Zero Trust Strategies

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In a 2022 survey of over 400 CISOs, over 50% report that implementing or enhancing a Zero Trust model is their top security priority for the next 12 months. Recognizing the growing importance of adopting and evolving a Zero Trust model in today's threat landscape is vital. 

Zero Trust security measures bolster organizational defenses against external and internal threats, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and potential breaches. If you have not yet embraced Zero Trust, keep reading to learn how it can enhance your security posture and safeguard your sensitive data.

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What is the Zero Trust Security Model?

The growth of Zero Trust over the past few years addresses the need to support nearly 100% of the workforce working from home in a more secure manner. Zero Trust combined with service access service edge (SASE) cloud services moved the connection point for the remote user further away from the organization’s physical data center. This adjustment to the security boundary and centralized all remote access strategies within the Zero Trust model proved to be more effective and secure. 

Zero Trust operates under the assumption that external and internal threats exist and that no entity on your network should be considered trustworthy unless verified with rigid standards before and during sessions. 

Zero Trust starts with the mindset of “no trust” first. This mindset establishes the initial access for the users into critical corporate resources as zero. Zero Trust enables a least-privileged model for access control by only setting access to the users to meet their job requirements; all other access to other systems is blocked. 

Zero Trust redirects its focus toward the fundamental weaknesses of trusted environments, operating under the assumption that nearly everything presents a potential risk. By adopting this approach, organizations recognize that trust should not be automatically granted based on predetermined factors but should be continuously evaluated and verified.

Forrester Research analyst and thought leader John Kindervag coined the term Zero Trust. Since then, organizations and institutions such as The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Gartner, Google, and more have given the idea of Zero Trust additional stamps of authority.

NIST 800-207 defined the goal of a Zero Trust environment as “Preventing unauthorized access to data and services coupled with making the access control enforcement as granular as possible.” NIST works with organizations such as Amazon Web Services, Cisco Systems, IBM, McAfee, and Microsoft to understand various approaches to implementing Zero Trust and be better positioned to draft guidance for using the model by federal agencies and the private sector. 

Today’s cybersecurity leaders recognize that threats are  dynamic and the ever-evolving nature necessitates a proactive and vigilant mindset. In essence, Zero Trust challenges the notion of inherent trust and promotes a more cautious and critical stance towards access and authorization within an IT ecosystem.

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Adopting or Enhancing Your Zero Trust Strategy

The primary emphasis of any Zero Trust strategy should be on proactively managing the approval of individuals and resources that can gain entry to your sensitive data. This authorization should be contingent upon various trust-related considerations, such as endpoint security status, geographical location, and strength of authentication methods.

Many organizations have begun to implement Zero Trust cybersecurity. If you have already embraced Zero Trust in your organization, consider the stages of Zero Trust maturity and where your organization currently stands. Measuring your progress on a journey to Zero Trust will help you determine the investments that might need to be made in security technology and consulting.

If you find yourself in an earlier stage of the Zero Trust model, consider the well-established five-step process for Zero Trust implementation:

  1. Define the Protect Surface
  2. Map the Transaction Flows
  3. Build a Zero Trust Architecture
  4. Create a Zero Trust Policy
  5. Monitor and Maintain the Network

CISA provides detail on this five-step process and agreed upon by recognized industry leaders for each step are detailed below.

Step 1: Define the Protect Surface

The initial step in implementing Zero Trust security is to define the Protect Surface, which involves identifying the Data, Applications, Assets, and Services (DAAS) elements that need protection. The traditional approach of reducing attack surfaces is no longer sufficient in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD), work-from-anywhere world. Zero Trust shifts the security focus to establishing a “protect surface” instead.

The protected surface serves as a boundary for Zero Trust principles, allowing organizations to prioritize security efforts and allocate resources more effectively. By focusing on specific DAAS elements, organizations can streamline their security strategies, ensuring comprehensive protection without becoming overwhelmed by the complexities of the entire system. This targeted approach enables a more granular and adaptive implementation of Zero Trust principles, enhancing the organization's overall security posture.

