IT security models of the past tended to focus more on perimeter defense using firewalls and VPNs to protect corporate data and assets. External connections coming into the corporate network were not considered safe; however, internal access to corporate resources were largely considered safe and often loosely controlled.

With the adoption of cloud-based solutions, housing corporate data, and more end users working from remote locations outside the control of corporate IT, a better security model is required.

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a security model which assumes that both external and internal access to any corporate resource is coming from an untrusted and potentially compromised connection. The goal of a Zero Trust security model is to validate users, devices, and connections from any location before allowing access to corporate data and resources.

Key security principles of Zero Trust

The intent of this article is not to cover the entire scope of Zero Trust as it exists today.  With that said, some of the key security principles of a Zero Trust security model focus on user identity, privileged access, device health, infrastructure monitoring, and data protection.

User identity

User identity is validated using authentication techniques, such as multi-factor authentication and conditional access. When an end user authenticates using multiple forms of authentication from a device and geolocation controlled by conditional access policies, there is a higher probability that the end users is really who they claim to be. This user can be trusted more than a user who is authenticated using only a password.

User identify map shows password leading to verification leading to access

 

Privileged access

Privileged access must be monitored and provided only for the duration of completing a specific task requiring elevated permissions. Privileged identity management solutions exist that allow standard users to request elevated permissions to perform specific tasks. Once the tasks are complete, the elevated permissions are then removed. Privilege elevation requests can be approved or denied by designated users in the organization.

Implementing a privileged access control solution helps better protect the entire IT infrastructure both from potential user mistakes and privilege escalation techniques used by attackers.

Privileged access illustration shows various levels of tasks and access

Device health

Using centralized device management solutions, end user devices can be blocked from accessing corporate resources if the device falls out of compliance with corporate security and compliance policies. For example, access to corporate resources can be blocked if a device does not have full disk encryption enabled, does not have up to date anti-virus, or is missing security updates.

Centralized device management solutions help provide a higher level of trust for devices used to access corporate resources.

Device health illustration shows various levels of compliance required for device to gain access

Infrastructure monitoring

Infrastructure monitoring is a vital part of a Zero Trust security model. It is best practice to monitor your infrastructure for security update status, common vulnerabilities and exposures, and potential attacks.

Log collection, alerting, threat intelligence, and reporting are best handled by the implementation of a SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) solution which automates some of the tasks that can be too overwhelming for a human being to perform.

Infrastructure monitoring illustration shows various data logs running through security info and event management to generate alerts and reports

Data protection

Corporate data must be encrypted both at rest and in transit. Enforcing full disk encryption on all end user devices along with using end to end network encryption is best practice and provides a necessary level of protection for corporate data.

Data protection illustration shows transition from plain text to encryption key to encrypted ciphertext to decryption key to decrypted plain text

Getting started with Zero Trust

Moving to a Zero Trust security model is not a simple task, nor is it an all or nothing endeavor.  You can begin by focusing on high-risk areas first.

  • Are you enforcing multi-factor authentication for user access?
  • Are you using full disk encryption on your devices?
  • Are you monitoring your infrastructure for security risks?

These are a few basics you can begin planning for and implementing today that will start you on the path towards a better security posture for your IT infrastructure.

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