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What is Zero Trust? Three Things to Keep in Mind as Your Organization Works Towards Developing This Mindset

The term ‘Zero Trust’ has been a popular concept in cybersecurity for some time, but the transition to remote and virtual work accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented and immediate need for enterprises to transition to a Zero Trust mindset. This urgency has continued to grow, with the Biden administration mandating companies adopt Zero Trust architectures in a long-awaited executive order aimed to improve the nation’s cybersecurity. While many are familiar with the term, a lot are still asking – what is Zero Trust and how does it differ from the Principles of Least Privilege?

In this blog, we’ll be diving into the principles of Zero Trust, identifying the most important components for building this security model and establishing a corporate-wide mindset centered around cybersecurity.

What’s The Difference? Zero Trust vs. Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)
A lot of confusion surrounds how Zero Trust compares to the Principles of Least Privilege. In order to fully understand Zero Trust, it’s crucial to understand the differences here. While Zero Trust is based on the Principles of Least Privilege, it differs in the fact that Zero Trust is more dynamic and does not rely on static access and authorization policies for your assets and information.

The core tenet of Zero Trust is “Never Trust, Always Verify,” and the main pieces of that tenet that differentiate it from PoLP is the ‘never’ and ‘always.’ Zero Trust is about never trusting anyone or anything, at all times. The same entity requesting access to a resource at different times, may either be allowed or denied, depending on current risk profiles and not just their credentials. While PoLP relies heavily on static policies, Zero Trust requires continuous monitoring and assessment of risk to authorize access.

Tips for Getting Started With Zero Trust
The recent push to accelerate the conversion of federal networks, systems and devices to a Zero Trust security model, has driven many organizations to examine the steps it would take to build their own Zero Trust architecture. Below, we examine the three key components that security teams should keep in mind as they get started:

  1. Define a comprehensive Zero Trust strategy and plan – This step is a key prerequisite to getting started on the Zero Trust journey. This begins with the identification of the information that needs to be secured as well as the transaction flows that should be permitted on that data by various possible actors (people, workloads, devices, networks), in order for the organization to operate smoothly and efficiently. Transaction flows refer to who/what require access to the data, and how data can/should move within and outside of the organization. The definition of these policies and the identification of technologies and processes that enable them is the first step to building a Zero Trust architecture tailored to your business, but it can also be the most challenging.Often, the biggest roadblock to getting started with Zero Trust principles are mental. Security leads can be so daunted by this fundamental shift in strategy that they don’t know where to start. However, Zero Trust doesn’t mean ripping and replacing all of your existing technologies – in fact, many security teams have already unknowingly started the journey to a Zero Trust architecture as a response to COVID-19.
  2. Implement the right technology – Fundamentally, committing to a Zero Trust architecture requires moving away from a traditional perimeter-based security approach. The user, their devices, their data, their apps (workloads) and the network (whether that’s at home, or in the office, or at Starbucks) is the new perimeter. To build a successful framework, the impact of legacy technologies and workflows and the choice between implementing new technologies or repurposing of existing technologies is critical. Continuous visibility over this new perimeter is key to embracing a workload-first, data-driven, and identity-aware security model. It can be argued that everything else is a nice-to-have.
  3. Patience is Key – It is important to understand that Zero Trust is a journey and it can take years for an organization to achieve it. Even after it is implemented comprehensively, the continuous monitoring of all aspects of the Zero Trust architecture is critical to ensure compliance, fill identify gaps and enable changes to accommodate new requirements. So, while the implementation of Zero Trust can be done in steps, its effectiveness is only evident when applied across the entire organization.

In summary, the adoption of Zero Trust has to be seen as an all-or-nothing affair. If every aspect of the organization (and its partners and vendors) is not included within the Zero Trust framework, then you will leave a backdoor open for attackers to get in and cause a breach. In addition to careful planning and execution, a successful journey requires a commitment to those shared goals from every corner of the organization. Building this framework will require various policy enforcements and restricted accesses, which may be seen as an impediment to productivity (even if it is not). This common misconception can result in resistance that can eventually derail a project. Getting past this challenge requires a commitment to the initiative from top-down.

Ready to get started? Learn how DTEX’s Workforce Cyber Intelligence Platform can support your organization’s transition to a zero-trust security model here. Additionally, register now to save your spot at SANS’ Zero Trust Architecture Solutions Forum on December 3rd, 2021.