During this first step, consider which entities need to be protected. For instance, identify the specific data to safeguard, the applications that consume sensitive data, the sensitivity of your assets, and the services vulnerable to exploitation. Each of these DAAS elements will represent protect surface(s). What makes protect surface(s) genuinely remarkable is they can be defined, whereas the attack surfaces often cannot be determined based on their magnitude.  

Step 2: Map the Transaction Flows

The second step in implementing Zero Trust security is to map the transaction flows, which involves understanding how networks operate and how various DAAS components interact with other resources on the network. By mapping these transaction flows, security professionals can identify and analyze the movement of data, requests, and communications to and from the protected surface. This knowledge enables organizations to more easily enforce the principles of Zero Trust and establish a more robust security posture to protect critical assets and resources.

Step 3: Build a Zero Trust Architecture

The third step in implementing Zero Trust security is to build architecture, which involves designing a Zero Trust environment that is specifically tailored to the protect surface(s) identified in the previous steps. The movement of traffic across the network, particularly concerning the data within the protect surface, should dictate the design decisions. A general guideline is positioning the controls as close as possible to the protected surface.

Organizations can develop a tailored architecture to enhance security, reduce the attack surface, and establish a robust framework for protecting their critical assets and resources.

Mapping the transaction flows also creates a security protection layer for accessing critical internal systems. Once Zero Trust is enabled, security engineers can develop a strategy by only permitting inbound connections to IT systems, management consoles, and remote desktops from Zero Trust. Any attempt at a direct connection to an internal resource attempting to bypass Zero Trust will be blocked. 

Step 4: Create a Zero Trust Policy

We recommend developing your security policy for the Zero Trust model using the Kipling Model, which prompts security leaders and policymakers to ask the questions, “Who, what, when, where, why, and how.”

The Zero Trust policy based on least privilege access should outline strict guidelines and criteria for access to the protected surface. It should include user authentication, device trustworthiness, contextual information, and data sensitivity. Access decisions should be based on a continuous evaluation of trust-related factors rather than relying on trust assumptions.

Step 5: Monitor and Maintain the Network

The final step in implementing Zero Trust security is to monitor and maintain the network and Zero Trust environment. This step involves inspecting and logging all traffic and comprehensively monitoring the network at every layer. This process helps prevent significant cybersecurity events, facilitates continuous improvements, and makes subsequent protected surfaces increasingly robust and better protected over time. With this data, organizations can proactively respond to threats, strengthen their security measures, and ensure the long-term resilience of their Zero Trust architecture.

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Embracing Identity as a Zero Trust Parameter

Zero Trust is a journey defined in part by your organization's goals and objectives. As our shared knowledge of how to move towards Zero Trust evolves, one component is increasingly central to success: the individual. 

This shift arises from the absence of a clearly defined network perimeter that security experts traditionally relied on to differentiate trusted and untrusted elements and enforce appropriate controls. This change can be attributed to various factors, such as migrating systems and applications to the cloud, increased user mobility, and the growing prevalence of BYOD. These developments introduced unfamiliar and harder-to-secure devices into the network environment.

There are previous indicators of trust, such as username/password, corporate-issued corporate laptops, on-premises domain, etc., but the focus now shifts to user identity as the cornerstone.

So how are you securing the individuals in your organization?

GenuineXs Zero Trust Cybersecurity Services

Zero Trust is here to stay - and continues to evolve. If you’re looking for guidance on adopting or enhancing your Zero Trust strategy, GenuineXs offers expert Zero Trust consulting support. 

Our advanced authentication and authorization strategies and technologies work together to continuously authenticate and authorize your users and devices before they can access your systems and data. With our Zero Trust guidance, you can know that your systems and data are secured.

Get in touch with our cybersecurity experts to discuss Zero Trust strategies for your organization.

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