all users, such as two-factor, multi-factor authentication, or – even better – continuous authentication via cryptographic attestation. This ensures that users are who they claim to be before accessing your network, sensitive data, or other resources. It is important that access is mitigated via a single sign-on (SSO) facility: this ensures that the error-prone process of implementing authentication for access control is done properly under one well-provisioned umbrella rather than in a haphazard manner in different systems.
Conduct a thorough audit
It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your existing network and security infrastructure before implementing zero trust architecture. This includes cataloging all devices, users, applications, and data, and understanding how they interact. A thorough audit provides the basis for designing an effective zero trust strategy.
The first security audit is always a shock, as two of our co-founders learned from founding and running a penetration testing company (Syndis) that has audited both SMEs and Fortune 500 businesses over the past decade. After addressing the initial concerns and implementing better controls, the next audits get easier. Mature organizations, such a multiple banks, perform north of 100 security audits per years. These are often conducted by different vendors to reduce blind spots, keep up with the fast-paced cybersecurity arms race, and to keep the security team on their toes. Security audits are the only meaningful way to actually measure your organization’s security posture.
Identify sensitive data
Identify your most sensitive data – the “crown jewels” of your organization. This data should be the first to receive the zero trust treatment, with stringent access controls, robust encryption, and continuous monitoring. To aid with encryption, many cloud providers now provide ways of encrypting hosted data with customer-supplied encryption keys (CSEK in Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure parlance, SSE-C in Amazon AWS).
Segment your network
Divide your network into smaller, isolated segments to limit the potential attack surface. Ensure each segment has its own access controls, so even if a breach occurs in one segment, it can’t spread to the others. The advent of software-defined networking and its implementations in modern cloud platforms has made segmentation simpler.
However, as is common in security, holes need to be poked to allow for some access. For example, a supplier or contractor may need to be able to access sensitive systems to service or update them. Seal these holes, many opt to use “jump boxes”. Keystrike Sanctum Guard offers Remote Desktop support to such jump boxes with seamless continuous authentication, effectively ascertaining that even if the external party has been breached, they cannot penetrate your network.
Implement a security orchestration tool
Automate and coordinate your security defenses with a security orchestration tool. This helps ensure quick, effective responses to potential threats and streamlines the management of your security infrastructure.
Monitor and analyze continuously
Implement continuous monitoring and analytics to understand the security state of all network resources. Use advanced analytics to identify unusual activity or potential threats, and take quick action to mitigate them.
Train your staff
Make sure your staff is well-trained on zero trust principles and practices. They should understand why ZTA is being implemented and how to follow its protocols. Regular training and updates can help ensure the ongoing success of your zero trust strategy.
AwareGO, a company founded by Arni Arnason (one of our co-founders), provides engaging training material for staff. Secure Code Warrior, which acquired a cybersecurity training company led by Steindor Gudmundsson and Arni S. Petursson (two of our co-founders), runs a popular developer training platform.
Remember, implementing ZTA is not a one-time project but an ongoing process. It requires continuous evaluation and adjustment to stay ahead of evolving cybersecurity threats.
A traditional “trust but verify” approach is no longer sufficient in a digital environment increasingly threatened by sophisticated cyber attacks.
That’s where Keystrike comes in.
Continuous authentication: A solution for zero trust architecture
While the threats from cybersecurity continually grow, it’s crucial that organizations develop defensive strategies at an equivalent pace. Adopting a zero trust architecture provides a forward-thinking, all-encompassing method for safeguarding your organization’s essential assets—data, systems/devices, and users. Understanding and applying its fundamental pillars can significantly amplify your cybersecurity.
The task of implementing ZTA, while challenging, is vital for all organizations against present-day cybersecurity threats. This is where Keystrike can help. Our cryptographic attestation solution delivers continuous authentication, ensuring your data remains protected. Reach out to us today to discover how we can help implement a zero trust architecture, while giving you the confidence to offer security as a distinctive value proposition to your clients.