Is it time to adopt a zero-trust policy in your organization?

A zero-trust policy is a security framework wherein all users are required to be authenticated authorized, and validated for security configuration.

A zero-trust policy is a security framework wherein all users, both within and without an organization’s network, are required to be authenticated authorized, and validated for security configuration before being given access to data and applications. Here are the following ten signs that it’s time to adopt a zero-trust policy in your organization.

1. BYOD Policy

With the mass exodus from office-based work to work-from-home or hybrid work, the devices the employees use are less likely to be office-assigned ones. Office-owned mobile and laptop devices are customarily set with security and regularly managed, patched, and controlled remotely. But with everyone embracing remote work, staff can forget basic cyber security practices and start to use their own devices to access work network or apps.

Although a zero-trust policy can’t force employees working from home to use work devices solely for official business, it can still mitigate possible security breaches because of the “trust nobody; verify everything” rule. This rule enforces access controls at all points within the security network.

2. Cloud Data Centers Require Mutual Accountability

Applications and workloads that were once the domain of corporate-owned data centers are now moving to the public or hybrid cloud. Give this, security officers need to re-examine the legacy assumptions of trust regarding people, data center security tools, processes, and required skills.

The cloud environment necessitates a mutual, shared responsibility model that enables the cloud vendor to provide certain security aspects, but others fall on the enterprise. The assumption of trust in the security architecture is no longer the same. A zero-trust model can encompass this shared responsibility towards cyber security.

3. Inability to Verify the Security Status of All WFH Environments

Although remote work was not necessarily uncommon in the pre-Covid era, the new work-from-anywhere normal has meant that geography-centric security technologies and processes like company headquarters, are no longer relevant. The onset of the remote workforce brings with it the heightened possibility of unsecured Wi-Fi networks and vulnerable endpoints dramatically increases the set of security risks faced by an organization.

Organizations need to assume that work-from-home setups of their employees are not as secure as the office. It’s possible that the home Wi-Fi router isn’t WPA-2 configured or that smart Internet of Things (IoT) devices are running a disparate system of security protocols at best. The absence of a guiding framework like zero-trust architecture precludes organizations from verifying or controlling whether employees are working in a secure environment.

4. Outdated and Inadequate Perimeter-Based Security 

Digital technology use and how enterprises conduct business are in constant flux – and at a rapidly accelerating pace. Such digital transformations render traditional perimeter-based cybersecurity models ineffective and irrelevant because the scope of security environments are no longer defined by perimeters.

Only the micro-level approach to authenticating and approving access requests at every point within the network through a zero-trust security approach will do the job. The Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) means that no one gets unrestricted access to the entire system. Users only get the level of access necessary to get their job done. Under zero trust, each request is continuously monitored and verified to grant access to various parts of the network. In the event of a breach, micro-segmentation will mitigate the potential damage brought on by a threat actor.

5. Rampant Cyber Attacks

No sector remains untouched from the rampant cyber-attacks that continue to increase annually. Hackers targeted healthcare and retail systems during Covid-19 for pandemic-related reasons. For example, hospitals struggling with patient loads and pharma companies and research labs racing to develop a vaccine have been ideal targets for cyber breaches. Due to the stakes being so high, there are more than willing to acquiesce to ransom demands just to ensure business continuity. Online retailers are also easy targets because e-commerce demand has peaked during shelter-in-place mandates.

These businesses could firm up their cybersecurity posture by establishing a zero-trust architecture. Doing so will increase their cyber resilience and will make them less vulnerable to security breaches and will put them in a better place to contain and mitigate possible financial and reputational damage.

6. Sophisticated Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Two decades ago, hackers launched cyberattacks to expose the security loopholes of well-known websites for “fun and games”. However, fast-forward to today and cyberattacks are big business with the possible gains from deploying ransomware or stealing intellectual property. Hackers are using increasingly sophisticated tools and tactics to maximize their earnings. The ramifications of such cyberattacks could be more than just an economic consequence. They can have national, societal and physical consequences as well.

Cybercrime is highly organized and can be perpetrated by international crime syndicates, nation-states, and ransomware groups. Increasingly advanced threat actors are savvy enough to bypass traditional perimeter security. They are capable of deploying APTs to move around in stealth until they can steal sensitive information or disrupt systems that don’t have micro-segmentation or a zero trust model in place.

7. The Security Stakes Are Higher

Cyberattacks now mostly target financial data, user data or customer data, and core business intellectual property (IP) and prooprietary functions. Anything valuable is considered fair game. Sensitive government data about vital infrastructure and their data systems like nuclear power plants, voter information and election systems, or other high-value industries need robust cybersecurity systems in place.

Enterprises in both the public (government) or private (MNCs or SMEs) would do well to implement a zero-trust framework to firm up their cybersecurity posture to enable containment in the event of a data breach.

8. Third-Party SaaS and PaaS Vulnerability

These days, applications are most likely offered as Software-as-a-Services (Saas) or even Platform-as-a-Services (PaaS). Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) develop applications as readily available services – for authentication, logging, database, or machine learning. The core logic and business login are owned by them but have little ownership of the software components used to build the applications resulting in app developers no longer being able to blindly trust their own applications.

The zero trust approach assumes that the network is already compromised when the security controls are deployed. Authentication is mandated to grant access to data and no unauthorized processes or applications are allowed to execute.

9. Unsecured Internet Network

Users can now remotely access their applications and workloads via the cloud. This means that the network is no longer a secured enterprise network. In the era of remote work, network perimeter security and visibility solutions employed by businesses are no longer robust enough. Implicit trust is no longer effective amidst unsecured Internet.

Zero-trust utilizes the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) and “always-verify” principles, offering them network visibility, be it in data centers or in the cloud.

10. Weak Implementation of POLP

Critical business functions and the people relied upon to perform key functions have changed dramatically. Employees and customers are no longer the only users on the network. Oftentimes, the users accessing the enterprise applications and infrastructure could be 3rd party vendors servicing suppliers, partners, or systems. 

These external agents neither need, nor should they have access to all critical applications, sensitive business data, or infrastructure. Even staff members who execute specialized functions do not need complete network access – just adequate access to perform their tasks and no more. A well-implemented zero-trust policy allows authenticated access based on dimensions of trust and allows organizations to titrate access even to those with higher levels of access privilege.

Conclusion

Developing a zero-trust environment isn’t just about implementing disparate, individual technologies such as multi-factor authentication, or advanced permissioning and micro-segmentation. It’s about utilizing these technologies to enforce the idea that no one should be granted access until they’ve proven worthy of trust. It’s about starting with a strategic mindset that guides technology decisions that enable your organization to achieve those goals.

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Experiencing a security breach?

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RECOMMENDED IMMEDIATE NEXT ACTIONS

  1. Determine which systems were impacted and immediately isolate them. Take the network offline at the switch level or physically unplug the systems from the wired or wireless network.
  2. Immediately take backups offline to preserve them. Scan backups with anti-virus and malware tools to ensure they’re not infected
  3. Initiate an immediate password reset on affected user accounts with new passwords that are no less than 14 characters in length. Do this for Senior Management accounts as well.

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