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Zero Trust Security

1. Zero Trust Security Model

1.1. Overview

Zero Trust Security is based on the concept of ‘Trust No One’- either outside or inside the organizational network. In this model, authentication is required from everyone trying to access the resources. Sternly, there is a need for strict identity verification for every person and device accessing the private network resource. The conventional security models assume that all devices inside the company’s network are implicitly trusted. The Zero Trust model assumes nothing like this.

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In place of considering it as a specific technology, it must be looked upon as a wholesome approach incorporating different sets of technologies and principles, in unison, strengthening network security.


  1. Zero Trust Security Model
  2. Principles of Zero Trust Security Model
  3. Benefits with Zero Trust Model
  4. Challenges with Zero Trust Model
  5. Steps to create a Zero Trust Security System
  6. The road to Zero Trust
  7. The final verdict

1.2 About Zero Trust Security

The annual cybercrime report-2019 cited, ‘Cybercriminal activity is one of the biggest challenges that humanity will face in the next two decades’, and made few intimidating predictions like cybercrime will cost the world in excess of $6 trillion annually by 2021 which was its half in the amount in 2015.

Also, a report from Cyber Security Ventures estimated that by 2025 the world will face a $10.5 trillion loss just because of cybercrimes. It has also been established that 70% of the data breaches are caused by outsiders.

These figures scorn the organizational endeavors and exorbitant spending in their cyber-security space. With the incidents of massive data breaches- denting the revenue and reputation- on the rise, organizations need to be more proactive regarding their network & data security. The Zero Trust model can prove to be the most effective methodology.

For centuries, moats safeguarded the castles and the walls were almost impossible to breach. With the advancements, more powerful weapons were developed, urging them to adopt more effective methods of security. The same transition is being witnessed in network security realms.

Centered on the concept of not automatically trusting anything or anyone inside or outside the network boundaries, the security principle was created by John Kindervag- the erstwhile Principal Analyst- Forrester Research Inc.
For better results and greater cyber-security, Zero Trust Model is gaining greater prominence and is moving into the mainstream of the cybersecurity sphere.

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1.3 How Zero Trust Security Works

The Zero Trust model aims to enhance the company’s data security while ensuring compliance with present laws and offering the flexibility to adapt to future privacy and security laws.

Data security is integral to an efficient Zero Trust model as hackers make constant attempts to steal the same. While all security controls are equally important, without clear control of data activity there will always be a critical loophole. For this purpose few focus areas put forwarded by Forrester are:

Data- The Zero Trust approach initiates by firstly protecting the data and then creating additional security layers. In case, an attacker breaches the perimeter control, leverages any misconfiguration, or connects with an insider personally to gain access even then there will be very limited access to the crucial data and there will be controls to detect and auto-respond to the unauthorized access.

Network- Networking infrastructure needs to be navigated in order to steal data and the Zero Trust model, with advanced techniques like next-gen firewalls, segments, isolates and restricts network access; making it highly difficult to infiltrate.

Devices- With IoT on its boom, the devices on the network have exploded in the last few years, and can also act as a vector for infiltration. In the Zero Trust model, all devices using the network are isolated and controlled.

Workloads- In NetOps, jargon workload interprets the entire stack of back-end software and applications enabling the end-users to interact with their main business. All these are common entry points attackers use to trespass the networking perimeter. The special Zero Trust compliance control helps secure the organization’s confidential information against the attack through these vectors.

Peoples- Zero Trust model urges all to verify every user activity on the network and enforce a strict resource-access policy. As ‘human-resource’ is likely to be the weakest link in the network security, the users must be monitored to protect against inadvertent mistakes.

2. Fundamentals of Zero Trust Security Model

2.1 Strict Authenticated Access

In a Zero Trust Model, it is crucial to authenticate and verify access to all the important resources. Organizations need to assume that every endeavor of accessing the network is a threat, till confirmed, irrespective of location or the hosting model. For every file, application, and cloud-storage device, the user’s credentials need to be re-authenticated.

