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Good guys in, bad guys out. This is a principle that has for a long time shaped how companies approach information security. It is anchored on the premise that you can protect your IT environment from malicious actors by simply making the perimeter more resilient, broader, and stronger. However, the underlying notion that you can trust internal traffic is nowadays a fairytale. With more people working from home and practices such as “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),” it is challenging to establish the perimeter. Hence, perimeter security approaches such as firewalls can no longer be trusted to protect the “perimeter.” This has led to a need for a more robust approach towards securing the network, zero trust architecture.

What is Zero Trust Architecture?

It is a security framework that requires all users, appliances, or devices within or outside a network to be continuously authenticated, authorized, and validated. This is to assess their security posture and configuration before being granted access to data and applications. It assumes there is no traditional network perimeter. Under the zero trust security model, it is assumed networks can be in the cloud, local, or hybrid with workers at any location and resources anywhere. Zero trust isn’t a product or a technology. Instead, it is a strategic and architectural approach to network security.

In Microsoft systems, Azure Active Directory (AD) is the core to zero trust. Azure AD provides essential functionality for the zero-trust strategy. Besides enabling strong authentication, Azure AD integrates device security. It is also the foundation for user-centric policies and less privileged access protection. Its Conditional Access capabilities form the policy decision point for environment-based access to resources, user identity, risk, and device health.

All these are explicitly verified at the access point. It means that access is not granted until a device, user, or application has been inspected thoroughly and authenticated. Even after the authentication, authorization, and validation, only the least access to complete a task is granted. There is a common principle in zero trust that you should never trust a user and always verify their identities.

Zero trust architecture requires more stringent and precise network segmentation to create micro-perimeters in the entire network. This prevents the lateral movement of a malicious actor should they find a way into the network. Therefore, when a breach occurs, the malicious actor will not access sensitive data easily. Governance and policies also play an essential role in the zero-trust architecture. For instance, in the least privilege, the users are only given the least access necessary to complete their duties. Any zero-trust network must have granular control over what, when, where, and who access the resources. Azure AD’s Conditional Access policy is critical in ensuring the least privilege principle.

What Are The Drivers Behind Zero Trust Architecture?

With the changing times, cybercriminals master new techniques to evade the set security controls. Below are some drivers behind the shift to the zero trust security model.

Network Perimeters Are No Longer Sufficiently Defensible

More people are working from home nowadays while others are allowed to bring their own devices to enterprise premises. Furthermore, using the hybrid cloud as the preeminent enterprise infrastructure platform makes defining the perimeter difficult. Malicious actors could bypass perimeter protections even when enterprises hid digital assets behind a firewall using firewall exceptions and dial-up connections.

Today, the challenge has even grown more. Enterprise infrastructure today requires customers, vendors, employees, contractors, and trusted third parties to access the network resources through BYOD devices, the cloud, and other methods.   Fortunately, zero trust architecture flattens the access landscape and ensures secure access to any resources.

Prior Access No Longer Determines Trust Levels

Defenders can revalidate any access decision using the zero trust security approach whenever a user, device, or application requests access. This removes the threat of granting more access than necessary to insiders or employees whose access to a resource needs to change because their job responsibilities have changed. In addition, it protects against changes in affiliations with contractors and other third parties and from applications or devices that must be revalidated whenever they request access.

Ever-Changing Network Security Threats

The other driving force behind zero trust security is the never-ending escalation of network security threats and cybercriminals that find new ways to exploit networks. Attackers easily break into your perimeter protections and can move laterally through your network with relative ease. A zero trust approach to network security means eliminating the residual trust from the corporate network.

This includes the trust granted to the devices, applications, systems, or users that access company restricted resources within the network perimeter or even any access granted to external users of particular systems. With a zero trust security approach, the principle of explicit verification goes a long way in ensuring this.

To reduce user session risk, you can implement Azure multi-factor authentication or even use Microsoft Intune to manage your user’s mobile devices. Azure AD has many strategies to ensure that no part of your network can be meaningfully exploited, including Azure AD Join, Azure Hybrid Join, and Passwordless solutions such as FIDO 2.0 and MFA.

A Security Strategy That Ensures A Greater Resilience To The Ongoing Attacks

Never trust; always verify. This is the underlying core principle of a zero trust security strategy. Authentication, authorization, and validation are required for a user, application, or device to gain access. This way, a malicious actor who manages to gain access to the enterprise network will. Based on the Conditional Access policy, a user can only access what they need so that a malicious actor can be neutralized and isolated.

Same Scrutiny Is Accorded To Both Internal And External Threat

There is an increase in the number of users with legitimate reasons for accessing a network. Further, the perimeter is increasingly deprecated by cloud and BYOD devices. This means that designating users internal or external is meaningless. Some attack strategies rely on getting unprivileged access to the network. After getting the access, they pivot to other targets. Hence, the internal threats could be an extension of the external threats. However, internal and external threats are addressed the same in a zero trust security model.

Conclusion

Despite the many reasons to adopt a zero trust approach in securing enterprise networks, adopt it because it works. It is no surprise that President Joe Biden included it in the May 2021 executive order. But firewalls were considered essential to securing an internet-connected enterprise; you should also view zero trust as optional rather than your end goal.

Corporates should remain vigilant because malicious actors continually develop new ways of bypassing and exploiting network security solutions. Are you planning to transition to a zero trust security strategy? We can help. At Cleared systems, we have a team of seasoned security experts who will help you with every step. Contact us today for assistance in implementing the zero trust security approach.

Carl B. Johnson
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