Say goodbye to the network perimeter you know and love. Its days are numbered, and an expansive attack surface is taking its place.

You see, long gone are the days when classic network security policies could safely protect your sensitive data. With a swarm of new users, personal devices, cloud applications, and machine identities floating around your environment, the time has come to take implicit trust out of the equation.

Of course, we’re talking about adopting a Zero Trust strategy. But, before you can do that, your organization will have to revisit its approach to identity governance.

Why? Think about it: Post-perimeter cybersecurity is all about knowing who and what has access to your corporate assets. More importantly, it’s about how they’re using them.

That’s where Identity and Access Management (IAM) comes into play. In this blog, we’ll discuss why IAM is key to implementing Zero Trust and what your organization can do to lay a solid foundation.

The importance of identity to Zero Trust security

There’s been a significant change in the way most organizations architect their IT infrastructure over the past several years. Given recent advancements in cloud computing, many enterprises have chosen to transition away from legacy, on-premise systems in favor of agile cloud deployments.

In fact, over 90% of organizations now operate in the cloud. Gartner estimates that global cloud spending will continue to soar, totaling over $720 billion in 2024. It begs the question: How did we get here?

The COVID-19 pandemic is unquestionably a driving force. When offices closed their doors, a sudden and massive demand for remote access paved the way for rapid digital transformation — and with that, cloud computing. However, because more users, applications, devices, and other assets are connected to the network, the attack surface has grown exponentially.

Worse yet, these connections exist far beyond the bounds of the traditional network perimeter, leaving them vulnerable to unauthorized access and exploitation. Now that castle-and-moat cybersecurity is insufficient, identity is the only factor standing between hackers and your sensitive data.

Fortunately, that’s where a Zero Trust architecture comes into play.

The Zero Trust framework

The Zero Trust maturity model accounts for the fact that the cybersecurity landscape has fundamentally shifted. In turn, it advocates for an identity-driven security framework, which allows a properly authenticated and verified user, device, or other entity to access network resources from any location.

Keep in mind that cloud services and remote access have effectively nullified the classic perimeter. After all, how do you build a fence around a house if the size of the property is constantly changing? The short answer is you forget about the fence and focus on the people coming and going from the property. In a nutshell, that’s what the Zero Trust strategy is all about.

Adopting an identity-driven approach is best supported in tandem with the three core Zero Trust principles:

  1. Least privileged access: The term “least privilege access” refers to a policy in which entities are granted the minimum level of authorization needed to perform a given function. For instance, employees may only have user access to network resources essential to doing their job. This is key to limiting the attack surface and containing cyber threats.
  2. Assume breach: The Zero Trust model eliminates implicit trust and considers all connections as potential threats. Moreover, it advocates safeguarding against the inevitability of a data breach by taking steps to minimize damage. For example, your security team may segment the network, thereby preventing lateral movement.
  3. Explicit verification: Strict identity governance is paramount. A solid Zero Trust architecture will continuously monitor activity even after network access is granted, mandating repeated authentication whenever an entity requests access to an additional resource.

One of the most efficient ways of supporting these principles is to introduce a comprehensive Identity and Access Management (IAM) system.

What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is defined as a “security and business discipline that includes multiple technologies and business processes to help the right people or machines to access the right assets at the right time for the right reasons, while keeping unauthorized access and fraud at bay.”

In simpler terms, IAM policies, tools, and technologies are how your organization can provide secure access to its users, third-party partners, and other entities.

Traditional IAM

Traditional IAM strategies stem from the classic network security model, which assumes all entities within a certain perimeter are trustworthy and secure (i.e., implicit trust). However, this approach is easily exploited by hackers, insider threats, phishing scams, malware, and more.

Plus, it’s incapable of meeting the scalability and complexity requirements of today’s dynamic IT landscape, which includes cloud services, mobile devices, remote workers, third-party vendors, etc. It lacks visibility over this expanding surface, allowing anomalous behavior to go undetected.

Zero Trust IAM

Zero Trust IAM deploys a more robust and advanced security framework. By applying Zero Trust principles to identity governance and access rights, organizations can implement and enforce access control policies on a much more granular level.

