Identity, Security, Access: Three Reasons Why Enterprises Need Zero Trust

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Read more about author Apu Pavithran.

Zero trust is taking the enterprise by storm. About two-thirds (63%) of organizations worldwide have fully or partially implemented the cybersecurity posture, Gartner reports, following the motto of “never trust, always verify.”

This rush to zero trust makes sense in the remote age. The proliferation of anywhere users means it’s harder than ever to lock down work environments. Organizations can’t adopt perimeter-based defenses when we’re living in a perimeter-less world.

Let’s explore how zero trust helps to ensure the three foundations of modern cybersecurity –  identity, network, and access – and what this looks like in practice.

The Need for Identity Certainty

Say goodbye to the castle-and-moat and hello to strict identification. Unlike years gone by, the vast majority of company data is not on-premises and users aren’t inherently trustworthy. Enterprise ecosystems are more complex and require more complex security postures. Take, for example, that the average enterprise is running about 135,000 endpoint devices. Constant and consistent verification is therefore a must.

Zero trust solves this identification issue in two ways. First, only authorized individuals using secure devices can access sensitive data. Moreover, logins and connections time out periodically once established, forcing users and devices to continuously re-verify, preventing unauthorized access even if credentials are compromised. 

Second, zero trust follows the principle of least privilege, which means giving users only as much access as they need. By carefully managing user permissions and minimizing each user’s exposure to sensitive parts of the network, the potential impact of a breach is significantly reduced. 

Segmentation for Added Security

Stricter identity is coupled with tighter security across the zero trust network. One of the core tenets here is micro-segmentation. This involves dividing the network into distinct, isolated sections, each with its own set of access controls. By creating these smaller, protected zones, organizations can ensure that users and programs only have access to the specific resources they require. 

In the event of a breach, micro-segmentation limits the attacker’s ability to move freely within the network, as access to each secure zone must be separately authorized. This containment strategy significantly reduces the overall impact of the attack and allows for swift remediation.

It’s All About Access

Passwords aren’t enough in zero trust. Instead, the system monitors the number of devices attempting to connect to the network, verifies that each device is authorized, and continually assesses them for any signs of compromise. This rigorous device management further reduces the network’s attack surface.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds another layer of security. MFA requires users to provide multiple forms of identification rather than relying solely on passwords. In addition to entering a password, users who enable MFA must also input a code sent to another device, like a mobile phone, thereby providing two pieces of evidence to confirm their identity.

Additionally, unified endpoint management (UEM) is emerging as a critical tool in the race to zero trust. Gartner noted in a recent report that these platforms offer much-needed contextual authentication and data management in the enterprise. This is possible since these tools manage different types of devices, such as computers and smartphones, through a centralized console. As a result, the report notes that UEM helps businesses achieve a user-centric view of devices across the ecosystem.

Zero Trust Best Practices

The power of zero trust lies in its holistic approach to cybersecurity. While each of the above strategies is crucial in its own right, together they form a comprehensive defense that is greater than the sum of its parts. Studies show that zero trust architecture helps businesses significantly reduce the cost and impact of data breaches. Although it won’t render an organization completely invulnerable, zero trust effectively minimizes the attack surface, which can be extensive in the absence of such measures.

So, what should enterprises keep in mind as they embark on this cybersecurity endeavor? First, establish the scope of zero trust implementation early, clearly defining the environment, domains, and risk mitigation goals. Then, be sure to advertise your success and communicate progress through strategic and operational metrics. Finally, budget accordingly. Zero trust often brings increased costs and higher staffing requirements, but these investments pay off in the long run.

Zero trust is no longer optional in today’s perimeter-less world. By embracing the principles of identity, security, and access, and leveraging smart tools, organizations can fight back with a robust and comprehensive defense. As enterprises embark on their zero trust journey, establishing clear goals, communicating progress, and investing in the right resources will be key to successfully implementing this powerful cybersecurity framework. Safeguarding your digital future depends on it.