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2.2 Least Privilege Model

This work paradigm limits each user’s access only to resources needed for his/her job role. By limiting individual access, organizations can prevent the attackers from easily gaining access to a large number of resources through a single account.

2.3 Documentation and Inspection

The Zero Trust model demands assessment & authentication of all activities. Documenting every call, resource access, emails, is important and cannot be done manually. To detect threats or identify some ransomware in action one needs a comprehensive picture of accesses and usage behaviors to act as a reference for better decision making. This also helps prevent insider attacks as the user who doesn’t need specific access is trying to gain access to information of other departments is a clear indication of something not right.

Such threat detection mainly requires three things:

Identifying unusual behaviors- There should be a clear distinction between normal and abnormal access behavior and the system should auto-flag them.

Identifying SoD conflicts- Effective Segregation of duties helps prevent internal risks and such conflicts must be immediately and efficiently auto-flagged.

Compliances- An efficient documentation of the access requests helps auditors prove whether they meet compliances for detailed tracking or not.

With perfect monitoring and security analytics, one can easily spot the difference between a normal login and a malicious attempt.

3. Benefits with Zero Trust Model

Leading edges associated with the Zero Trust model go far beyond organizational security. The most prominent ones include:

3.1 Data Security

The most overt and explicit benefit of the model is the safety of confidential and highly valuable data. A single breach in firewall through malware can steal intellectual property or clientele information within seconds. 86% of the attacks are financially inspired, so these kinds of attacks are the most common in the corporate world. These attacks not only devastate the reparation but also take a big toll on the revenue. The Zero Trust security paradigm eliminates all the potentialities of such intrusion into the system.

3.2 Better Operational Visibility

As in the model, no one is blindly trusted; it needs continuous monitoring, which in turn offers a clear & precise view of who is accessing the resource in which manner. Location, time, methodology of access- everything is monitored. The information gained this way facilitates easy enforcement of the regulatory compliances.

3.3 Easier IT Operations

An ESG report has revealed that 53% of the organizations report a shortage of cyber-security skills, which means an additional workload for the security team. The additional hardware and services required for the Zero Trust model lessen the operational complexities of the security team. So it results in lesser tasks for specific teams, eases staffing shortage, and greatly enhances work efficiency.

3.4 Greater User-Experience

With the automated Zero Trust model, users need not wait for administrator approval for access requests, and so, can work more efficiently.

3.5 Easy Cloud Migration

It would not be an exaggeration to say that today businesses lie in the cloud! Enterprises of all sizes and verticals are moving to cloud-based solutions. The legacy software or tools don’t work well with the cloud but the Zero Trust model is perfect for cloud solutions.

3.6 Greater Agility

Better visibility into the accesses through different accounts help detect vulnerabilities more effectively. Cloud support makes it simple and more reliable than conventional paradigms. Zero Trust facilitates continuous compliance enforcement and lesser risks. As there is greater flexibility in implementing new technologies without much risk, the Zero Trust model makes the organization more agile in their operations and helps adapt to changing needs fast and easily.

Zero Trust Security

4. Challenges with Zero Trust Model

Sophistications and complexities associated with the Zero Trust model are as follows:

4.1 Technical Challenges

Offering the least privilege is only one facet of the Zero Trust Model. Next comes the identification of sensitive data across all systems, micro-segmentation inside and around different data sets, and monitoring data flow on a continuous basis. The majority of the systems are not adaptive to the micro-segmentation needs of the Zero Trust model.

4.2 Shortcomings of Legacy System

Zero Trust demands multiple verifications of all users attempting access to all the resources. Most of the legacy systems cannot offer such least privileged capability of access control.

4.3 Peer-to-Peer troubles

Windows operating systems, wireless mesh networks, and most of the other systems work on the P2P model. As this model works in a decentralized manner, it breaks the micro-segmentation model. As the P2P model shares data without much verification, it also breaks the least privilege model.

