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What Is Zero Trust Cybersecurity?

March 27th, 2023 

Workplace technology is complex. New technologies have rapidly outpaced legacy cybersecurity methods based on perimeter and network security.

Today’s networks are interrelated, making it difficult to determine clear perimeters for security walls. And once hackers breach your network boundary, they will move through the system seeking weak links to exploit and infiltrate more restricted areas.

Cyber threats no longer come from hackers lurking outside enterprise networks, solely targeting data. Cybercrime happens inside and outside traditional network perimeters, often targeting networked resources along with data:

  • Remote employee user accounts
  • On-site employee user accounts
  • Contractor user accounts
  • Vendor user accounts
  • Printers
  • Computers
  • Legacy systems
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices
  • Cloud-based services
  • Applications
  • Smart technologies (such as appliances, lights, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems)
  • Edge devices (such as firewalls, routers, integrated access devices, wide area networks, local area networks and metropolitan area networks)

In response to the growing threat landscape, the White House has issued an executive order to improve the nation’s cybersecurity. The executive order includes advancing zero-trust architecture (ZTA) on federal government platforms.

Zero trust is a new way of viewing users and systems

In the past, entering your login credentials once a day (sometimes less) was enough to grant access to a company’s network. Zero trust tears down the notion that having a username and password makes you trustworthy. Instead, it favors monitoring usage patterns and continuously vetting access requests as users progress through your company networks.

Four overriding principles of zero-trust security models are:

  • Grant the least amount of privilege necessary.
  • Segment networks to reduce the zone a hacker has access to.
  • Verify and vet all access requests.
  • Monitor usage patterns and continuously challenge users.

ZTA follows users everywhere, regardless of their location on the network or the devices they used to get there. Therefore, it could take your company years to adopt ZTA entirely, depending on the complexity of your systems

Zero Trust

ZTA requires a deep dive into your network and system inventory

Business infrastructures often include software across multiple networks, assets and devices, such as:

  • Localized networks
  • Cloud services and providers
  • Remote employees on home networks
  • Employee devices
  • Company-owned assets
  • IoT devices
  • Software-as-a-service applications
  • Legacy systems
  • Managed and unmanaged software

Goals of Zero Trust

ZTA operates on the premise that everyone and everything is a potential cybersecurity threat.

The goal of ZTA is to:

  • Prevent unauthorized access to data and services
  • Make access control enforcement as granular as possible
  • Regard users and resources as distinct subjects, requiring separate authorization and approval before granting connection to the company network
  • Consider resources like printers, computers and IoT devices part of the network that needs cybersecurity enforcement — just like access to data requires enforcement
  • Allow only authorized and approved users to access data and resources
  • Allow only authorized and approved resources to access users and data
    Exclude all others as attackers

Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), dynamic usage monitoring and automatic authentication across
multiple systems are possible without degrading the user experience.

Zero trust always verifies

ZTA trusts no one, and for good reason. According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022:

  • 19% of breaches happened because of a compromise in a business partner’s network.
  • 45% of the cybersecurity breaches were cloud-based.
  • Breaches at companies with fully deployed security AI and automation cost $3.05 million less than those without.
  • 41% of organizations implementing a zero-trust approach to cybersecurity had a potential breach cost savings of $1.5 million with a mature deployment.

Authentication and authorization are separate functions performed before a user or asset can connect with your company’s resources. Think of them like a series of checkpoints where users must reestablish their authorization.

ZTA scrutinizes every request and user as a potential threat, whether it originated inside or outside your network. ZTA assumes:

  • The network is always compromised.
  • Traditional network boundaries no longer exist.
  • Users on the network and pieces of the network itself are potential threats.
  • Internal resources and processes are at risk for hacks, not just data.

Enlist the help of your cybersecurity team

Work with your internal or outsourced cybersecurity team on a ZTA adoption plan, starting with a tech inventory. Once you inventory your network assets, you may be able to pare down systems that no longer benefit your workflows. An inventory will help you identify potential weak spots and focus on the best places to begin your cybersecurity journey. It will also help as proof of security measures when you’re shopping for cyber liability insurance.

It could take a while to understand how your systems work together and the purposes they fulfill. But in the end, you’ll be able to make prudent decisions about managing your next generation of cybersecurity.

This content is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing professional, financial, medical or legal advice. You should contact your licensed professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.