The last decade has seen a profound shift in the way organizations structure their IT networks. Where resources were once maintained on physical servers running an on-premises network that was only accessible from an office location, today’s networks frequently incorporate multiple cloud applications that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Remote work has also forced companies to expand access to locations and devices beyond their home office. The need to maintain network security in these expansive environments has led to development of an innovative new strategy known as zero trust security.
Evolving Challenges for Cybersecurity
Traditional network architecture takes a perimeter-based approach to security. A user’s identity is validated when they first enter the network, but once they gain access, they typically have the freedom to move throughout the environment. If an organization has implemented single sign-on (SSO), credentials can be cached and presented to other applications that require authentication. This approach to cybersecurity is akin to protecting a building by locking the front door. Once someone overcomes the perimeter defenses, there’s little stopping them from accessing whatever they want.
Perimeter-based security, with its emphasis on firewalls and other network-based tools, were extremely effective in an era of isolated networks that were accessed primarily from authorized, on-site devices. In an era of cloud computing, mobile devices, and distributed workforces, however, it is extremely difficult to manage access by focusing on the perimeter alone. Considering that 98 percent of cyberattacks involve some form of social engineering, even the most rigorous perimeter security is rarely sufficient to protect sensitive data and applications.
With more organizations shifting to hybrid environments with multiple endpoints, new approaches to network security framework were needed to minimize risk from both external and internal threats. Zero trust security has emerged as the most effective model for maintaining robust security across today’s sprawling business IT networks and minimizing the potential impact of a breach.
What is Zero Trust Security?
In very simple terms, zero trust security is based on the assertion that no user or application should be trusted by default. Where traditional security architecture takes a “trust, but verify” approach to connections, zero trust security is often described as “never trust, always verify.” It assumes that every connection and endpoint is a potential threat and needs to be continuously validated.
First articulated by Forrester Research’s John Kindervag, zero trust architecture uses context-based policies that are established through least-privileged access controls and ongoing user authentication to manage what areas of the network are open to a user. Trust is never assumed, even if the user has been validated previously. The core idea of zero trust architecture is that constant scrutiny will eventually expose even the most sophisticated hacking attempts, even if an unauthorized user has obtained the necessary credentials to access data and applications.
Organizations are increasingly turning to zero trust architecture as the complexity of their networks continues to grow. In January of 2022, the US government announced that it would be transitioning to a zero trust cybersecurity framework to reduce the risk of data breaches.
How Zero Trust Models Work
Zero trust security models are ideal for hybrid environments and distributed networks with multiple remote employees because they don’t assume there is a network edge. Access isn’t managed through a strict, location based firewall (although they may still be used to protect some assets), but rather through context-based policies. Because this approach to security is policy-based and doesn’t rely upon specialized hardware or software, it has the advantage of being environment-agnostic and can be implemented across every aspect of a hybrid network.
When a user attempts to access the network or move laterally through a network environment, zero trust policies continually scrutinize the user’s role, their location, their device, and the access they’re requesting to determine whether the action could constitute a threat. Critically, these policies treat all traffic as hostile by default until identity can be verified. They also perform this validation before connections are made, which prevents malicious files like malware or ransomware from slipping into sensitive areas of the network.
4 Key Principles of Zero Trust Security Models
Implementing a zero trust security framework requires IT teams to gather and utilize information about network usage and how connections are made between workloads. Due to the complexities of modern hybrid networks, this process typically requires automation tools that can continuously adapt to new threats and usage patterns. In broad terms, however, any zero trust security model should incorporate a few key principles:
- Defined Policies
All verification decisions within a zero trust framework are based upon context-sensitive policies. In order to build these policies, IT teams need to discover and classify all resources based on risk, define the network boundaries of all assets, and segment users on the basis of roles, location, and duties.
- Verification & Enforcement
Once policies have been defined, all access requests within the network need to be monitored and validated against them. Context-defined verifications ensure that users only have access to the resources they need while denying access to any entity that falls outside the policy guidelines.
- Incident Resolution
The enhanced visibility of a zero trust model allows security teams to quickly respond to violations with minimal disruption. Users who violate policies, for instance, can have their existing access revoked or be quarantined for further investigation. Networks can also be further segmented to enhance security, unauthorized devices can be locked out, and incident response teams can be notified in the event of a potential data breach.
- Analysis & Improvement
Information about network access requests are logged and continuously analyzed to generate additional data that can inform policy changes. This ongoing evaluation is essential for building a truly adaptive zero trust model that is capable of responding to new tactics that are constantly being developed by hostile actors seeking to gain access to sensitive data.
4 Reasons to Use Zero Trust Security
There are several reasons why organizations using hybrid IT or hybrid cloud networks can benefit from zero trust security architecture:
- Minimize Organizational Risk
Zero trust models force all applications and services to verify communication according to immutable identity attributes. This establishes a baseline for how different elements of the network communicate and makes it easier to identify unusual activity, eliminate overprovisioning, and manage risk effectively.
- Establish Control Over Cloud and Container Environments
Since zero security policies can be applied to individual workloads, they allow organizations to keep tighter control over how applications and data are accessed across diverse network environments. Security policies are independent of IP addresses, ports, and other protocols, allowing them to move with workloads throughout a hybrid deployment without creating additional risk.
- Reduce Data Breach Risks
Every request, user, and device in a zero trust environment is considered hostile according to the principle of least privilege. Not only must every action be authenticated before trust is granted, trust must be reassessed whenever the context changes (such as the user accessing new data or changing location). This prevents any user or program that manages to gain access from moving laterally through a network and potentially accessing sensitive data.
- Strengthen Compliance Initiatives
Zero trust principles are extremely compatible with security compliance standards regarding information systems and data protection. It’s even possible to microsegment zero trust policies to create fine-grain controls over sensitive, regulated data. This both enhances overall privacy and minimizes potential issues with compliance audits.
Enhance Your Network Security with Evoque
Evoque Data Center Solutions provides organizations with the resources and expertise they need to build diverse hybrid networks capable of scaling and adapting with their evolving business needs. Our team of data center and cloud computing experts can also help IT security teams design and implement zero trust security models to keep those networks secure. With application workloads shifting dynamically between colocated and cloud assets to maximize performance, it’s more important than ever to have the right security controls in place to protect sensitive data no matter where it’s located.
To learn more about how Evoque and how we can enhance your network security, talk to one of our solutions experts today.