Zero trust security: Everything you need to know

By NTT Security Holdings

August 30, 2022  |  Security

The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, and with the rise of fraud and cybercrime, organizations need to be more vigilant than ever when it comes to their security measures.

Organizations need the tightest approaches to cybersecurity possible and that’s where zero trust security can come in.

Zero trust security is a relatively new concept — and one that’s gaining in popularity. In this blog post, we discuss what zero trust security is, how it works, and some of the benefits that it can provide for your business.

What is zero trust security?

To explain zero trust, and the need for zero trust, we need to take a look first at how people often used to operate prior to using zero trust.

Previously a lot of organizations relied on authentication at the perimeter (usually the firewall or VPN or possibly at a server rather than application level), and then made the assumption that if you had passed the perimeter you were firstly authenticated and secondly authorized. This created a weakness in that if an attacker was able to breach the perimeter, they would not be challenged any further.

Zero trust seeks to address that weakness by always authenticating, and not assuming that because someone has passed the perimeter they are trustworthy.

As the name suggests, the concept of zero trust security is that you can't trust anyone. This means that instead of granting access to certain systems or data based on someone's position within the company, all employees are treated as potential security risks and must be authenticated before they are allowed access to any sensitive information. It’s the guilty until proven innocent approach to cybersecurity processes.

Zero trust requires strict identity verification for every person and device that wants to access any resource, be it the network, infrastructure, an application etc... For example, just because a device is within the internal 'trusted' side of a firewall or VPN, does not mean it should be trusted by default.

This approach goes beyond the traditional username and password authentication, and can include things like two-factor authentication or biometric identification.

Core principles of the zero trust model

The zero trust model is based on three core principles:

Terminate every connection and start verified

In a zero trust model, all connections are terminated at the perimeter and then restarted inside the security perimeter. This means that every connection, whether it is from an employee's laptop or a visitor's smartphone, must be authenticated before it is allowed access to your network.

Protect data using granular context-based policies

To further protect data, granular context-based policies are used to control who has access to what data and when they have access to it. For example, a policy could allow employees to access customer data only when they are working on a customer service issue.

Reduce risk by eliminating the attack surface

In a zero trust model, there is no 'inside' or 'outside' of the network, which reduces the attack surface and makes it more difficult for attackers to gain access to your systems. Users connect directly to the resources required, and data is segmented so that only authorized users have access to the information they need.

With those three principles in mind, it helps to keep in mind that lateral movement is a common tactic used by cyber-attackers to gain access to sensitive data. By moving laterally through a network, attackers can take advantage of unprotected systems and steal data or install malware.

But by having users authenticate to each application, a piece of infrastructure or resources they need, instead of a network, lateral movement is eliminated by ensuring that all connections are authenticated and authorized before they are allowed access. This means that there is no way for an attacker to move laterally through the network without being detected.

These principles help to ensure that your data is always secure, no matter who or what is trying to access it. If you treat all devices and users as potential security risks, you can reduce the risk of a breach and keep your data safe — or at least that’s the zero trust security ethos.

Benefits of zero trust security

There are many potential benefits to implementing a zero trust model, including:

Facilitates threat detection

Zero trust facilitates threat detection through the fact that more authentication telemetry can be generated and analyzed. This means that threats can be detected early and stopped before they cause any damage.

Allows for more secure hybrid working

Zero trust security allows for hybrid working by granting employees access to certain systems or data based on their job function, rather than their position within the company. When zero trust is combined with single sign-on this makes hybrid work more convenient - you only need to use a single set of credentials. This means that employees can work from anywhere in the world and still have access to the systems and data they need to do their job.

Hybrid working is becoming more and more common as companies strive to provide their employees with the flexibility they need to work from wherever they are. By implementing zero trust security protocols, you can ensure that your data is always safe, no matter where it is being accessed.

Better user experience

Some zero trust security controls can enable single sign-on (SSO), which helps offer a better user experience. With SSO, users only need to enter their username and password once to access all of the systems and data they need. Single sign-on together with mechanisms like passwordless authentication provide a better user experience. In order to get a good user experience you need to combine all of these.

Improved visibility of devices and services

In a zero trust model, access to all devices and services is visible and accounted for. This means that you can see exactly who is accessing your network at all times.

In a zero trust model, it provides greater visibility of access to devices and services when you record authentication attempts.

Reduced risk of data breaches

One of the biggest benefits of zero trust security is that it reduces the risk of data breaches. By authenticating all users and devices, and segmenting data, you can make it much more difficult for attackers to gain access to your systems.

This is essentially the main reason which gave rise to ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Architecture). ZTNA reduces the risk of breach by making lateral movement more difficult.

ZTNA together with SSO, MFA and passwordless authentication promotes the use of stronger authentication, which in turn makes credentials harder to compromise, making breaches less likely.

Improved compliance with industry regulations

Zero trust security can help improve compliance with industry regulations. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requires that sensitive data is segmented and access is restricted to only those who need it. By implementing a zero trust model, you can help to ensure that your systems are compliant with industry regulations. Zero trust also improves traceability by retaining records of all authentication attempts which further aids compliance.

Is zero trust right for your business?

Zero trust security can be very effective in preventing cyberattacks, as it eliminates any areas of vulnerability that an attacker could potentially exploit. Additionally, by training all employees on how to protect against cybercrime, you can help create a culture of cybersecurity awareness that will make your business less appealing to hackers.

Visit the rest of the Samurai blog for more modern-day approaches to cybersecurity protection.

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