What is zero trust architecture?

If you’re in the cybersecurity field, chances are you’ve come across Zero Trust architecture (or any variants of it) enough to know what Zero Trust means. Essentially, the Zero Trust cybersecurity approach is kicking old methods to the curb while embracing the basic principles of security. Historically, organizations assumed that insiders and people who had access should be trusted and will operate as they should. The castle-and-moat methods organizations used to protect themselves from cyberattacks proved ineffective on multiple occasions, with some of the biggest cybersecurity incidents starting from an internal threat or a source that was purposefully granted access. This approach of trusting all those within the organizational walls and building defenses against outside threats hasn’t, and still isn’t, providing the full protection that organizations need from attacks and hackers. 

What is zero trust architecture?

This is where the idea of Zero Trust started to come into play. Zero Trust Architecture is a new cybersecurity concept that removes any implicit trust, regardless of who is accessing and what’s being accessed. Since no one is trusted in this model, insider and outsider access need to be verified and authenticated each time a user logs into a system. Zero Trust is not a specific tool, but a model or an approach that some products and services can provide to organizations to keep their data safe. 

Why do we need zero trust architecture?

Zero Trust is a necessary approach that can help organizations stay protected against insider threats. It not only protects from the risk of internal users having too much access and taking advantage of it, but it also protects from outsider threats that try to get into the organization through its employees’ access. A Zero Trust model can mitigate the risk of hackers infiltrating organizational systems through phishing attempts, ransomware, malicious code encryption, or stolen credentials by using multiple steps of verification to ensure access can be trusted. 

How to implement zero trust architecture

In an ideal world, a Zero Trust architecture could be implemented in-house with zero issues and be the fortress that protects an entire organization. This, however, is not the case for most businesses, as they likely can’t incorporate all Zero Trust principles throughout the organization due to the heavy lift, as well as limited resources. But there are several ways IT and security teams can implement portions of the Zero Trust model into their security strategies - a great first step in securing networks and systems with a Zero Trust framework.  Organizations can usually start by implementing certain security measures that align with the Zero Trust methodology. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and credential vaulting are both solutions that organizations can use to start securing network access. This helps authenticate the identity of a user and verifies the validity of their access. Storing and vaulting credentials also protect against password leaks and exposure - the cause of over 60 percent of data breaches. However, to fully protect with a Zero Trust security model, certain functions may have to be outsourced. For example, VPNs don’t permit the access restrictions that a Zero Trust methodology calls for; but organizations that use VPNs can replace them with alternate tools that implement Zero Trust architecture, such as remote access technology that verifies and confirms identity and employment while also deploying least privilege access and only granting access to the areas that users specifically need, when they need it.  There are instances where restricted and gated access isn’t conducive to the duties employees have within an organization. For example, an ER nurse needs access to certain systems in a matter of seconds when dealing with a patient. Having multiple systems or processes in place limiting that ability leads to the employee not being able to adequately do their job. In instances such as this, tools that review system access logs to ensure appropriate access can help. In a way, user access review serves as its own form of Zero Trust by identifying, monitoring, and verifying access rights and restricting the amount of access that users are supposed to have.  But what about system access that shouldn’t be granted to certain users at all?  The answer: implement a solution that reviews all user access within an organization. This type of access review tool allows for a formal review of who has access to what systems. The ability to reject users who do not need access or easily modify who has access to what systems will help organizations reduce the risk of access breaches and provide the constant ability to know which users have access to internal systems.

Achieving zero trust in your organization

Taking a Zero Trust approach to security can help organizations protect themselves from both internal and external threats. It is a methodology that limits the amount of access users have, based on the theory that no one should be trusted, and access should always be verified. Implementing solutions such as MFA and least privileged access is a good first step in achieving Zero Trust Network Access. However, it’s not always possible for organizations to fully restrict access to all systems, most likely due to a user’s role within the organization. Having systems to review user access on a consistent basis can mitigate the risk that becomes present in that situation and serves as its own form of Zero Trust security by reviewing and monitoring access attempts.  In short, Zero Trust Architecture will look different in every organization, but with the proper processes and solutions in place, it can help ensure data is protected at all levels. If it’s time to implement Zero Trust architecture into your security strategy, reach out to our team for a demo or download our Zero Trust checklist. Our remote access solutions and access review tools are designed around Zero Trust principles, created to save your team time and resources, and built to secure access to your network and systems for third parties, as well as your employees.