Understanding Zero Trust Architecture

What is zero trust architecture?

Zero trust architecture is a security framework that assumes that each user, network connection, and device can't be trusted until proven otherwise. This zero trust approach involves putting in place several security measures to cover all critical IT assets.

Moreover, zero trust architecture is different from the traditional perimeter-based security approach -- where devices are trusted once inside the network – because zero trust requires constant validation and verification of all the relevant devices, users, and connections.

What are the 5 pillars of zero trust architecture?

We’ve listed below the five pillars of zero trust architecture that your organization needs to consider in order to implement zero trust security:

  • People (User) Trust: This first pillar focuses on the role of the users in the zero trust architecture. Organizations must ensure that only authorized people can access sensitive data and systems. They may do this by continuously authenticating users as they move around the network; also, organizations may consider educating the users on the importance of cybersecurity and providing them with the necessary resources and tools to stay safe online.
  • Device Trust: The second pillar, device trust, focuses on the significance of device authentication and access control. Organizations must shift away from a simple device inventory and validation strategy toward a more sophisticated approach involving continuous device authentication and access control based on real-time risk assessment data. Doing so will ensure that only trusted devices can access sensitive systems and data.
  • Network Trust: The pillar of network trust highlights the transformation of macro-segmentation to micro-segmentation in the network to understand better what or who is on the network at any period of time. By transitioning to a micro-segmentation approach, organizations may control and track network access in real time and stop unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Application Trust: The application trust pillar zooms in on the dynamic authentication of applications. In a traditional approach, application access would be granted at the local level and is static. This means that once authorization is given, it remains granted until revoked. In contrast, in a zero trust architecture, application access is dynamic and requires authentication to take place at a global level and on a continuous basis. This enables organizations to provide secure access to all applications through the internet without relying on VPNs.
  • Data Trust: The fifth and final pillar focuses on the shift from static to dynamic authentication for data accessibility. Organizations need to improve their organization and categorization of data to support dynamic access and to make sure that only authorized people can access sensitive data. Organizations can better protect their sensitive data from unauthorized and unwanted access by moving to a dynamic authentication approach.

What are the advantages of ZTA?

Here are a few of the advantages of ZTA:

  • Proactive Security. Zero trust architecture takes a proactive approach to security. This makes it easy to detect and respond to threats in real time.
  • Reduced Risk. Zero trust architecture cuts the risk of a successful attack by verifying every user, device, and network connection.
  • Improved Compliance. ZTA allows organizations to follow regulatory compliance requirements by ensuring that policies and regulations are continuously enforced.
  • Increased Agility. Thanks to ZTA, organizations can swiftly respond to changes in the IT security landscape and adopt new technologies without compromising security.

How do you build zero trust architecture?

Here are the steps organizations need to take to build ZTA:

  1. Assess Current Security Posture. The first step you need to take is to assess your organization’s current security posture and identify areas for improvement.
  2. Define Security Requirements. Next, you’ll need to define your organization’s security requirements. Look into policies, procedures, and technologies.
  3. Implement Device Awareness. Put in place a device awareness solution to identify and validate every device that connects to your network.
  4. Implement Network Authentication. Use access control solutions that allow you to control access to sensitive applications and data according to user, device, and network context.
  5. Monitor and Mitigate Risks. Implement a risk mitigation solution that will allow you to watch for and respond to security threats in real time.
  6. Enforce Compliance. Implement a compliance enforcement solution. This will allow you to ensure that policies and regulations are consistently followed.

What are the NIST ZTA guidelines?

As part of its cybersecurity framework, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published guidelines for implementing ZTA.

These guidelines provide a roadmap for organizations to build and put in place ZTA by defining its components, risk management processes, and strategies for secure data management and access. The NIST highlighted the following critical points for zero trust architecture:

  • Verifying the identity of all entities accessing the network and making sure that only authorized entities are granted access.
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) to cut the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Segmenting the network into smaller micro-perimeter segments to mitigate the damage of a potential breach.
  • Continuously monitoring and analyzing network activity to identify and respond to threats on time.
  • Enforcing policy-based access controls based on the network's current risk posture.

What are the CISA zero trust architecture guidelines?

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) also published guidelines on ZTA. Its publication of guidelines is part of its mission to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

The guidelines outline the steps organizations need to take to successfully implement a ZTA, including the following crucial elements:

  • Establishing a comprehensive and continuous identity and access management process that includes multi-factor authentication.
  • Implementing micro-segmentation of the network to limit the spread of a potential breach.
  • Continuously monitoring network activity and leveraging threat intelligence to identify and respond to threats quickly.
  • Enforcing least privilege access controls that grant access only to the resources and data that are essential to perform a specific task.
  • Ensuring that data is adequately encrypted and that encryption keys are properly managed.

Final Thoughts

To recap, ZTA is a critical component of IT security in today's digital landscape. By assuming that each user, device, and network connection is untrusted until proven otherwise, organizations can take a proactive approach to security that provides 360-degree protection for critical IT assets.

Whether you’ve just begun your journey to implement zero trust architecture or you’re looking to enhance your existing security posture, Portnox can help. Our easy-to-use zero trust security solutions provide the critical security coverage that today’s security vendors often promise but struggle to deliver.