4.4 Moving from Silos to Data-Centric regime

Most of the systems in usage are silos of data having both sensitive and general data sets. This needs an effective segmentation as the verification and access control in the Zero Trust model are based on data only.

4.5 Hybrid Cloud

When both the public and private clouds work in unison to deliver a common service, the segmentation model of Zero trust methodology fails.

5. Steps to create a Zero Trust Security System

As this model emphasizes stronger user authentication and repeated validation of the devices over a network as a key to strengthening cyber-security; instead of enforcing security measures at the network perimeter, it focuses to move them as close to the actual surface that needs to be protected. In this regard, organizations must go through the following steps in implementing Zero Trust Security.

5.1 Defining Zero Trust first

The best starting point is to define and embrace an overarching definition of the Zero Trust model best suited for your specific needs. Goals must be defined in terms of the policies and a blueprint to achieve those goals. It is not about getting rid of deployed technologies but thinking somewhat differently and making changes to protect the important assets.

5.2 Understanding user needs

One of the most important things to consider while adopting the Zero Trust model is what impact it is going to make on the experience of users. As the model is about not trusting anyone either inside the networking perimeter or outside it, the method needs repetitive verification and accessibility authentication. This might interrupt the seamless services and may make a person wait for the authentication of his/her credentials, badly affecting his experience.

All the controls and modes of authentication must be thought of at first so there is no interruption or hindrance in the service.

5.3 Choosing Right Architecture

In place of a single technology, the Zero Trust model must be considered to be a unison of various techniques working in tandem to offer holistic security to the organization. There are three approaches to implementing this security paradigm viz. micro-segmentation, Zero-trust proxies, and software-defined perimeters.

5.4 Stronger measures for verifications

In the Zero Trust model, there is a complete reengineering of the security methods and the basic difference with the conventional methodologies is the shift of enforcement mechanism from network boundaries to the specific application or device.

Enhancing password firewalls with multi-factor authentications and additional steps to verify the accessibility must be adaptive and dynamic.

5.5 Preparedness for the Challenges

The scope and scale of the work involved in implementing zero Trust methodology might be intimidating for a majority as moving to the new model of authenticated access is never easy. Defining and developing data access policy, developing ways to limit user access, implementing zero trust proxy with non-web applications (as they don’t support multi-factor authentication) are some of the most important challenges in deploying zero trust model, which must be effectively tackled.

6. The road to Zero Trust

The implementation of the Zero Trust network might be challenging in some aspects as there is a need of redefining and reengineering job roles and their classifications. Organizations also need a completely different inventory service for a better monitoring of devices, greater visibility into the applications, multiple authentications of users, and enforcing access control policies. All this requires concerted and concentrated efforts at all managerial levels.

The trust in a user can not be established on the basis of access attempts- inside or outside the network perimeter. It must be based on the knowledge about the users, their devices, and on the information regarding what is being accessed.

Also, the emphasis is on safely confirming the users with the limited roles and being able to identify any eccentric effort to gain unauthorized access. It also means the capability of verifying devices and ensuring the presence of all safety controls on the hardware. Multi-Factor Authentication and User Behavioral Analytics are the steps to establish that required level of trust.

Most of the organizations fabricate their cyber-security strategy from ‘outside-in’ but Zero Trust demands it to be in the ‘inside-out’ direction. The Zero Trust model focuses on protecting the surface, strikingly in contrast with the conventional methodology of securing the attack surface.

7. The Final Verdict

If the benefits and challenges of the Zero Trust Model are compared then one can easily conclude that cons associated are mostly regarding the additional technicalities required. Moreover, such requirements are only in the implementation phase. This super-strong security framework once implemented ensures greater trustworthiness within the organization and also offers additional security layers to the outside attacks.

In a failed malicious attempt, if ransomware or any virus is injected into the system; that will also be controlled as virus movement is also regulated in the Zero Trust model. Comprehensively this security model is an effective solution to cyber-security, the only question is about how the organizations adopt and implement this method.

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