There are many definitions, sometimes conflicting, of Zero Trust. Put simply, Zero-Trust security is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a policy of maintaining zero trust toward all users, providers and network traffic—even those inside the network.
It’s not, however, a set of specific tools or a type of security technology. It is a cybersecurity strategy—a mindset that serves as the foundation of modern security. Under Zero-Trust policies, you take network breach as a given and assume that all activity is malicious. Zero Trust asks: how do I best protect my assets if I can’t trust the network itself?
Zero Trust operates under the guiding principle “never trust, always verify.” All users, platform providers and network traffic are treated as potential threats, so additional measures are needed to mitigate risk.
In the past, protection has focused on the perimeter of the network, with authentication and authorization at the boundary, network firewalls and other network focused technology. Any entity already inside your network was trustworthy, and data within the network needed no additional protection. But, given today’s multi-cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) environments that have squashed the notion of perimeter defenses, combined with public significant breaches, those assumptions have been proven incorrect.
Why Zero Trust is Essential
Whether it’s large-scale breaches of customer information, insecure email sharing or misconfigured or exposed cloud services that expose your company’s intellectual property (IP), there’s a growing need for a Zero-Trust strategy that includes data protection. This trend will continue as cloud computing and integrations like IoT become more widespread.
According to 2019’s Internet Trends report, more data is now stored in the cloud than on private enterprise servers or consumer devices—but fewer than one in 10 cloud providers encrypt data that’s at-rest within their service. Similarly, one recent study found that roughly one in three networks has exposed passwords, while three in four have poor control over account access.
It’s become increasingly clear that network security, while valuable, no longer provides enough protection for sensitive data in addition to not accounting for internal threats. Zero Trust is perfectly poised to address this gap because it assumes that your network security is insufficient.
Benefits of Zero Trust
It’s a framework to guide security resource allocation.
The vast majority of companies are aware of the need for increased security. Zero Trust provides a framework for security updates and modernization efforts, helping you prioritize which steps are most essential and build in more data-centric protection.
You can monitor all your data and log detailed user activity.
Zero Trust requires granular visibility. So, implementing a Zero-Trust framework does more than increase security; it also aids your data management and accessibility efforts by providing the visibility into connected endpoints and networks that 40% of organizations lack.
To establish Zero-Trust policies, you first need to identify and catalog:
- Where all your data currently resides.
- What their current protection is.
- Who has access privileges for that data—and whether they should.
- Which devices can see the data.
- Who is actually accessing that information.
From there, you can create a risk assessment for your data and increase security as needed. In other words, by adopting Zero-Trust security methods, you will by default audit your current data practices and establish the most important next steps. You’ll also identify user activity around that data and restrict it if necessary. This increased awareness and better management policies are an invaluable benefit of the Zero-Trust approach.
It enables cloud efficiency without increased risk.
Despite the risks, the cloud is far more efficient for collaboration and dynamic user bases. Zero Trust helps you capture the benefits of the cloud without exposing your organization to additional risk. For example, when encryption is used in cloud environments, attackers often attack encrypted data through key access, not by breaking the encryption, and so key management is of paramount importance.
For instance, even if a cloud provider offers end-to-end encryption, they may also maintain and have access to the keys which still requires a level of external trust. A Zero-Trust approach to key management would instead require that an organization manage their own keys, preventing third-party cloud provider access.
It’s a low-cost, high-value shift.
There is a misconception that a shift to Zero Trust is a significant burden on your resources because it requires removing older infrastructure. So, it’s no wonder that most organizations don’t adopt this strategy because of the perceived costs involved. However, Zero Trust helps decrease your risk—and your worries—without significant technology costs. This is especially relevant for companies that struggle with legacy IT systems, built without much security and granular access control inside the network.
By starting with your most sensitive data, you can prioritize your security updates with simple steps such as segmenting your valuable information and applications. A focus on protecting your most critical data first helps make a shift to Zero Trust more attainable —in terms of both cost and time.
This approach—the “crawl, walk, run” style of Zero-Trust security—means that you’ll be able to limit or spread out your investment into new technology. Rather than purchasing an entirely new security system for all of your data, you can enhance your old systems with new processes and tools.
Next Steps: Implementing Zero Trust
So how do you start this process and adopt the Zero-Trust framework? Here’s a breakdown of the key steps:
- Audit your data assets.
- Identify data most in need of additional security.
- Limit user access, starting with the highest-risk data.
Once the Zero-Trust framework is ingrained in your system and fully adopted by your IT department, you can begin augmenting your security with identity and device technologies that will enable better access decision-making. Data-level encryption services that include granular access control are the pinnacle of Zero-Trust security because they shrink security perimeters to the micro-level, wrapping each data object in its own security.
From there, you can begin to move beyond Zero Trust and upgrade your protection to the next level: Zero Knowledge. Zero Knowledge removes trust even from your security or platform providers by separating your encryption keys from the encrypted data. For instance, if your email provider can access your encrypted email content, but a service like Virtru manages your encryption keys, neither provider can see your data. You’ll capture all the benefits of cloud technology, while secure in the knowledge that only the right users can access your data.
Considering implementing a Zero-Trust security framework, but need more information on data security and privacy to know where to start? Download your free copy of our Zero Trust white paper and check out our recent webinar on modern imperatives for data protection.