What is Zero Trust Security? Principles of the Zero Trust Model

Haseeb Awan
calender icon
December 14, 2022
Modified On
April 18, 2023


Introduction

Dependency on cloud computing has increased magnanimously in the past few years, and naturally, the security risks have amplified alongside. So now, developers and cybersecurity experts are moving towards a zero-trust security architecture to ensure that all the data and information online are as safe from cyber-attacks as possible. 

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What Is Zero Trust Security?

A Zero-Trust Security architecture functions on the concept of "assumed breach, "meaning that no one outside or inside the system is to be trusted. Traditional security architecture focuses on entities outside the system as the untrustworthy ones. Everyone already in the system is assumed to be trustworthy and have access to sensitive information. 

A zero-trust system does not trust the entities within the system either and constantly verifies and validates all users inside the system to prevent a security breach. Because people already in the system are mainly users, they have to deal with constant verification, which makes the system very rigid. This also includes authority accounts, from which the users can access valuable information.

A Zero-Trust Security system is a practice introduced previously in cybersecurity that aims to rid cloud computing of all present issues. It is more like a concept that organizations should consider adopting to the greatest extent possible. Certain assumptions make up the concept:

  • Every user inside and outside the system must be verified before accessing sensitive system segments. 
  • Any request for user access to the system's resources could be an attempt to install malware.
  • There is significant risk attached to giving anyone access to the system, and appropriate defense mechanisms must be executed anytime irregular activity is detected. 
  • Proper and aggressive defense operations are always in place and can be deployed whenever necessary. 
  • The system is dynamically monitored at all times. 
  • The infrastructure and all of its components are constantly under the threat of an attack.

With the help of these assumptions, certain principles are put into place, which helps to shape a zero-trust security model for all organizations. 

The Need for a Zero Trust Security Architecture

The biggest concern with shifting corporations online has always been security. Hacking into systems and using other complex methods to commit cybercrimes have caused organizations to incur heavy losses. As long as an organization is online, it is threatened to be attacked remotely, even if the physical infrastructure is safe to a large extent. 

However, we have also transitioned to a convenience-oriented world. Yes, the threat of cyber-attacks remains when you do online banking, but it is much easier waiting for your turn at the bank after standing in a long line. Therefore, people will continue to turn to it. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the organization in question to ensure that the online infrastructure is so secure that users don't have to suffer any losses. 

Hacking into systems is not the only way cyberattacks happen; phishing, vishing, and stealing authorized devices are just a few other common ways to execute a cyberattack on the user end. And all of these attacks succeed because they assume the identity of an individual trusted by the system. 

So, a lot of Zero-trust security implementation revolves around identity governance. Instead of giving a user access to the entire system for an infinite amount of time, the architecture ensures that the user's access is limited. And their identity lifecycle is always managed closely by the system to thwart any attempts at irregular activity. So even if unauthorized personnel assume identities and gain access to the system, the constant verification will rat them out eventually. 

Cyberattacks are also prevalent on the organization's end, where many of them lose millions of dollars each year to cyberattacks alone. While attacks on the user's end are minor and result in smaller losses, attacks on the company's end can be much more debilitating. 

A rigid system like the zero-trust security model is beneficial to the organization to prevent data breaches and heavy losses. 

But ultimately, the thing that matters most to any organization is its customer base. And customers are already apprehensive about shifting their functioning online because they fear security breaches and financial losses. So, the need for a zero-trust model ultimately arises to garner the customers' trust. 

Principles of Zero Trust Security

"Never trust, always verify" is the motto on which the zero-trust security principles are based. The main principles that help with the implementation of the zero-trust concept include the following: 

Aggressive Verification of All Users and Devices

This principle is the core of every Zero-trust security model. However, it is limited to the users and their devices. 

In traditional security models, devices and users are verified once by the system, and then they have access to most of the system, which includes sensitive information. Anyone inside the system can easily carry forward an attack and compromise the system. 

