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Zero Trust Explained

Zero Trust Explained

Network and cyber security are concepts that only grow more difficult with time. For every genius security measure, there’s a brilliant attack, and the escalation never ends.

How can you hope to stay ahead of the game?

Your best bet is to adopt security design philosophies that prevent many problems while dramatically mitigating issues even in the event of security failure. One such philosophy is zero trust, and it’s essential for any high-value or large-scale network.

What Is Zero Trust?

As the name implies, this is a security model where devices or users within a network are never automatically trusted. The concept makes more sense when you compare it to traditional security designs.

In a traditional network, you have two layers of security: one for devices inside the network and another for devices outside the network. That’s why when you try to connect to a Wi-Fi network, you probably have to put in a password. Before you connect, your device is outside the network, but once you join the network, you’re in, and you don’t have to keep typing in the password to do different things in that network.

The idea here is that most threats come from devices that aren’t physically connected to your network, since the vast majority of devices in the world are, in fact, outside of your network.

While this security concept is useful, you can increase security with zero-trust protocols. With zero trust, even after you join the physical network, you’re treated the same way as outside devices. You don’t get that assumption of trust.

In practice, this means that in-network devices are constantly monitored and scrutinized, and anytime you try to do something new in the network, you have to authenticate (although much of the authentication can be automated so that you don't have to constantly type in a password).

Why Does It Matter?

On the surface, it sounds like zero trust makes a lot of work and slows things down. Why would you want it?

Well, it turns out that a lot of successful cyber attacks in enterprise networks come from within the network. The attacks don’t necessarily originate inside the network, but they ultimately exploit in-network devices to do whatever devious things are on the agenda.

As an example, an employee at a large company might bring their own device to work. That device might pick up malicious software at home. Then it comes to work, and it gets inside the network. Once inside, the malicious software has free rein, and it can wreak havoc across the enterprise network.

With zero trust architecture (ZTA), that problem is mitigated. The infected device is monitored and has limited access, so the whole network can’t be compromised.

Keys to Zero Trust Architecture

The value of zero trust makes sense, but how is it actually applied? There’s a whole segment of cybersecurity dedicated to the concepts, but a crash course can distill everything down into a handful of key practices.

Keys to Zero Trust Architecture

Segmentation

First up is segmentation. A zero trust security model only works if you segment the network. If the network has exactly one access point and everything shares that access point, then there’s not much point to zero trust. Every device can already access every device once inside the network.

But, you can design networks with segmentation, and each segment requires brand new authentication for every device. So, if you have a cloud server and a mail server on the network (and they aren’t literally the same server), then you can segment them. Using zero trust, each user would have to authenticate to check email, and they would have to authenticate again to access cloud resources.

Authentication

Speaking of authentication, it’s the heart of zero-trust designs. Specifically, zero trust network architecture (ZTNA) needs efficient but powerful ways to authenticate lots of devices lots of times.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) helps with that. Some aspects of authentication are automated. Others require user inputs, and through the layered methods of MFA, you can build both power and efficiency into your security.

Continuous Monitoring

Another important element is continuous monitoring. One of the strengths of zero trust is that internal devices are monitored just as closely as external devices. If anything is amiss, it is caught quickly. When that is combined with network segmentation, you dramatically rescue the scope of any problems that arise.

Least Privilege Access

The last major concept has to do with access. In a security system, each user is given a level of access depending on the rules set. So, a guest user might have a very low level of privilege while the chief network administrator has the highest level of privilege.

With zero trust, you want least privilege. No matter who the user is, they are only given as much privilege as is needed for the request at hand. This way, compromised devices can’t easily exploit credentials to gain high-level privileges and steal information or create other problems.

When you combine all of these ideas, you build robust security measures that deal with modern threats and protect valuable networks.

Additional Learning Center Resources