Instead of basing authentication decisions purely on location, a Zero Trust IAM system verifies every request using multiple attributes. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • User identity
  • Context
  • Device reputation
  • Location
  • User activity or entity behavior
  • Resource sensitivity

Zero Trust identity management has numerous advantages. Taking this approach can help you:

  • Improve business continuity and resilience by reducing the attack surface
  • Streamline login, access, and authentication procedures
  • Enhance visibility and analytics over user behavior, which supports early threat detection
  • Minimize impact on the user experience, thus maximizing productivity
  • Reduce costs by automating, orchestrating, and consolidating IAM functions, thereby eliminating the need for redundant solutions
  • Simplify compliance for heavily regulated industries
  • Enable secure access for your hybrid workforce

Implementing Zero Trust IAM: Challenges and solutions

Many organizations begin their Zero Trust journey with a mixed bag of on- and off-premise technologies, cloud applications, and unmanaged devices. Often, they’re not integrated through an enterprise identity service that catalogs all assets and connections.

Consequently, IT teams are forced to manage disparate identities across a vast number of systems and applications. At an individual level, that means each user has numerous — and oftentimes weak — login credentials. Without visibility over these fragmented identities, organizations are vulnerable to internal and external threats.

The road to Zero Trust maturity

Adopting Zero Trust is no easy feat. It may take several years to fully implement and will certainly require all hands on deck. But, given the cybersecurity landscape, few organizations can afford to put it off any further.

The time to lay the foundation for your Zero Trust architecture is now. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to ease the process and get the ball rolling in the right direction:

  1. The first step in addressing this challenge and advancing the Zero Trust journey is to reign in these many assets, users, and data sources. Organizations must systematically identify and classify all of their resources, assigning each one a risk rating depending on how critical it is to operations and how damaging it would be if leaked in the open.
  2. Next, after assets are categorized, the enterprise can establish comprehensive security and access control policies.
  3. You can fortify security and introduce layered defenses by consolidating identities under a unified IAM solution. With a comprehensive portfolio of advanced capabilities, IT teams can centralize all processes within a single source of truth for all users. This makes it easier to establish and enforce granular policies across on-premise and cloud environments.
  4. With a unified solution in place, enterprises may then begin continuously monitoring user behavior, session patterns, and system-wide activity to rapidly detect anomalies and potential threats.

Essential IAM capabilities

You might be wondering what a comprehensive IAM portfolio actually looks like. In truth, any IAM system worth its weight in gold will support Zero Trust security with a few must-have components.

Phishing-resistant multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Account takeovers are a growing threat to corporate credentials. In fact, a recent report suggests there’s been a 230% jump in such attacks year over year. Many organizations have implemented MFA to mitigate this risk, but hackers have learned to bypass traditional strategies with ease.

That’s why phishing-resistant MFA is crucial to your identity management strategy. FIDO2 keys, passkeys, and other mechanisms are helping security teams overcome this challenge and authenticate their users with ease.

Essential MFA solutions include:

  • Single sign-on (SSO): Users can access all applications after only one authentication rather than repeating the process for every unique cloud or on-premise system. SSO protects against password fatigue and reuse while also streamlining provisioning, onboarding, and offboarding.
  • Passwordless security: As mentioned, people tend to recycle passwords for multiple accounts. Worse yet, weak passwords are easily cracked. You can mitigate this risk by leveraging passwordless MFA — a process that instead relies on high-assurance cryptographic tools like FIDO2 or digital passkeys.
  • Certificate-based authentication (CBA): CBA offers a passwordless user experience by allowing you to provision a digital certificate to the user. You can also issue certificates to the user’s device, ensuring that both entities are verified and authorized to access network resources.
  • Certificate lifecycle management (CLM): CLM is a must-have addition to any certificate-based authentication process. It offers a full line of sight into your certificate estate, centralizing control for all environments. Issue, renew, and revoke certificates from one pane of glass.
  • Risk-based adaptive authentication (RBA): RBA provides configurable policies that empower you to factor contextual data into the authentication decision. It only escalates the process when required, ensuring you maintain a seamless user experience. If a request is deemed suspicious, you can issue another challenge to authenticate via other mechanisms.

Lay your Zero Trust foundation with Entrust

The access management and authentication tools highlighted above are crucial to supporting your Zero Trust journey. Not only will they enable you to secure your environments against unauthorized access, but they’ll empower your people to leverage essential resources with total confidence.

And the best part? All are available in Entrust’s IAM portfolio. We centralize identity and access management in one place so you can control your network infrastructure from top to bottom. From SSO to RBA and everything in between, our layered authentication tools can help you lay the foundation for an effective Zero Trust framework.

Ready to get started? Discover how Entrust’s range of Zero Trust solutions can help your organization future-proof its security posture today.