What is Zero Trust Security Model?

  • By Dawna M. Roberts
  • Mar 25, 2022

Many businesses are shifting their cybersecurity defenses towards a new zero trust security model. The reason is that cyberattacks have ramped up considerably in the past two years, and no company is safe from these threats. The zero trust cyber security model is a network system that continuously validates and monitors every digital interaction from beginning to end. It is based on the principle of “trust no one and verify everything.” Zero trust uses very strong cybersecurity authentication methods and extra layers of security to protect every device, entry point, and exit. Access control is a fundamental basis for zero trust.

How Zero Trust Works (Zero Trust vs. VPN)

With a considerable portion of the workforce working from home since 2020, companies have had to adopt more secure options for keeping their networks safe. Historically, most businesses relied on Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to control access and allow remote workers to log into software, upload or download files, and interact with co-workers. However, with companies using more cloud-based services, software-as-a-service (SaaS), web-based apps, and an increase in threats, VPNs don’t cut it anymore. The solution is zero trust network access (ZTNA) which many businesses are adopting as the cutting-edge option for keeping all hardware and software safe.

Traditional networks use firewalls and other hardware and software to keep attackers out. However, once someone is within the confines of the network (logged in or on-premises), the network automatically trusts it. It relies on a “verify then trust” policy.
how Zero Trust Security model works

Zero trust networks do not trust the device or user even after they have logged in successfully using the proper credentials. It assumes everyone is a hacker, and therefore the network is compromised. This system uses strict identity verification and challenges devices and users at every turn to prove they are legitimate workers and not an intruder. A zero trust model also allows administrators to limit access once someone is logged onto the network or physically on-premises. So even if a hacker were able to gain entry using someone’s stolen credentials, they wouldn’t get very far. As soon as they attempted to access something outside of the permitted field, the network would shut the user/device out automatically. Limiting access control can help avoid data breaches in a big way. Instead of letting every verified device roam freely across the network, each logged-in device is limited to very specific access and nothing else.

Zero trust security models balance safety and security with usability. Furthermore, these frameworks extend beyond just the boundaries of the company walls. A zero trust network can operate within cloud services, devices, and the company network. It has no boundaries existing across many platforms and environments.

According to McAfee and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), the principles of zero trust architecture include:

  • “All data sources and computing services are considered resources.
  • All communication is secure regardless of network location; network location does not imply trust.
  • Access to individual enterprise resources is granted on a per-connection basis; trust in the requester is evaluated before the access is granted.
  • Access to resources is determined by policy, including the observable state of user identity and the requesting system, and may include other behavioral attributes.
  • The enterprise ensures all owned and associated systems are in the most secure state possible and monitors systems to ensure that they remain in the most secure state possible.
  • User authentication is dynamic and strictly enforced before access is allowed; this is a constant cycle of access, scanning and assessing threats, adapting, and continually authenticating.”

The Benefits of a Zero Trust Model

Not only do zero trust models deliver better security by keeping hackers out, but it also helps with compliance with local and federal security laws. The system gathers a lot of valuable data about users, business processes, data flow, and the risks associated with any connected appliance. Then the company can update their access policies based on what they find.

A zero trust model helps businesses identify specific threats quicker and respond to them. Some of the benefits are increased awareness and responsiveness to:

  • Phishing emails sent to employees.
  • Movement through a corporate network.
  • Stolen database credentials.
  • Someone logging in with stolen user credentials.
  • Elevating the privileges of a user.
  • Accessing a workstation remotely.
  • The installation of a keylogger.
  • Compromise of a corporate computer.
  • Exfiltration of data.

Therefore, a zero trust model can help:

  • Prevent data breaches and unauthorized data access.
  • Protect the entire network regardless of the environment.
  • View users’ movements through the network and alert IT of anything suspicious.
  • Continuously monitor all network activity and create logs and alerts.
  • Provide a user-friendly experience for employees while securing the network more efficiently. 
  • Save time and money on cybersecurity. 

Zero Trust Best Practices

Switching to a zero trust security model may seem daunting at first, but it is well worth the effort. However, the process will be smoother if you follow these best practices.

Some things to keep in mind during zero trust implementation are: 

  • Audit your company and identify all your sensitive/private data.
  • Do an inventory of access controls and lockdown everything on a “need to know only” basis.
  • Implement a full-time monitoring solution to watch for threats continuously.

Once you have made the switch to a zero trust model, you will enjoy better security with dozens of threat-detection features built-in. Some of the features will include:

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all devices. The network views any attempt to access the network as a threat. This level of security guarantees authenticated access to all network resources and systems.
  • After a successful implementation, zero trust will apply least privilege control to all resources. That means only a few select individuals will have access to certain areas of the network. 
  • Security logs and analytics that you can use to fine-tune your network security even further. 
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