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“Zero Trust is a collection of concepts and ideas designed to minimize uncertainty in enforcing accurate, least privilege per-request access decisions in information systems and services in the face of a network viewed as compromised.” - National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Imagine a world without cyber threats.

No hackers, malicious insiders, or data leaks — no reason to worry at all. You might not even have a security team in the first place.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and neither does your sensitive data. In reality, threat vectors are numerous, your attack surface is expanding, and the next data breach is right around the corner.

The good news is that secure access isn’t just a pipe dream. With a Zero Trust framework, you can confidently protect your corporate assets and mitigate the obstacles of today’s rapidly evolving business environment.

Read on to learn the importance of Zero Trust, how it benefits enterprise security, and what your organization can do to successfully transition to a Zero Trust architecture.

What is Zero Trust?

Former Forrester analyst John Kindervag developed the concept of Zero Trust security in 2010. He defined it as a framework that assumes every connection, device, and user is a potential threat and should be treated as such.

In contrast to most other cybersecurity strategies, it eliminates implicit trust and requires all users, whether in or outside the organization, to be continuously authenticated before they’re granted network access. Simply put, Zero Trust is just as it sounds: a security policy under which nobody — regardless of role or responsibility — is inherently assumed to be safe.

Additionally, the Zero Trust model rejects the assumption of a network edge. In today’s post-perimeter landscape, networks extend well beyond their traditional boundaries and can be local, in the cloud, or a combination of the two. Plus, with the rise of remote access, there’s almost no telling where a resource may be located.

So, the Zero Trust approach is specifically designed to address modern data security challenges, ensuring secure access to critical assets at any time and place. Broadly speaking, a Zero Trust network will do the following:

  • Log and inspect all traffic to identify suspicious activity and potential threat vectors
  • Limit and control user access, authorizing requests only after the user identity has been confirmed
  • Verify and secure corporate assets to prevent unauthorized access and exposure

Why Zero Trust Matters

Enterprises are facing an unprecedented volume of cyber threats, both internally and externally. Cybercriminals have significantly ramped up their efforts, now targeting sensitive data at an unrelenting pace.

In fact, by the end of 2021, there were over 900 attacks per organization every week. Worse yet, hackers attacked corporate networks 50% more frequently in 2022 than they did the year prior.

Unsurprisingly, cybercriminals haven’t let up even a little bit. According to PwC data, two-thirds of executives consider cybercrime their most significant threat in the immediate future. Almost half (45%) anticipate a further rise in ransomware attacks moving forward.

Complicating things further, organizations have rapidly adopted remote and hybrid work policies in recent years. This has led to an explosion of personal, unmanaged devices connecting to the corporate network, thereby increasing the enterprise’s attack surface.

With no ability to secure or monitor sensitive data stored and accessed by these endpoints, organizations are at a greater risk of data breach than ever before. This is especially significant considering the staggering price of poor threat protection. As IBM reports, the average cost of a single data breach is $4.5 million. However, those implementing a Zero Trust security model save over $1 million per incident.

Enterprises should also consider the risks associated with digital transformation. With more reliance on off-premise, cloud-based applications, businesses must implement new, sophisticated strategies for access control and security policy enforcement.

How does Zero Trust compare to traditional cybersecurity?

Traditional strategies take a “trust, but verify” approach. In other words, they assume that everything behind the corporate firewall is inherently safe and secure.

Zero Trust security, as the name implies, does the opposite. It frames access policies through a “never trust, always verify” lens. Regardless of where a request originates or what resource it aims to use, Zero Trust environments will fully authenticate, authorize, and encrypt before granting network access — never afterward.

Therefore, corporate resources are inaccessible by default. Your employees can only use them under the right circumstances, as determined by a number of contextual factors. These can include user identity, role at the organization, the sensitivity of the resource requested, the device in use, and so on.

Key components of the Zero Trust framework

As outlined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Special Publication 800-207, the Zero Trust approach is based on several core philosophies. Fundamentally, there are three Zero Trust principles integral to this unique security policy:

  • Continuous authentication: This refers to the means of granting secure access based on acceptable levels of risk. In alignment with the Zero Trust approach, you must authorize users based on identity, location, device, service, workload, data classification and so on. After this contextual analysis, the user can either be simply allowed or prompted to provide additional information via another authentication challenge, or if the risk is very high, they are blocked.
  • Limit the blast radius: Organizations should always assume a data breach. That means they must continually segment the network at a granular level, verifying end-to-end traffic and maximizing visibility into user activity. This empowers them to drive threat detection, spot anomalies, and always improve their defenses.
  • Least privilege access: User access should be limited based on just-in-time and just-enough access control policies. In other words, users should only have permission to use the resources they need to do their jobs and complete critical tasks.

