Understanding the Zero Trust Approach to Network Security

    Cybercrime is rising every day, and with the move that most companies have made to remote work, there are more devices than ever where attackers can gain entry to a network. It’s estimated that in 2021, ransomware will affect a new victim every 5 seconds. Zero trust security is gaining traction in some circles and for good reason. It stems from the basic idea that no one should be given access to your company’s network without first verifying that they are who they say they are. But how does this work in practice?

    Table of contents

    What is the zero trust model?

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    The zero trust model of network security relies on the verification of user identities before allowing them onto your company’s network. Because human error accounts for approximately 90% of breaches, you should focus your security efforts on keeping people out until you’re certain of who they are. This makes it easier to keep your network free of malware and prevent breaches before they can cost your company time and money.

    Unfortunately, outside breaches aren’t the only danger companies face. Zero trust can also be an alternative to enterprise VPNs for network security. Unlike VPNs that offer full access to the entire network, the zero trust model only provides employees with access to the parts of the network that they need to do their jobs. This measure keeps employees from accessing sensitive information or financial data. Additionally, it keeps an attacker from having access to everything if they are able to compromise an endpoint.

    Core concepts of zero trust security

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    Zero trust security has several core concepts that keep your data safe.

    Double-check default access settings

    Because there are no trusted sources in zero trust security, you have to double-check your network’s default access settings to make sure it’s not letting anyone through without verifying who they are. Often, there are default settings to remember passwords or to only verify a user once, so you might need to disable those.

    Use preventative techniques

    Preventative techniques like multifactor authentication, least privileged access, and microsegmentation all improve the efficacy of zero trust security. Multifactor authentication helps prevent attackers posing as normal users from getting into the network, while least privileged access and microsegmentation prevent lateral attacks from hackers who have already gained entry or inside threats. Last year, about half of the data breaches involved insider threats, which makes preventing lateral moves all the more important.

    Make zero trust part of a larger security strategy

    Zero trust alone cannot solve all of your security issues. Because it’s mostly preventive in nature, you’ll need other measures to contain and remove attackers or malware if they do breach your network. Real-time monitoring is necessary to identify behavioral anomalies or malicious software as they’re found, allowing you to create a quarantine and remove the issue. The aforementioned preventative techniques can also keep breaches contained while you work to remove them.

    Also read: The Best Cybersecurity Tools for Small Businesses

    Challenges of a zero trust network

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    While a zero trust network looks great on paper, it can be difficult to implement in reality. For one, not all resources or applications can be included in zero trust protocols. Not all legacy apps and administrative tools use identity verification for protection, making them a weak link for attackers. If these applications are crucial to your organization, you’ll have to find other ways to protect them.

    Additionally, users often get frustrated with a zero trust network and look for ways to circumvent security requirements. If they’re able to find one, the system is no longer verifying them every time they log on, and they become a weak link in the system. Employee buy-in is crucial to a successful zero trust network.

    Finally, many regulations have not yet adopted zero trust as an adequate security protocol, meaning businesses in heavily regulated industries may not be able to pass audits if they’ve adopted the zero trust model. You’ll need to implement other security measures like firewalls and antivirus protection to stay compliant.

    How can you implement zero trust in your organization?

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    Implementing zero trust security in your organization will take time and patience in order to get it right. You’ll need to carefully analyze your current security practices and determine where the weak links are and remove default settings that could undermine your efforts. You’ll also need to map out all of the data you currently have and how each section of your network is connected. This will help you determine where verification points should go within the network.

    You’ll have to conduct thorough employee training to explain why this method is so important to the organization and encourage them to follow the protocols. Any employees who haven’t subscribed to the necessity of zero trust regulations are more likely to try to go around them and will end up undermining your security. They might remove multi-factor authentication from their devices, or managers may give individual contributors more access than they need just to make their own lives easier.

    Finally, you’ll need to restructure your security network to account for the challenges zero trust presents, whether that’s covering for legacy systems or adding extra measures to account for your industry’s regulations. Zero trust doesn’t work on its own right now, so you’ll need to engage other security tools, like endpoint detection and response (EDR), firewalls, and antivirus protection.

    Also read: Top Zero Trust Security Solutions

    Jenn Fulmer
    Jenn Fulmer
    Jenn Fulmer is a writer for TechnologyAdvice, IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, and eSecurity Planet currently based in Lexington, KY. Using detailed, research-based content, she aims to help businesses find the technology they need to maximize their success and protect their data.

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