By Dr. Andre Slonopas  |  12/12/2023


zero trust in cybersecurity


Zero Trust cybersecurity promotes the philosophy "Never trust, always verify" and represents a change from traditional cybersecurity. Zero trust cybersecurity assumes that any trust, whether internal or external, is a weakness and based on the idea that complete confidence in an entire network, users, and devices causes security issues.

 

What Is Zero Trust Cybersecurity?

Instead of perimeter-based security, which stresses robust exterior defenses, Zero Trust architecture scrutinizes every user’s access request, independent of its origin. User identification, mobile device health, and data type must always be verified to ensure cybersecurity.

Malicious actors, such as hackers, now have more areas to attack in the digital age of cloud computing and remote and hybrid work. Recognizing this digital transformation and their own vulnerabilities, government agencies and top corporations are moving toward Zero Trust cybersecurity, which includes stringent access limits, continuous monitoring, and user and device access verification.

Zero Trust networks rely on giving users the least amount of privilege to provide users only with what information they need. For instance, finance staff shouldn't have access to areas where key technical schematics are stored. Zero Trust principles allow organizations to limit user movement inside their private networks, even if an attacker breaches the outer barriers of a security framework and tries to gain access to proprietary information.

Zero trust cybersecurity also divides sensitive data access – depending on user role, device access trustworthiness, and other indicators – to improve data security. This strategy reduces even internal risks that standard security procedures may ignore.

The Zero Trust approach prioritizes infrastructure security and access, critical asset security, continuous verification, and seamless user, device, and network traffic interaction. Security teams and executives must collaborate to create an organization's security posture from threat intelligence to security operations.

However, it’s essential to remember that Zero Trust cybersecurity isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. As they identify their most essential assets and assess their security strategy, businesses may require a customized Zero Trust solution using a mixture of security software and other protective measures. Also, federal agencies may prioritize Zero Trust projects differently than private enterprises.

Zero Trust security is more than a cybersecurity term. The digital age and its blurring borders need a proactive, comprehensive foundation for data integrity and security. As cyber dangers grow, solid Zero Trust security policies are essential.

 

A History of Zero Trust Cybersecurity

Zero Trust cybersecurity was born in the 2000s after perimeter-based security solutions failed and more breaches occurred. Clearly, better cybersecurity was needed to guard against internal and external cyberthreats.

Forrester Forrester Research popularized the term "Zero Trust" to emphasize the necessity of abandoning the implicit trust situation that has dominated cybersecurity solutions. After accessing an internal network, for instance, users were trusted with many resources. However, mobile devices, cloud computing, and information technology (IT) infrastructure complexity made this strategy susceptible to insider threats and other sophisticated assaults.

The digital revolution caused cybersecurity experts to realize that cybersecurity required a makeover. Federal agencies adopted Zero Trust early due to their need for better cybersecurity. These agencies were prime targets for attackers due to their large data stores and the national ramifications of a breach, so adopting Zero Trust considerably improved their cybersecurity.

Least privilege access became central to Zero Trust over time. Allowing users and devices just the resources they need to do their jobs reduced the security threat of allowing the wrong people to have access to critical information.

Organizations seeking to improve their security adopted Zero Trust's permission and access control and network security. Cybersecurity professionals added Zero Trust solutions to their cybersecurity plans. Secure web gateway and advanced access control technologies were available by the 2010s to help achieve Zero Trust.

Later, Zero Trust strategy expanded beyond network-centric security to include individual users, devices, and data. This type of comprehensive Zero Trust strategy secures an organization’s network even if one sector of that network is compromised.

As remote work grows increasingly common and more users work outside physical offices, Zero Trust is more crucial than ever. Zero Trust has changed cybersecurity by encouraging organizations to abandon implicit trust in favor of a cautious, always-verify approach.

 

The Key Components of Zero Trust Cybersecurity

Zero Trust cybersecurity has several key components. They include:

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM)
  • Zero Trust Network Access
  • Micro-Segmentation

 

Identity and Access Management

Modern cybersecurity relies on Identity and Access Management (IAM), notably in implementing Zero Trust security. The rise of cyber threats makes perimeter-based protection insufficient. However, the Zero Trust design rigorously verifies user identity and manages granting access to users.

