Organizations are increasingly transitioning from on-premise environments to the cloud, and distributed workforces continue to remain the norm. As a result, the attack surface is expanding in size and complexity, making traditional IP-based perimeter security measures like firewalls, HSMs, and SIEM progressively less effective. At the same time, cybersecurity attacks continue to increase in number and sophistication.
For these reasons, zero trust continues to gain traction as a modern security solution for the perimeter everywhere reality. According to an Okta survey, more than half of organizations (55%) have a zero trust initiative in place, and the vast majority (97%) plan to have one in the coming 12 to 18 months.
Zero trust architecture is a security philosophy and framework that assumes no entity, whether user, device, or application, is inherently trustworthy. It is a principle-based approach that requires continuous verification of identity and context before granting access to resources. This is a departure from the traditional security perimeter model, which assumes that everything inside an organization’s network is trusted and everything outside the network is untrusted.
Some of the other terms that apply to zero trust and are sometimes used interchangeably include zero trust architecture (ZTA) and zero trust network access (ZTNA). Zero trust is the overall framework, ZTA is a set of principles and best practices for implementing zero trust, and ZTNA focuses on remote access. All three of these concepts work together to achieve the same goal of implementing zero trust security.
Core Principles of Zero Trust Architecture
- Verify everything, trust nothing: Every user, device, and application must be verified before being granted access to resources.
- Least privilege: Users and devices should only be granted the minimum access necessary to perform their tasks.
- Microsegmentation: The network should be segmented to isolate applications and data from each other, thereby limiting the blast radius.
- Continuous monitoring: The network and systems should be continuously monitored for suspicious activity, all resources, all the time.
In addition to the security challenges presented by cloud computing and the explosion of endpoint devices due to remote work, the traditional security approach presents additional challenges, including insider threats from disgruntled employees or compromised contractors. Insider threats often have access to the same resources as legitimate users, which means they can easily bypass perimeter defenses.
The State of Zero Trust Security
Despite being a top priority for many organizations’ security strategies, zero trust adoption has been slow due to a number of challenges. According to Gartner, few organizations have actually completed zero trust implementations. Gartner predicts that by 2026, only 10% of large enterprises will have a mature zero-trust program in place, compared to less than 1% of organizations today.
Budget constraints and resistance to change are two of the biggest barriers organizations face when implementing zero trust. Organizations have already invested heavily in their existing legacy security infrastructure, so they may be hesitant to abandon it and start over with a new approach. Zero trust may require, at least in part, an overhaul of the organization’s architectural structure, including its hardware and software components. All this can be expensive to implement and may also require significant changes to existing IT processes and workflows.
Other challenges include complexity and the amount of time needed for a successful implementation. Zero trust is complex and can take several years to fully implement, even for organizations with the necessary resources and the expertise.
Recommendations to Overcome Adoption Challenges
Organizations can implement zero trust in a variety of ways, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Whatever path your organization takes, as with any major technology shift, taking a phased approach is usually the best way to ensure a smooth and successful adoption process. Below are some tips and recommendations. Many organizations are in agreement on the need to adopt zero trust but there is concern about the perceived and real obstacles.
- Assess your current security posture. This is important because it will help you to identify any areas where your security needs to be improved. You can use a variety of tools and techniques to assess your security posture, such as vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and security audits.
- Start small. Zero trust is a complex framework, so it’s important to start small and gradually implement it over time. Focus on the most critical areas of your environment first, and then expand your implementation as you gain experience. For example, you can start with some of the core elements from Security Service Edge (SSE), such as Zero Trust Network Architecture (ZTNA), Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), and Secure Web Gateway (SWG).
- Continuously monitor and improve your zero trust implementation. Invest in training and education. Zero trust requires everyone in the organization to understand their role and responsibilities. It’s important to invest in training and education for your IT staff and users.
- Use the right tools and technologies. There are a number of different zero trust solutions available, so it’s important to choose one that is right for your organization’s size, budget, and IT environment. Get outside expertise if needed.
Zero trust is a security model that is on track to become the standard in enterprise cybersecurity in the years to come. The traditional perimeter security model may no longer be sufficient to protect organizations from cyber threats, especially with the rise of remote work and cloud computing. Successfully implementing the zero trust model can be challenging, but it is possible with careful planning and execution. It requires dedication, commitment, and ongoing learning from everyone in the organization.
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