5 pillars of the Zero Trust Maturity Model

In 2021, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) created a roadmap for implementing Zero Trust. This document is known as the Zero Trust Maturity Model and describes how organizations can best apply Zero Trust principles across five core pillars:

  • Identity: This area focuses on verifying and authorizing users and devices before granting network access. It may include implementing an identity and access management (IAM) solution or multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Devices: All IoT and other devices connected to the corporate network can be exploited to compromise sensitive data. This pillar involves creating an inventory of all connections and monitoring their integrity for rapid threat detection.
  • Networks: A Zero Trust network secures all traffic regardless of location or resource and segments itself to limit lateral movement.
  • Applications & Workloads: This pillar involves protecting on-premise and cloud-based workloads through application-level access policies and other mechanisms.
  • Data: All data at rest, in use, or in motion is encrypted, monitored, and secured to prevent unauthorized disclosure.

It’s important to note that there’s no such thing as a one-and-done Zero Trust solution. More accurately, enterprises require a variety of layered tools and technologies. When used in combination, these capabilities form a Zero Trust architecture (ZTA).

At a high level, some of these technologies include:

  • Behavioral biometrics
  • Risk-based adaptive authentication
  • Microsegmmicroentation
  • Contextual awareness
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Passwordless login
zero trust framework

Benefits of a Zero Trust architecture

Although Zero Trust is still in its infancy, many organizations are gearing up to dive headfirst into its principles. In fact, 36% of CISOs say they’ve already started implementing Zero Trust, with another 25% planning to do so in the near future. Plus, Gartner predicts that by 2026 at least 10% of large enterprises will have a mature and measurable Zero Trust architecture.

Once you consider the advantages, it’s clear to see why this is the case. A robust Zero Trust security policy empowers you to:

  • Reduce organizational risk by minimizing implicit trust and moving beyond traditional network security
  • Support compliance by safeguarding sensitive data and mitigating threat vectors
  • Protect multi- and hybrid cloud deployments with application-level access control
  • Replace or augment a VPN to strengthen remote access and encryption
  • Rapidly onboard employees and scale your business with the confidence that the attack surface is well-defended

How do you implement Zero Trust?

Generally speaking, the implementation process can be broken down into a few basic steps:

  1. Identify the protect surface: In other words, evaluate all critical assets — including endpoints, users, applications, servers, and data centers — that hackers might target.
  2. Map traffic flows: This allows you to inspect and verify network transactions to ensure that only the right users and applications have access to the right assets.
  3. Invest in an IAM portfolio: User identity is now at the forefront of data security. Thus, identity and access management technologies are key to keeping credentials out of the wrong hands.
  4. Monitor, maintain, and improve: Continuously monitoring your environment not only streamlines risk detection, but also allows you to proactively spot vulnerabilities and mitigate them in real-time.

It should be noted that organizations hoping to embark on a Zero Trust journey must first overcome a series of obstacles. With a wide array of policies, procedures, and technologies required, the process is often a multi-year endeavor.

Additionally, legacy systems pose another daunting challenge, as many older tools can’t work or support some Zero Trust principles. Replacing existing security controls and modernizing tech can be an expensive process, and financial constraints could introduce additional barriers.

Given these factors, it’s best to take a phased approach. Adopting the framework in stages can ease the burden of introducing new tools (or potentially overhauling old systems).

Check out this guide for more details on how to implement Zero Trust.

How Entrust can support your Zero Trust journey

At Entrust, we know that Zero Trust is the next evolution of enterprise cybersecurity. That’s why we’ve developed a portfolio of IAM solutions that can lay the foundation for your Zero Trust architecture.

Collectively, our solution is designed to cover the bases and keep you protected across three critical components:

  • Phishing-resistant Identities: Stolen and compromised credentials are two of the most common root causes of data breaches. We combine MFA, passwordless security, adaptive control policies, biometrics, and other tools to mitigate the risk of identity-based attacks.
  • Secure Connections: Data is constantly moving across public and private networks, through unmanaged endpoints, and into the hands of users who may not be authorized to access it. We secure these connections with digital certificates to ensure that only the right people access the right information — no more, no less.
  • Secure Data: Our portfolio encrypts data at rest, in use, and in motion while also maintaining a decentralized key infrastructure. This ensures confidentiality, integrity, and secure access while also meeting strict compliance requirements.

More than just a provider, we’re your partner every step of the way.

Learn more about our Zero Trust solutions and how Entrust can help secure your identities, connections, and data today.