Skepticism underpins Zero Trust. No user, within or outside the network, is implicitly trusted. Several IAM concepts drive this move to the Zero Trust framework:

  • Rigorous authentication – Strong user authentication is required to implement the Zero Trust model. Simple username-password combinations no longer enable user access. Instead, Zero Trust requires multi-layered authentication for access.
  • Dynamic permissions – Zero Trust Access (ZTA) is dynamically permitted. Permissions may be given, refused, or validated depending on the user's location, device health, or data sensitivity. Dynamic security guarantees a higher level of protection than the static security model.
  • Strict access controls – IAM in Zero Trust initiatives ensure that users only get what they need using the least privilege access concept. For instance, IT professionals may have privileged access to network components, but they may not have access to other confidential data. These strict access limits reduce vulnerabilities.
  • Continuous monitoring – Access request monitoring is a priority for security executives. By monitoring access, potential security threats may be recognized and stopped before they grow out of control.
  • Lifecycle management – IAM manages access control privileges when remote workers and job responsibilities change. Access permissions must be adjusted quickly when an employee changes jobs or departs the firm to maintain good cybersecurity.

Zero Trust implementation via a comprehensive IAM strategy is essential for businesses at varied Zero Trust maturity levels. This plan guarantees that as a company expands, its security architecture can be scaled to address new threats.

Zero Trust architecture's acceptance by forward-thinking security executives signifies a shift from traditional network defenses. IAM helps firms secure their most valuable assets. IAM and Zero Trust guarantee user identity is rigorously validated, access is methodically regulated, and the organization's security posture remains robust and capable of handling emerging cyber threats.

 

Zero Trust Network Access

Zero Trust architecture relies on limiting access to Zero Trust networks. This notion changes network resource access, authentication, and security.

With Zero Trust network access, every access request from a user is evaluated and not automatically granted based on that user’s network presence. User identification is crucial to provide access to the correct resources to the right people. Implementing least privilege access ensures users only obtain resources necessary to their job responsibilities.

To implement Zero Trust, several factors are required:

  • Secure access – Zero Trust strategy treats every access point as a vulnerability. Each employee email access request and management asset access request is rigorously validated, and the organization practices the strict principle of least privilege.
  • Continuous authentication – A Zero Trust initiative requires more than just a one-time authentication, according to Zero Trust principles. Regular re-authentication and monitoring keep a user's session safe.
  • Micro-segmentation – Zero Trust architecture encourages smaller, isolated network segments rather than a large security perimeter. This way, despite gaining access to one section of a network, a threat actor cannot readily traverse the entire network.
  • Policy enforcement – Zero Trust security measures control resource access, timing, and users.

Security executives around the world have chosen to quickly implement Zero Trust, since conventional defenses are unable to combat emerging threats on their private network. Moving away from implicit trust to Zero Trust strengthens the defenses of organizations, protecting their most critical assets from dangerous attackers.

 

Micro-Segmentation

Micro-segmentation is an innovative security model that separates a private network into smaller, isolated portions to restrict movement through the network by attackers. It perfectly integrates with the Zero Trust security concept, offering additional safety even if a threat actor breaches a network perimeter

The traditional perimeter-based security model employed a “castle-and-moat” philosophy: just secure the border to ensure everything within is safe. But in today's complex digital environment, inside threats frequently develop and highlight the shortcomings of traditional cybersecurity protection. Zero Trust architecture, where trust is never implicit and every access request is suspicious, evolved from this discovery.

Security leaders quickly realized that the Zero Trust concept and micro-segmentation work together. Moving from a wide trust model to a granular one is a major cybersecurity strategy change for many organizations, however.

How does micro-segmentation fit into Zero Trust architecture? A well-implemented Zero Trust system relies on micro-segmentation to enforce access rules, monitor workload security, and provide granularity that older cybersecurity measures cannot match. It reduces the danger of privileged access if an attacker manages to get past a network perimeter and ensures that only essential organizations may access crucial assets.

Zero trust approaches, including micro-segmentation, are recommended by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA(CISA)) and other security organizations to combat sophisticated attacks that exploit security weaknesses. Micro-segmentation supports Zero Trust security by minimizing an organization’s attack surface and containing threats.

