What is a Zero Trust Network?

What is a Zero Trust Network?
The mentality behind a zero trust network assumes that cyber attacks can be initiated internally as well as externally. As a result, even people inside the network must use additional verification to access the network. This is an extreme approach to cybersecurity but one which has been demonstrated to prevent data breaches.

Understanding Zero Trust Network

Definition of Zero Trust Network

A zero trust network, also known as a zero trust security model or zero trust architecture, means that no users are trusted by default – whether they are within or outside the network. Verification is required by everyone trying to access the system and the philosophy is built around continuous authentication and monitoring of each network access.

The Origins of the Zero Trust Network

Zero trust network has evolved from other security models and their limitations. Traditional security models rely on the idea of a network perimeter which assumes a level of trust for any users and devices within the network boundary. In these scenarios, the network is often secured against unauthorised external access with the use of firewalls, VPNs, and other boundaries to keep external parties out. However, this approach has important limitations – especially in today’s world. With an exponential rise in remote work and remote study, users often access sensitive data and protected files from various devices and multiple locations. As such, the zero trust network was born. This approach requires authentication from all users – whether inside or outside of the network – meaning that any employee accessing the system from a remote location will need to provide additional verification.

Key Components of Zero Trust Network

Identity Verification

The zero trust network relies on users verifying their identification. This is crucial for keeping the network safe and only allowing authorised access to approved users. There are various methods for verifying user identities including multi-factor authentication, biometric verification or document verification.

Least Privilege Access

In cybersecurity, the principle of least privilege (PoLP) states that a user need only have access to the specific information needed to complete a required task. For companies, this means that users should only be authorised access to the documents they need at the time – they shouldn’t be given access to the wider network every time they need a document. The zero trust model implements least-privilege access as it permits user access only to the resources needed for a given role.

Benefits of Zero Trust Network

Multiple companies rely on zero trust network principles everyday to protect their organisation’s network and data. The various benefits of zero trust include:

Reduced Risk of Data Breaches

Zero trust systems have been shown to prevent data breaches as, because they create one-to-one secure connections, there is no risk of lateral movement. That means that even in the case that an attacker gains access to the network, they cannot enter any documents or steal any data.

Enhanced Security Posture

Zero trust models significantly reduce the attack surface due to specific access control across the network. As a result, very few people can gain access to sensitive data, making security watertight.

Increased Visibility and Control

If the organisation has control over specific user access across the network, they have a far greater level of control when it comes to cybersecurity and have visibility of each user.

How to Implement a Zero Trust Network

Steps to Implementation

  1. Define the attack surface – you should first establish the areas that need to be protected to decide which digital assets and data are most valuable and where you should focus your resources and efforts.
  2. Introduce controls around network traffic – you need to assess how different network systems rely on each other, especially access to sensitive data, to know where to place the right network controls and implement security measures.
  3. Build a zero trust network – this will always be a case-by-case situation designed to suit the needs of your business. Your zero trust architecture may begin with something like a next-generation firewall, to segment a certain area of your network, followed by multi-factor authentication to make sure users are verified before gaining access.
  4. Monitor your network – make sure to maintain visibility by monitoring network activity. This will highlight any potential issues whenever they arise and help you take action before wider security is compromised.

Challenges in adopting Zero Trust

Zero trust is not for everyone and there are some potential challenges to consider including:
  • Mitigating insider threats – even with the zero trust security measures, once insiders gain access they could still be a risk
  • Configuration issues with legacy tools – legacy systems are not always compatible with zero trust principles and require a great deal of work to make the two compatible
  • Excessive disruption – adopting zero trust can significantly disrupt workflows and user access. It needs not only very careful planning but clear communication to everyone impacted.
  • Security gaps – the process of implementing zero trust is long and time-consuming requiring meticulous planning to avoid security gaps arising during the process.

Closing Thoughts

In a time where many network users require remote access, expanding the opportunity for security risks, zero trust is a good way to introduce greater control and an added level of security. For many organisations, it could be a very useful tool in introducing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, alongside methods such as regular penetration testing and security audits.