What is Zero Trust, and Why Does it Matter?

The modern world is a digital maze, and with COVID-19, the adoption of cloud networks and technologies grew by a staggering 27% in 2020. It is further expected to grow 18.4% YOY from 2021 onwards to reach a valuation of $304.9 billion. Yet, with such a huge market size, the factor of trust has grown seemingly less. 

Today’s cloud networks demand improved network security tools since a cyber breach can cost up to $4.25 million. To enhance the level of security, most organizations have adopted the zero trust model for their networks. Moreover, companies are embracing remote working models, which has led to increased needs to prevent cyber-attacks. Because of this, zero trust has gained priority in the network security protocols.

What is Zero Trust?

Developed by John Kindervag, in textbook terms, zero trust is a practice of eliminating the concept of trust in an organization’s network architecture. Zero trust promotes the ideology of “never trust, always verify” and understands that trust is a luxury that an organization’s network cannot afford. Hence, it does not allow using the network until the user is authorized or verified.

By segmenting networks, preventing threats, and simplifying user access control, Zero Trust blocks and isolates the lateral movement of malicious users. 

As per a report, 72% of companies globally have already implemented zero trust policies. For example, in the COVID-19 pandemic, Adeva IT’s CTO reported that zero trust enabled them to reduce network threats, data leaks and monitor remote employee access.

Why is Zero Trust Worth it?

Zero trust may seem like a fundamental thing, but the number of things it accomplishes is staggering. Here are some metrics that prove how zero trust networks have benefitted businesses all over the world:

How Does Zero Trust Security Work?

A zero-trust security protocol is built up from an amalgamation of focus areas. As part of setting up the security protocols, all focus areas need to be adhered to. The most prominent focal points to look out for are:

1. Zero Trust Workloads

Zero trust workloads are used for apps and back-end software that form the UI for the customers/users. These are treated as a threat from storage to operation and need proper protection from zero trust compliances.

2. Zero Trust Data

Zero trust is built to protect data from outside and inside attacks at the core since it is the first line of defense. Therefore, authentication, authorization, and privileges should be built into the system’s security infrastructure so that an attacker has limited access to data in case of an attack. Furthermore, it will appraise the network owner of any abnormality in accessing data to reduce or remove the chances of a breach.

3. Zero Trust Devices

Thanks to IoT, there are many devices nowadays that utilize the network apart from your computers. Unfortunately, this means that each device opens up a vulnerable entry point for a data breach. To ensure that nothing like this happens, zero trust should come with compliances that isolate, secure, and control every device on the network.

4. Zero Trust Networks

To access the data, the attackers need to find the path to it on your network. Implementing zero trust automatically keeps them on a watchlist and isolates the data if it detects any anomaly.

5. Analytics & Visibility

The security team needs access to analytics of the network and additional visibility while monitoring to detect any signs of a breach. Using threat detection and behavioral analytics can help enforce zero trust to a greater degree.

6. Zero Trust People

In most cases, the human factor is the weakest link of “trust” in a network. Therefore, while allowing access to people, continually monitor and verify their usage activity and authenticate the users to filter out the malicious insiders.

Benefits of Zero Trust

Besides the obvious benefits of making a network safer, zero trust also helps in minimizing many other risks that do not meet the eye. Some of the significant risks that are averted by zero trust are:

1. Limits Risks to Organizational Data

As part of the zero-trust process to “trust” the users, the protocol continually checks the authentication and authorization details as per the principles. If there is a breach in any pre-set regulations, the system automatically blocks and isolates that particular user, thus preventing risks to businesses and organizations.

2. Reduced subnet traffic enhances network performance

Zero trust policy does not allow every user to access the network. Instead, the verification and authentication of the user automatically limit the number of users allowed into the network. This helps reduce the amount of traffic the network has to process, and hence, the subnets work better.

3. Granularity simplifies the logging and monitoring process

Thanks to zero trust’s habit of supporting compliance initiatives, all the activities are tied directly to the workload and the security tools themselves. This helps in closer monitoring, observation, and improved protection of assets not affected by the network construction pattern.

4. Quicker breach detection time

On average, a breach takes about 197 days in detection. And the later it is detected, the higher are the costs to rectify the violation and patch the leak. In addition, since it does not allow any lateral movement, the breach detection becomes localized and more effective with zero trust in place.

5. Secures devices on remote networks

With the remote working models in place, 74% of cyber attacks on 94% of businesses were due to a lack of security protocols. Additionally, zero trust helps establish a borderline security barrier since 34% of remote users don’t care about security for their devices. 

3 Zero Trust Security Model Principles

The zero trust model acts as the first line of defense and emphasizes additional layers of security to ensure that the data is accessed as intended and every attempt to breach the data is neutralized. The layers are:

1. Access all resources securely and authentically

Authentication and authorization of every user are done continually by the network. Similarly, all the data and resources the user accesses are certified as well. Therefore, it helps treat every data access as malicious and then authenticate it against the predefined compliances.

2. Enforce access control using the least privilege model

By providing the right tools, you can ensure a job is done perfectly. However, this also means limiting the users’ access to just the data that they need. This model reduces the risk of data compromise by preventing a single user from accessing large amounts of data.

3. Inspect and log everything

Inspection, authentication, authorization, and verification are critical for zero trust. So, the security protocol should monitor, inspect, and log all network activity. Using this you can identify security analytics, data access anomalies, user logins, or malicious uploads and downloads of data. Due to its difficulty, individual baselines per account are chosen, and abnormal behavior is isolated from the event log.

Conclusion: Getting Started With Zero Trust 

Adoption with zero trust seems like a challenge, especially for the brands/companies that have just started in the journey of building their online cloud networks. 

However, while it takes a fair bit of time and understanding, it delivers the least privileged access to protect private apps as per 66% of the IT professionals, which is one of the biggest challenges of the online world we live in today.

So, yes, starting with zero trust is worth it if you are looking to build a network environment that is both safe and secure for all the users, both inside and outside.

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