The point of Zero Trust is not to make networks, clouds, or endpoints more trusted; it’s to eliminate the concept of trust from digital systems altogether.
Standard security models operate on the assumption that everything on the inside of an organization’s network can be trusted, but that’s an outdated notion. With attackers becoming more sophisticated about insider threats, new security practices must be taken to stop them from spreading once inside networks.
Enter Zero Trust, which is a cybersecurity strategy that addresses the shortcomings of these failing approaches by removing the assumption of trust altogether. Though much mythology surrounds the term, it’s crucial to understand the point of Zero Trust is not to make networks, clouds, or endpoints more trusted; it’s to eliminate the concept of trust from digital systems altogether.
Simply put, the “trust” level is zero.
Understanding What Zero Trust Is and Isn’t
Zero Trust is not only a general best practice but also a strategic security initiative. Breaches often have been tied to internal causes, either malicious or accidental, which means sensitive business and customer data must be protected by giving users the least amount of access needed for them to do their jobs.
Adopting a Zero Trust architecture defines the business use of segmentation and provides a methodology for building a segmented network. Zero Trust architecture is like tailoring a suit. Think about how custom clothing is made — the designer first measures you, then creates a pattern and next, after those two steps are complete, the sewing begins. Zero Trust follows a similar process. The only way to architect an effective and secure network is by first understanding what needs to be protected and how those systems work.
Zero Trust is a powerful prevention strategy when implemented across the entire enterprise — from the network to the endpoint and to the cloud. With a comprehensive approach, Zero Trust becomes a business enabler. Here are the methodologies I recommend following when implementing a Zero Trust network architecture to simplify protection of your sensitive data and critical assets.
Zero Trust Methodologies
Protect critical assets by limiting access by role and a “need-to-know” basis. It’s crucial to inspect all traffic for malicious content and unauthorized activity, both inside and outside your network, and also ensure all data and resources are accessed securely based on user and location. You must identify the traffic and data flow that maps to your business flows, and then have the visibility into the application, the user, and the flows.
Understanding who the users are, what applications they’re using, and the appropriate connection method is the only way to determine and enforce policy that ensures secure access to your data. Additionally, it’s important to adopt a least-privileged access strategy and strictly enforce access control. By doing this, businesses can significantly reduce available pathways for attackers and malware, and prevent attackers from exploiting vulnerabilities hidden in trusted applications.
Security teams can automate and streamline Zero Trust policy management, from creation and administration to deployment and maintenance. Simplify deployment and enforcement with a next-generation firewall, architected around User-ID and App-ID. Security teams must be able to define things with higher fidelity to keep their companies secure. One of the key steps to a Zero Trust network is to ensure that teams write their policy rules on the segmentation gateway based on the expected behavior of the data, the user, or applications that interact with that data. This is what next-generation firewalls, serving as a segmentation gateway in a Zero Trust environment, allows you to do.
Another core tenet of Zero Trust is to log and inspect all internal and external traffic for malicious activity and areas of improvement. To better monitor environments, evaluate where you may already have security analytics to make the most of the tools you already own. It’s also important to reduce time to deploy, manage, and integrate across your enterprise — on-premises, within the cloud, and across partner ecosystems. Security teams should also effectively use limited resources by minimizing incident volume and reducing response and remediation time for critical incidents, which will also simplify compliance and auditing.
With a Zero Trust approach, businesses can protect what matters — their data, assets, applications, and services.
John Kindervag is the Field CTO at Palo Alto Networks, where he advises both public and private sector organizations on how to solve their toughest cybersecurity challenges, including best practices in the design and building of Zero Trust networks. Prior to joining Palo … View Full Bio