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In-depth Guide to Zero Trust Paradigm & Zero Trust Architecture

According to Statista, there were more than 70 million mobile employees in the US in 2020, and the number is expected to reach 90 million by 2024.

Employees who work from anywhere on any device raise cybersecurity risks for businesses since cybersecurity solutions were built for office work (see Figure 1). Zero trust (ZT) is a new cybersecurity concept for businesses, in which people and devices are never trusted but always verified. It is suitable for the network security needs of modern work practices. In this post, we introduce key ZT principles and the architecture that enables the implementation of ZT principles in detail. 

Figure 1: Mobile workforce related IT concerns of executives

37% of executives are concerned about the possibility of downloading unsafe aoos of employees. 36% concern about ransomware attacks. 34% concern about improper use of personal devices. 24% concern non-compliance with regulations and so on.
Source: Microsoft

What are the principles of Zero Trust?

Zero trust (ZT) assumes all users, devices and networks are unreliable. Therefore, ZT suggests a dynamic security policy where users, devices and networks are always examined and monitored. 

Compared to the conventional cybersecurity paradigm that assumes everything on a corporate server is reliable, ZT is an updated cybersecurity paradigm that better meets the security needs of today’s work environment. This is because employees today use their own devices, public Wi-Fi, and cloud computing platforms that companies have little or no control over and visibility into.

ZT has five core principles:    

  • Monitoring and validating users and devices: There could be attackers both inside and outside the network. Thus, the ZT paradigm dictates that user identity and privileges, and also device identity and security, should be validated in a systematic way. As a result, logins and connections must time out regularly to force users and devices to re-verify themselves.
  • Applying least access principle: It means granting users only the level of access they require. This reduces each user’s exposure to sensitive network areas and the potential for hacker damage.
  • Controlling device access: Companies should know how many distinct devices are attempting to access their network to guarantee that each device is authorized. Organizations should examine all devices to ensure that they have not been hacked. This principle reduces the attack vector even more.
  • Using micro segmentation: Microsegmentation is the method of splitting safety perimeters into tiny regions so that different areas of the network can have independent access. As a result, the attack surface is reduced.
  • Preventing lateral movement: In a successful cyber attack, viruses spread quickly due to lateral movement. In such cases, locating patient zero may not be sufficient to ensure network security. It is easier to prevent rapid spread of viruses if lateral mobility is prevented. Therefore, quarantining patient zero’s device or user account may be an effective method to protect the rest of the network and users.

What is Zero Trust Architecture?

ZTA is the adoption of technologies and techniques designed to enable the implementation of a zero trust mentality within organizations. As a result, ZTA is not a single technology solution, but rather a compilation of technologies that vary by industry and business. In a ZTA, The following technologies are commonly used: 

  • Zero trust network access (ZTNA): It is a tool that ensures constant validation and micro segmentation to secure the network from cyber attacks.
  • Software defined perimeter (SDP): It is the technology that allows micro segmentation and implementation of least access principle. SDP has a distinct advantage over a VPN because connecting to a VPN gives a user access to the entire network.
  • Secure access service edge (SASE): It is the unified network and security solution based on the ZT approach.

Integration of such technologies provide necessary infrastructure for companies to implement zero trust principles.

6 benefits of implementing ZTA

  • Decreased attack surface: A successful cyber attack can only affect a part of a corporate network thanks to the least access principle and micro segmentation with SDP. As a result, ZTA lowers the cost of malware software such as ransomware. It is crucial for businesses since ransomware attacks rose by 105% in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Provide greater network visibility: Companies can know the time, location, and applications involved in every access request once they have set up monitoring to cover all of their resources and activity. So it takes less time to find patient zero and rebuild cybersecurity.
  • Protection against internal threats: Data breaches and misuse can be caused by rogue employees or employee errors. Companies are protected from such dangers in two ways when ZT principles are implemented:
    • Regularly monitoring device health lowers the risk of malware code entry into the network. 
    • The concept of least access ensures that rogue personnel do not have access to all firm data. ZTA also makes it easier to spot rogue employees because it increases visibility.
  • Streamline user access: Predetermined user access eliminates the necessity for administrative approval all the time. Employees already have all the tools and data they need. Thus, it increases operational efficiency. 
  • Allows safe modern working: ZTA provides a secure working environment for mobile employees, just as if they were working in corporate offices using corporate devices. This boosts organizational flexibility and the company’s accessibility to a greater talent pool.  
  • Enhance regulatory compliance: Organizations are concerned about new regulatory compliance standards such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and others. The problem faced by these requirements is determining how to safeguard and protect data. Each time a movement is made in a Zero Trust architecture, the identity and payload are validated, which helps to block the attack before data is reached.

4 ZTA best practices

  1. Define critical data: Micro segmenting all data in a holistic way might be expensive. Prioritization is therefore more realistic. To do so, businesses should identify data segments that will cost a lot if a cyber attack is successful. Prioritizing the following data categories makes sense:
    1. Personal identifiable data (PII).
    2. Client identifying data (CID).
    3. Payment card information.
    4. Confidential business data.
    5. Data about intellectual property.
  2. Determine data flow risks: To determine the cyber risks you might expose you have to consider:
    1. Which devices are used for operations.
    2. Condition and security measures of tools such as serves and storage.
    3. Whether SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS are used (internet related risks), take into account the outsourced IT services.
  3. Design ZTA to minimize risk: Your organization should determine which tools (ZTNA, SASE, SDP, etc.) to adopt and which not to adopt based on the security dangers you may face.
  4. Integrate security controls: If your company adopts more than one tool, it is crucial to integrate them in order to ensure an effective production.

Read more: OT segmentation.

To find vendors offering zero trust products, you might want to look at our zero trust networking software list.

To reduce impact of cyber risks you can read our Top 8 Cybersecurity Best Practices for Corporations article.

You can also read our secure web gateway article to learn more about new cybersecurity methods.

If you have other questions about ZTA you can reach us:

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Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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