Zero trust concepts and micro-segmentation must be included into organizations’ cybersecurity strategies as they grow. The Zero Trust approach and micro-segmentation provide a strong security architecture that moves away from implicit trust and toward a future where every access request is inspected and segregated, making the internet safer for everyone.

 

Case Studies

Many organizations with a strong and current security strategy use the Zero Trust security approach. These firms have strengthened their defenses by abandoning perimeter-based security paradigms and adopting a never-trust policy. Let's look at a Zero Trust case study that demonstrates its advantages.

 

Google's BeyondCorp Model

In the complicated and ever-changing world of cyber threats, enterprises need enhanced security methods. When Google was attacked by hackers, this rush to fortify intensified.

Google's recognition of the limits of perimeter-based security and the changing nature of how its employees worked, such as from multiple places and devices, led to a major change in network security. Google developed BeyondCorp, a zero-trust security method, to address the risks of trusting anybody in its network.

The model defaults to distrusting any access requests, within or outside the network. The old "trust but verify" has been replaced with "never trust, always verify."

BeyondCorp believes in completely authenticating all access requests. Knowing who a user is and the context of a data request is crucial, which requires knowing the user's job, department, and access habits.

All devices accessing the network are examined; accessing from where and what device matters just as much as who you are. Google established persistent observation to guarantee that the device security of network users would meet business standards.

Access levels depend on user identification and device security, according to detailed regulations. This strategy lets Google restrict user access and decrease internal dangers.

BeyondCorp's results shows its strength. It improved both Google's operational culture and external defenses, and employees working from anywhere could safely access business resources without virtual private networks (VPNs). Remote work has made this type of adaptability crucial for business continuity and security.

 

Yahoo’s Massive Data Breach

In 2013, Yahoo, one Yahoo, one of the internet's pioneers, was hit hard by one of the greatest data breaches in historyof the internet's pioneers, was hit hard by one of the greatest data breaches in history, according to National Public Radio. Yahoo's protections failed, unlike Google's proactive BeyondCorp security.

The hack affected 3 billion accounts and had widespread effects:

  • Less trust – Yahoo's once-trustworthy online brand suffered. Yahoo users worried about data security reevaluated their relationship with the organization.
  • Legal and punitive repercussions – Many Yahoo lawsuits resulted in large penalties and settlements.
  • Acquisition impact – The hack caused Verizon to lower its Yahoo purchase bid by $350 million, demonstrating the financial effect of security breaches.

There are many lessons that can be learned from this Google/Yahoo comparison. This example emphasizes the need of context-aware security techniques like Zero Trust security model and the dangers enterprises face when they don't improve their cybersecurity approach.\

 

APU and a New Generation of Zero Trust Security Specialists

American Public University (APU) is establishing the standard for cybersecurity education, preparing students to combat today's complex cyber threats. Our dedication to incorporating modern cybersecurity frameworks, notably the Zero Trust model, within our curriculum is key to this preparedness.

Outstanding faculty make our cybersecurity training stand out. Our instructors are cybersecurity leaders and subject matter experts with decades of experience. Their real-world experience, sophisticated research, and field skills improve student learning and provide insights that textbooks cannot.

The University’s strategic partnerships with the EC-Council and CompTIA enhance our cybersecurity programs. These partnerships benefit students in two ways. First, they have the newest cybersecurity expertise, tools, and methods. Second, students become eligible for internationally recognized cybersecurity credentials.

Students learn ethical hacking and countermeasures via the EC-Council, whereas CompTIA covers IT operations to cybersecurity. These collaborations help to make our students ready for cybersecurity challenges.

With its innovative curriculum, respected faculty, and strategic industry collaborations, American Public University is creating graduates who will be equipped with a knowledge of Zero Trust cybersecurity frameworks and certifications.

 

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About the Author
Dr. Andre Slonopas
Dr. Andre Slonopas is an Assistant Department Chair in the Department of Strategic Intelligence. From the University of Virginia, he holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering, a M.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also holds a plethora of relevant certifications, including Certified Information Security Manager (CISM®), Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP®), Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA) and Project Management Professional (PMP®).

CISM is a registered trademark of Information Systems Audit and Control Association, Inc.
CISSP is a registered trademark of International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc.
PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.


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