Zero Trust Security 101

A type of cybersecurity strategy, it is used to protect networks and data from unauthorized intrusion...

ZT Zero Trust

You may have heard of zero trust security before but are unsure what it is all about. Worry not my friend, in this article – we’ll try to spill the beans and explain it all to you. It is a fairly important concept you should know something about, so read on for details…

What is zero trust security?

Zero trust security is a cybersecurity approach that is sometimes used by large organizations to protect networks and data from unauthorized intrusion. It involves users continually authenticating and verifying themselves to the network, making it harder for hackers to get continued access to protected resources. Which leads us to the next section…

Why do organizations use zero trust security?

Organizations use a zero trust strategy because of the high level of security it offers. Sure, there are more user-friendly or more efficient systems, but the zero trust model is more secure, discouraging and preventing hackers from “doing their thing.”

For some organizations, this makes perfect sense, despite the hurdles in user interactions with the system.

If you’ve been following the news, you may have noticed that the number of data breaches and ransomware attacks is on the rise — with businesses losing a ton of money every year as a result. Among the most vulnerable targets are energy grids, healthcare providers, and other essential infrastructure — all of which have been targeted with cyberattacks in recent years.

Zero trust security offers a robust alternative to traditional secure access management systems, making it a good option for those highly valued targets (in the eyes of hackers).

How does zero trust security work?

Zero trust security systems presume everyone is a threat until proven otherwise. To make this possible, users are required to continually authenticate themselves — proving they are not hackers.

In other words, this model works on the principle that no previous action of the user should privilege him/her with access to any other area. Just because you signed in with a password to access your work device doesn’t mean you will automatically be granted access to any other part of the network.

Traditionally, organizations relied heavily on endpoint security, which is the security of any device on the perimeter of a network that — if compromised — could give someone access to other areas of that network. For instance, the endpoint security could be the password on an employee’s laptop.

In contrast, zero trust architecture isn’t built around the idea of protecting the network perimeter. Instead, it requires users to identify themselves repeatedly to access every resource of the network.

Zero trust requirements

There are several requirements needed for a zero trust security model, including:

Identity authentication
It all starts with users who send access requests to any part of the network confirming their identity. Instead of logging in once and getting access to the entire network, they are asked to re-authenticate themselves every time they need access to a different part or resource of the network. This process involves passwords, and to make it more secure – biometrics and multi-factor authentication are employed.

Data protection
In the zero trust model, sensitive data is only accessible through carefully controlled channels set behind multiple layers of security. In other words, users are required to confirm their identity multiple times on the journey to gain access to a sensitive part of the network.

More secure endpoints
Endpoint security remains in place with a zero trust model, but it’s enhanced with additional defensive layers. In other words, additional security software like antivirus and VPNs may be installed on endpoint devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets. For instance, users may be required to connect to a certain VPN server in order to gain access to a network resource.

Centralized control management
Further beefing up security in a zero trust security system, a centralized control and management portal is used to monitor the network, gather analytics, and resolve false positives. This is meant to continually improve the system and make it more resilient to hackers.

Speaking of improvements, a zero trust system needs a degree of automation to function effectively. If every authentication process on a company’s network involves a human moderator, the system could quickly become too slow and ineffective to be used at scale. For that reason, basic functions of the system, like authentication, are often automated.

The bottom line

As an end user, you have little to do with a zero trust model, but you could do something for your personal security. It all starts with keeping your apps and devices up to date and using good antivirus software and a VPN. Also, you should be mindful of links you click on and, overall, use your brain to determine whether some web page could hurt your device. It could be a scary world out there, so watch out.