To constantly verify the users and their devices, the system consistently monitors all the users and the devices logged on at one time. Any irregular or suspicious activity causes the user to verify their identity again. If the activities continue, the system deploys defense mechanisms that either cause the system to shut down entirely or revoke access from the suspicious user or the device. 

A practical example of aggressive verification in Zero-trust security is multifactor authentication or adaptive authentication. Multifactor authentication allows a user access to the system with the help of their password and another device, such as their phone. Adaptive authentication only grants users access to the system by recognizing their working patterns so that any irregular activity can be dubbed suspicious. 

Limiting Blast Radius

The system needs to incorporate micro-segmentation to limit the blast radius of cyber-attacks. If a security breach occurs, the attack will only be limited to the segment it breached instead of gaining access to the entire system.

Limiting the blast radius works on the principle of assuming a breach, which allows the system to believe that it is constantly under the threat of an attack. 

Practical implementations of this also include using end-to-end encryption, getting higher visibility with the help of analytical tools, which will help to determine suspicious activity on a grander scale, and tightening the defenses around the system as much as possible. 

Least-Privilege Access

Traditional security models also granted access to almost the entire system to any user with credentials to a single part of it. For a successful Zero-trust security architecture, limited user access is necessary. Lateral movement within the system is only available through appropriate verification and permission. Any user demanding access outside of their domain is associated with risk, and good adaptive policies and protective mechanisms will help to secure the information being protected.  

With lateral movement, there is always a security risk involved. With Zero-trust security principles, the possibility of lateral movement is minimized, and therefore the risk associated with these principles is also minimized. 

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How to Implement Zero Trust Security Model?

Implementation of a Zero-trust security architecture is more complex. It is not a software update or a new extension but a shift in the entire system. You need to think of Zero-trust security implementation as a process rather than a one-time thing.

One thing that organizations need to understand about the architecture is that it evolves slowly and gradually to ensure that the customers and employees all find it easier to adapt to the shift. With that in mind, let us take a look at some of the steps for Zero-trust security implementations:

Identifying Entities With Access

For the longest time, entities that had access to a system were divided into employees and users. This is no longer enough for a zero-trust security architecture since different entities have different access levels. So, in terms of users, the system should divide them into the following:

  • Employees
  • Developers
  • Administrators
  • Bots
  • Third-party contractors
  • Service accounts

Other than that, even the devices that have access to the system must be appropriately verified and monitored. Possible devices that will need access will be:

  • Workstations
  • Tablets and smartphones
  • Printers
  • Security camera
  • Routers

Any other electronic device that has access to the system should be identified and granted access. 

Create a Zero Trust Policy

The architecture of your system should have a zero-trust policy. This can be implemented effectively with the help of the Kipling Method. The method asks the who, what, when, where, and why every time an entity needs access to the system.

Monitor the Network

Monitoring the network requires analytics, logs, and reports to increase visibility throughout the network and make detecting any unwanted movement on the spot more accessible. 

Identify Who Needs Access to Resources

Least-privilege access and micro-segmentation of the system also raise the need for defining the entities that have access to the resources in the system. Therefore, it is essential to determine what entities have access to which segment of the system. 

Define the Attack and Protect Surfaces

For most traditional security systems, an attack surface is clearly defined. The attack surface is minimized, the number of entry points is diminished, and it becomes difficult for intruders to cause significant security breaches. 

While this is still an effective method for offering security, an effective zero-trust security system should also focus on defining the protected area of the system. The protected area is where most sensitive data is stored and can be most susceptible to major security breaches. A system's DAAS is usually stored on a protected surface.

Monitor Traffic Flow

Developers and other entities with authority over the system must monitor the network to determine the traffic flow. The DAAS in the system (Data, Applications, Assets, and Services) determine the traffic flow; except for unusual circumstances, traffic flow is relatively uniform. 

