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Jim Markus | 30 Aug, 2023

What Is Zero Trust, And Why Is It Everywhere?

Let's discuss Zero Trust. While originally built on cybersecurity fundamentals, it might just be the future of business. 

But what is Zero Trust? Well, in this article, we'll answer this very question while also covering Zero Trust architecture alongside the benefits, uses, and potential flaws of Zero Trust.

Ready to get started? Let's go in-depth on Zero Trust.

What Is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a major principle within the field of cybersecurity. It's the process of double-checking everything and (often publicly) verifying transactions without giving preferential treatment to supposedly "known" connections. And that applies to both people and devices.

Zero Trust means a lack of trust for everyone, even those within your own home network.

But it's more than just the concept. Zero trust is also a form of network architecture that’s even been incorporated by government departments like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Consider this: Back in the day, security setups centered on safe and unsafe zones. Zero Trust security gets rid of that altogether.

With the various cyber threats we all face in 2024 and beyond, old-school perimeter defenses aren't enough. That's why the Zero Trust approach has become the cool kid on the security block, and it’s why we’d recommend a Zero-Trust Architecture (ZTA).

Basically, at the heart of Zero Trust is the idea of "never trust, always verify." 

Rather than assuming everything within your supposedly secure network is totally legit, Zero Trust says, "Hey, threats can lurk both inside and outside, so let's double-check everyone and everything."

If you’re interested in a career in cyber security and you’re considering adding cybersecurity certifications to your resume, you should be ready to understand and implement Zero Trust security practices.

What Is A Zero-Trust Framework?

Zero Trust frameworks are comprehensive cybersecurity strategies designed to address the evolving threat landscape and the limitations of perimeter-based security models by prioritizing enhanced security and challenging the traditional notion of trust within networks. 

Put simply, Zero Trust frameworks always verify everything. This means they require rigorous verification and validation of users, devices, and network traffic regardless of their location – whether inside or outside the network perimeter.

The core principle of Zero Trust emphasizes the cautious treatment of all entities, assuming that potential threats could originate both externally and internally. 

This contrasts with conventional security models that historically relied on a secure internal network juxtaposed with a less secure external network. The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCE) also discusses the importance of such an implementation.

Zero Trust Principles For Network Security

There are a few principles central to a Zero Trust strategy, all of which can contribute to the security of your system. Let's break them down here.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

We've got to know who you are, but we need proof. IAM helps a Zero Trust security model establish your identity and verify you are who you say you are. Then it gives you access.

The concept of IAM will likely be especially familiar to you if you’ve spent any time reaping the benefits of cloud computing

Micro-Segmentation

Not everybody gets a ticket to the whole event. Think of micro-segmentation like a general-access pass to a concert. You're not getting into the VIP section unless you pay for it. And even VIPs don't get into the billing office.

Micro-segmentation, in the Zero Trust security business, means segmenting networks into smaller and more isolated zones. This stops bad actors from gaining additional access, even if they're able to penetrate part of it.

Least Privilege

Like we just discussed, Zero Trust network access starts with limitations. Both users and devices get the least amount of access they need to fulfill their designated tasks. Why give a user the keys to the safe if they're just trying to stop by and say hi?

Think of this least-privilege access as a way to minimize damage when someone does get past your initial lines of defense.

Continuous Monitoring

While a Zero Trust security policy limits access, it still requires vigilance. That means continuous monitoring of basically everything that happens. 

You'll want to know when a user logs in, what they do, whether a connected device has known vulnerabilities, and how traffic stacks up against historical expectations.

Network Visibility

This is a Zero Trust security principle that you may not expect if you're unfamiliar with the industry, but network visibility is fundamental. 

While cybersecurity often means secrecy, this is not the case with a Zero Trust model.

You'll need comprehensive visibility into network activity, user conduct, and device operations to detect threats and respond quickly. NIST discusses the topic in their article on zero-trust architecture in remote work environments.

