In the past, cybersecurity focussed largely on protecting IT networks against external dangers lurking on the internet. These “perimeter security strategies” assumed that all activities within a corporate network were trustworthy, and that the only threats worthy of mitigation were those originating from external actors, such as cybercriminals.
Today, these traditional security measures are no longer enough, and businesses are adopting more mature and sophisticated security strategies that deliver multiple points of protection, designed to inhibit both external and internal security threats. Among these strategies is the ‘Zero-Trust’ model, the basic principle of which can be summarised as: ‘never trust, always verify.’
In this article, we’ll provide a short guide to zero-trust security, explain why traditional security strategies no longer make the grade, and outline some of the ways you can start implementing this widely advocated strategy to improve your business’s security posture. But first, a little bit about us…
We’re Armco IT – Strategic IT Support and Solutions for North Yorkshire Businesses
From our base in Malton, North Yorkshire, Armco IT provides IT support, management, and solutions to businesses across York, Ryedale, North, and East Yorkshire. With our commitment to providing tailored solutions that comply with cyber security best practices, our goal is to help businesses operate more securely, productively, and efficiently using the best tech products on the market.
Cyber security is fundamental to everything we do, and we’re passionate about helping Yorkshire businesses protect themselves against today’s hostile cyber threat landscape. So here’s our guide to the zero-trust security model, and why it might be the strategy your business needs to reinforce its security posture and upgrade its cyber resilience.
Zero Trust Security in a Nutshell
As we’ve mentioned, established security models worked on the principle that activity within a network was essentially trustworthy, and that virtually all threats were external.
The zero-trust model, on the other hand, assumes that all network activity is a potential threat, whether that activity originates from outside the network or within it. The model also recognises the threat individual endpoint devices could pose to overall network security and therefore implements checks to ensure all connections are secure, authorised, and fully authenticated. The zero-trust strategy protects a network using three main security tenets:
All Connections are Viewed as a Potential Threat
With a traditional firewall, traffic and files are inspected as they pass through a filter. While this is effective at mitigating some threats, others are detected after the hostile payload has been delivered, in other words, when it’s too late. In the zero-trust model, all connections are halted and subjected to inspection by an inline proxy in real-time. This ensures hostile content can be identified and blocked before it reaches its destination, keeping threats like ransomware and viruses out of the network.
Attribute-based Access and the Principle of Least Privilege
Zero trust security employs access management best practices designed to protect data against unauthorised access, and limit the scope of damage should a threat actor breach the system. The ‘principle of least privilege’ is one such practice, a concept that limits resource access on the basis of role-based requirements in order to minimise account takeover risks.
This is used alongside attribute-based access controls, which apply access restrictions according to pre-defined criteria relating to the user accessing the resource, the sensitivity of the resource in question, the action being performed, as well as contextual attributes such as the device making the request, and the time and location.
Attack Surface Minimisation
Should threat actors gain a foothold in your network, you want to be able to stop them in their tracks, and prevent them from accessing sensitive information and distributing malware laterally across your environment. Zero trust security achieves this through network segmentation, a practice which divides the network into smaller chunks, effectively creating barriers to hostile lateral movement and reducing the attack surface available to a would-be hacker.
Network segmentation allows granular access restrictions to be applied, and connects users directly to the apps and services they need, not the network as a whole. This limits the ability of compromised devices to inflict damage system-wide.
Why Zero Trust Security Has Become Strategy of Choice Among Experts
Recent developments in the cyber security landscape have made the zero trust model the best option for businesses keen to build a robust cyber security framework:
The Increased Sophistication of Cyber Threats
Today’s most capable cybercriminals are able to circumvent traditional cyber security tools, and once inside corporate networks, there often aren’t many obstacles that prevent them achieving their pernicious aims. Thanks to its application of continuous verification and authentication, the zero-trust approach is able to frustrate and neutralise theses sophisticated breach attempts, ensuring critical resources remain out of reach.
The Nature of The Modern IT System
The business IT system no longer has a neat, clearly defined network perimeter, as was the case in the past. Mobile devices, cloud services, and home networks used by remote employees, add complexity to the IT terrain, and present new security risks that conventional tools and practices struggle to address. By assessing every access attempt against pre-configured criteria, zero trust enables businesses to scrupulously enforce access policies no matter where employees are working from, which devices they’re using, and the app or resource being accessed.
Acknowledgement of Insider Threats
Traditional, perimeter-based defences operate on the proviso that internal activity is essentially trustworthy. While treating staff with suspicion may seem an uncomfortable prospect, businesses today recognise the need to address insider threats, particularly in response to high-profile data privacy regulations such as GDPR. By validating every request, including those actioned from within a trusted network, zero trust acknowledges the threat posed by potentially hostile insiders, and creates a framework for deploying granular access control policies which support data privacy and compliance.
Adaptable Risk Management
Greater focus on cyber risk management has prompted a shift towards technologies and strategies that offer greater adaptability, and allow security teams to modify security and access controls around changing circumstances and emerging threats. Because the zero trust model places great emphasis on activity logging and continuous monitoring, businesses can identify and address their greatest security risks more effectively, and fine-tune access controls to prevent data breaches.
In the zero trust approach, access controls are applied at application and data level, rather than at the edge of the network. This places protection around the assets that matter most: a business’s data and critical resources. This approach also allows controls to be adjusted and reinforced according to various security factors, such as the data’s sensitivity, and specific risks that arise from its handling activities. This allows security teams to deploy data-centric security controls on a granular, case-by-case basis, ensuring that highly sensitive information assets are afforded the highest levels of protection.
Implementing Zero Trust Security
If you’re interested in implementing zero trust security in your business, start a conversation with your IT team or IT support provider about how you can apply the strategy using the security controls you already have in place. Use the following 5 security controls as a basis for a broader strategy:
- Multi-factor Authentication. Enforce multi-factor authentication across all user accounts if possible. This provides an extra layer of defence should one authentication factor be compromised.
- Enforce the Principle of Least Privilege. Extend access rights and user account privileges on the basis of job role, ensuring that users only have the resources access and functionality they need to perform their duties. Review privileges on an ongoing basis, and host ‘global admin’ privileges on dedicated accounts.
- Network Micro-Segmentation. Discuss network micro-segmentation with your IT team. This divides the network into sections, with access controls unique to each and limited cross-segment communication to prevent lateral movement in the event of a breach.
- Continuous Monitoring and Analytics. Ensure your business possesses the capability to monitor network traffic, access events, and user behaviour. These capabilities enable a near live response to evolving threats, as well as post-incident investigation using event logs. Specialised tools, such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions, Network Traffic Analysis (NTA) tools, and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), can assist in collecting, analysing, and responding effectively to security event data.
- Assess Device Trustworthiness. Ensure the devices connecting to your network are secure and trustworthy, by assessing their compliance with security best practices. Ensure software and operating systems are up-to-date, and verify that they’re configured in line with your security policies. Block network access for devices that fail to meet your security criteria.
Armco IT – IT Services, Support and Solutions for North and East Yorkshire Businesses
Based in Malton, we provide proactive IT support and services throughout Yorkshire, covering York, North, and East Yorkshire. With a proven track record across various sectors like manufacturing, design, professional medical services, and insurance, we excel in delivering impactful IT solutions. Our focus is on maintaining, optimizing, and securing your digital infrastructure, allowing you to prioritize your business’s growth and success. Reach out to our team today to initiate our collaboration.
Interested in enhancing your security posture? Contact us now for a complimentary half-hour cyber security awareness training session. Gain valuable insights to safeguard your invaluable digital assets effectively.