Therefore, as soon as an irregularity occurs in the traffic flow, the system can detect it immediately and execute an appropriate response.

What Are The Limitations of A Zero Trust Security Architecture?

Zero Trust Technology Is Still Very New

Implementation of a Zero Trust security architecture is still in its initial stages. They have a long way to go before a system can be classified as zero trust. Naturally, there are a lot of limitations and challenges in place that prevent the widespread implementation of this infrastructure. Yes, most of the technology does exist already, but it is the drastic change in the system that most organizations are apprehensive of. 

It Is Not Exactly Zero Trust

Perhaps, the most jarring limitation of a Zero trust security system is that it will not be zero-trust. An accurate zero-trust system will not grant access to anyone, and all the relevant entities, even those with some authority, will constantly be locked out of the system. This means that for a more practical implementation of the system, someone at the top will have access to everything, and at the top of the system, there will be some manual control. And as long as there is some manual control and someone is being trusted, the system will have an entry point. Of course, the developers will tighten security around that entry point and make it difficult to breach, but it shows that even a Zero trust security system is not 100% effective. 

Little to No Room for Mistakes

Other than that, the people working with the zero trust system might need help coming to terms with the changes in the system. Employees will have to deal with constant verification and even getting locked out. Since the zero trust system leaves little room for human error, people will need help getting used to it. 

It Is Complex

A Zero Trust security model is also an ever-evolving model. It is unrealistic to assume that a simple system upgrade can change the security of a system from traditional to zero trust. Every organization has to adapt to it in its own way, and it is something the security experts in the team will have to work on all the time. 

More Bugs

This will bring about a lot of problems, such as the system encountering bugs that will need to be resolved constantly. The staff will have to work around those bugs and encounter some impediments during their daily tasks. The staff will also have a difficult time adjusting to it. This will be a challenging development for individuals to deal with, especially if their old system was virtually bug-free and smooth. 

It Is A Time-Taken Process

Lastly, properly implementing a Zero trust security system will likely take years before it can be known as a zero-trust model. This will add a further load to the organization and impact its resources. Naturally, there will be many roadblocks in adequately implementing the system, which also causes companies to think twice before going for it.  

Is Zero Trust Security Practical?

Objectively speaking, Zero trust security principles are already being put into practice. One example is multifactor authentication before gaining access to a system. It functions on a principle of zero trust, where a simple password is no longer the only thing required to authenticate a system's access.

Micro-segmentation of systems is also already in place with the help of microservices and loosely coupled systems where each system component has a different team and different resources. This makes implementing a Zero trust security system even more accessible since all the teams must focus on each of the system's components. 

The only thing that organizations need to be wary of regarding zero trust is that the implementation will take a long time. A quick shift will make it difficult for the customers and employees to adjust to the change. It may seem impractical because the change is not instantaneous but practical.

It is essential to look at zero trust as a concept instead of an upgrade because only then will practical implementation of the system be possible. True zero-trust will likely remain impractical and unusable for a long time. 

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Conclusion

Zero trust security is the newest standard of security in cloud computing now. Organizations are slowly shifting to the online world, magnifying security risks; because of this, a new concept needs to be introduced where the chances of cyberattacks and security threats are reduced as much as possible. Slowly, the implementation of Zero trust security principles has begun, and customers and employees alike are beginning to get used to it. Technological advancements will make implementing the principles easier as time passes, and the world will hopefully be secure from most security threats. 

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Haseeb Awan
CEO, Efani Secure Mobile

I founded Efani after being Sim Swapped 4 times. I am an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the crypto and cybersecurity industry. I provide Secure Mobile Service for influential people to protect them against SIM Swaps, eavesdropping, location tracking, and other mobile security threats. I've been covered in New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Hulu, Nasdaq, Netflix, Techcrunch, Coindesk, etc. Contact me at 855-55-EFANI or haseebawan@efani.com for a confidential assessment to see if we're the right fit!

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