Encryption

As with most cybersecurity models, zero trust insists on the encryption of sensitive data. If someone's access requests are approved, it's best to make the data useless without decryption. Nothing surprising here. It's a standard for any modern security strategy.

Looking to get started with encryption breaking? You'll want a laptop for ethical hacking, and if you need to read up on the process, we’d also recommend checking out ethical hacking courses.

Policy-Based Controls

Zero Trust network security also centers on strict access control. You'll need to define what you want to happen before inviting users. Said another way, zero trust security policies don't happen by accident.

Consider the process used by federal agencies and large corporations. They follow strict procedures before granting user access. That's in addition to requiring the use of a VPN.

Note that security policies are defined and enforced based on factors like user roles, behavior patterns, and device statuses. These policies delineate access rights and permissions. They're also fundamental in the Zero Trust security model.

Automation

We talk a lot about automation. After all, why repeat tasks manually? When it comes to zero trust architecture and security models, if you can automate it, you should.

There's another reason to automate, even beyond efficiency. Automation is another fundamental Zero Trust solution.

Benefits Of A Zero Trust Security Model

There's an old adage, "Don't take my word for it." 

The Zero Trust security model takes that to a logical conclusion. Your security framework is important. So why give extra data access when you don't need to?

For many of the same reasons security leaders rely on a virtual private network, they choose a Zero Trust implementation for their networks. That means network segmentation, strict access controls, and additional security strategies.

The Difference Between Zero Trust And SASE

So what's the difference between Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust? That's a bit of a trick question. 

Gartner says its SASE offers converged network and security as a service capabilities. That means it works in conjunction with zero trust network access.

So, the real answer to the question, "what's the difference between Zero Trust and SASE", is that that SASE supports zero trust architecture. It's just bigger, and it's primarily a service.

The Difference Between Zero Trust And VPNs

Again, let's dive into a question that misunderstands some of the basics. What's the difference between Zero Trust and a VPN? 

The difference is that Zero Trust provides the foundation for a business' security model, while VPNs act as a tool within that security model.

That said, if you’re looking to enhance your overall security, you should definitely consider adding the best VPN to your security suite.

The Difference Between Zero Trust And ZTNA

What's the difference between zero trust and ZTNA? That's pretty simple. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) provides access to specific parts of a system.

While Zero trust is part of the name, this is a larger concept in network architecture where cybersecurity policies may incorporate ZTNA as part of the overall strategy. 

When Did Zero Trust Start?

If you're interested in the history of data security, you may want to know, when did Zero Trust start? The answer is that it goes back longer than you might expect. 

Zero trust, as a form of digital security strategy, was first named in the mid-1990s.

The first appearance of the term "zero trust" was in an article called Formalizing Trust as a Computational Concept, with the author credited as Stephen Paul Marsh. 

So, if you want the TL-DR on when did Zero Trust start - it was coined as a tech term in 1994 by Stephen Paul Marsh.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it, you now have the low down on Zero Trust, including what it is, its benefits, flaws, and even its history.

If you’re looking for the main takeaways, Zero Trust Architecture provides a robust, adaptive security approach that’s tailored to the complexities of modern cyber threats, including advanced persistent threats (APTs) and insider risks.

By implementing a Zero Trust framework, organizations can bolster their security posture, minimize the likelihood of data breaches, and fortify their defenses against unauthorized access. 

The proactive stance that Zero Trust provides also aligns with the evolving cybersecurity landscape, underscoring the significance of continuous vigilance and verification when safeguarding critical assets.

Trust us, you want to use Zero Trust!

Has all this talk of Zero Trust motivated you to kickstart a career in cybersecurity? Check out:

IBM's Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Training Program on Coursera

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By Jim Markus

Jim Markus manages Hackr.io and a portfolio of sites at VentureKite. He hosted Frugal Living, a popular finance podcast, and co-created The Ink & Blood Dueling Society, a theatrical writing event that appeared at conventions across the United States. He is also an award-winning game designer.

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