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Manuel Aparicio
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Zero Trust Architecture for IT

25
Sep
2023

This new digital era comes with a plethora of tech enhancements, creating new sets of security challenges. For instance, more businesses are leaving on-premise working environments behind, with Cloud Computing and Remote Work taking over almost every industry. Further, while not long ago we would rely on specialized networks and devices to access business data, now millions of people work from hotels, cafés, and restaurants. I have no doubt that most people reading this had a business meeting while in a Starbucks!

We can now access company data from multiple networks and even from our personal devices. And yes, it has several benefits, but it makes businesses much more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Data is one of the most valuable assets for every business, and you can never be too careful when protecting it! That's why so many companies are adopting a Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA). In ZTA, trust is a vulnerability that leads to breaches and needs continuous monitoring and validation. But why is ZTA so essential? Is Zero Trust Architecture the future of businesses? Let's find out! 

What is Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA)?

John Kindervag developed the Zero Trust approach in 2010 as a group of cybersecurity principles. With this approach, teams are encouraged to work assuming that all users, devices, and networks are highly risky to a business' safety. ZTA aims to stop the implicit trust some companies have in who accesses their data, including both internal and external users. A great TL;DR is the phrase "never trust, always verify," commonly used in ZTA teams.

In essence, Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) is a cybersecurity strategy based on the idea that you can trust nothing. Based on that principle, it works with continuous verification,  requiring multiple security layers. Think of it this way. You enter a building by showing an ID at the entrance. Yet, inside the building, there are multiple departments storing information. ZTA would require you to identify yourself again to enter any of those departments. In addition, it would also monitor your behavior once you've entered the building. 

It's important to understand that ZTA isn't a technology but a philosophical approach. While its practical implementation receives the name Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), before that, it's a mindset with its guidelines and principles. 

Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) Principles

As we mentioned, ZTA is not a tech you can acquire but a cybersecurity strategy. That's why its principles are not material things but conceptual approaches to implement in organizations. "Never trust, always verify" does address ZTA's vitals, but it's just the tip of the iceberg!

1. ZTA User Authentication

In ZTA, you should never rely on a single property or entity to grant access to a user. Hence, considering multiple factors, such as hardware, software, and people, is fundamental. Besides identification, this edge also includes authentication and authorization. A great example is using Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for sensitive data or, even better, using Multiple-Factor Authentication (MFA). 

2. ZTA Least Privilege Access

After identification, there is the choice of privileged access. With Zero Trust Architecture, you only grant users or teams access to what they need, and no more. Thinking about the least possible amount of access users or apps need may be a challenging task. However, it's fundamental to avoid lateral movement across the network. No wonder almost 70% of organizations claim Least Privilege as a business priority!

3. ZTA Breach Assumption

Commonly, we avoid thinking about bad things happening, yet when they do occur, they wreak havoc. That's why the principle of Breach Assumption within Zero Trust Architecture encourages organizations to do the opposite. Preparing for the worst-case scenario will help you mitigate damage to a large extent. This way, when attacks happen, you can respond quickly and effectively. On top of that, this encourages you to follow the next principle.

4. ZTA Continuous Validation

We already mentioned this, but we can't stress that enough. When giving access to sensitive data in ZTA environments, asking users to confirm their identity several times is key. Further, teams should constantly scan accesses to verify that these weren't modified by any party while monitoring user behavior to catch potential security breaches. Within Continuous Validation, the concept of Micro-Segmentation also gains relevance. Here, network assets go down into granular levels to ensure every asset has specific access requirements, reducing risk exposure and spreading attacks. 

What are the Benefits Of Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA)?

Improved Security. This one might be a bit obvious. It's not just a nice-to-have. Having a sophisticated approach to cybersecurity is a total must-have these days. Not only does ZTA protect your business from attacks, but it also reduces your exposure to them. 

Increased Visibility. ZTA's approach gives businesses a better view of who accesses their data and what they do with it. This way, they can detect possible threats with relative ease. 

Cost Savings. Data breaches can cost companies tons of money, with data losses costing from a couple of thousand to $15M US dollars. In fact, in the US, the average cost of a data breach is $9.44M! Thus, consider your cybersecurity efforts an excellent investment. 

Streamlined Processes. ZTA encourages teams to automate security operations. According to pre-defined policies, authentication processes must work automatically. That involves internal and external users. This way, businesses can increase their security efforts' efficiency. 

What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

ZTNA is a cybersecurity solution that takes  ZTA principles to practical scenarios, giving remote access to business apps, data, and resources following ZTA principles. You can also think of it as an improved version of a VPN. Why? Because VPNs focus primarily on locations to deem a user as trustworthy or not. On top of that, once the user is verified, they have full access to corporate data because they are seen as secure. 

Nonetheless, location is no longer a factor regarding the trustworthiness of a user or an application. As mentioned above, the hybrid work model is becoming increasingly popular. That's why ZTNA solutions consider multiple contextual factors pre-defined by ZTA, like also checking user behavior, identity, device, software, etc.

Since Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) follows ZTA principles, all access attempts require verification and authentication. It doesn't give users full access to business data after identifying themselves. So, instead of VPN's implicit trust, ZTNA promotes explicit trust.

Zero Trust Architecture for IT

Conclusion

ZTA is a set of principles that guide businesses in securing their digital assets, aiming to eliminate the implicit trust that users would have after entering a network. Yet, instead of a technology you can buy, Zero Trust Architecture gives the foundation for ensuring secure access, which means that all businesses can look at it as a best practice. If you want to keep your business secure, never trust, always verify!