Zero Trust Helps Achieve and Maintain Compliance

The list of data privacy and security regulations organizations are required to follow is becoming longer and longer every year. In addition to EU’s GDPR, PCI-DSS, and HIPAA, there’s also the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018, Maine’s data breach law, or the Wisconsin Insurance Data Security Law.

All these regulations increase the pressure on organizations to protect sensitive data, such as Personally identifiable information (PII), because the cost of non-compliance in the form of financial penalties can be substantial. Achieving and maintaining compliance in such a complex regulatory environment can be a huge undertaking, especially because the traditional cybersecurity model doesn’t adequately address the challenges created by the emerging hybrid work model.

Instead of trying to chop wood with a butter knife, it’s better to look for a more suitable tool. Fortunately, you don’t need to look far because a more modern cybersecurity model already exists, and its name is Zero Trust security.

Defending the Network Perimeter Is No Longer Enough

For a long time, organizations concentrated their defenses at the network perimeter. This castle-and-moat cybersecurity model is easy to understand, and it provides adequate protection in situations where all devices, data, and applications are located in one place, such as an office building.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote work, it has been clear that the traditional network perimeter has disintegrated. Even small organizations that used to occupy just one office now allow their employees to work remotely at least some days of the week, often using a mix of personal and work devices.

To make remote working easily possible, organizations are shifting their workloads to the cloud, which is why the public cloud service market is expected to reach $623.3 billion by 2023 worldwide. As a result, sensitive data is now spread across multiple locations, which are being accessed by a variety of endpoints, some located in the office, some in employees’ homes, and some in coffee shops, airports, and other public places.

Never Trust, Always Verify

How can organizations effectively separate legitimate devices and users from malicious ones? They can’t, which is why they should never assume trust by default. Instead, they should verify endpoints to ensure that they haven’t been compromised by a malicious attacker, and that’s where the Zero Trust security model comes in.

“Instead of assuming everything behind the corporate firewall is safe, the Zero Trust model assumes breach and verifies each request as though it originates from an open network,” explains Microsoft. “Regardless of where the request originates or what resource it accesses, Zero Trust teaches us to never trust, always verify.”

According to Microsoft, the Zero Trust model is built on three main principles:

  • Verify explicitly: As we’ve already stated, the main idea behind Zero Trust is that trust should never be assumed by default. Instead, all authentication requests should be explicitly verified based on a combination of at least two factors.
  • Use least privileged access: The Zero Trust security model limits user access to minimize lateral movement across the network. This makes it far less likely that an attacker would be able to hop from device to device, planting backdoors and stealing sensitive data in the process.
  • Assume breach: The sooner you detect a breach, the more you can reduce its impact. Since breaches can be invisible until it’s already too late, it’s recommended to use monitoring and analytics to get visibility and drive threat detection.

The three main principles behind the Zero Trust security model represent a major shift in how organizations defend themselves, but their real-world effectiveness depends on how well they’re implemented in practice.

Implementing the Zero Trust Security Model

The Zero Trust Adoption Report 2021 published by Microsoft revealed that 96 percent of security decision-makers see the Zero Trust security model as critical to their organization’s success, and 76 percent are already in the process of implementation.

The implementation of Zero Trust security can be divided into five stages:

  • Protect surface identification: Zero Trust defines a protect surface as a place where valuable data, assets, applications, and services reside. Most organizations have multiple protect surfaces, and their accurate identification is an essential prerequisite for their protection.
  • Transaction flow mapping: Protect surfaces are not static. They are regularly accessed and modified by users, so it’s important to know who these users are, what kind of devices and applications they’re using, and how they’re connected.
  • Architecture building: Once you have a good understanding of your network, you can start building the actual Zero Trust architecture, putting in place controls to create a microperimeter around each protect surface.
  • Policy creation: When all fences and gates are up, you can start deciding who will be allowed to pass through them and under which circumstances. The goal here is to prevent unauthorized access and exfiltration of sensitive data by attackers located both outside and inside your organization.
  • Monitoring and maintenance: Your Zero Trust architecture needs to continuously evolve to reflect the changing needs of your organization. Ongoing monitoring helps guarantee that all sensitive data is protected and signs of data breaches are immediately detected.

Implementing a completely new cybersecurity model is no easy task, but it’s a task that’s well worth undertaking. Fortunately, you don’t have to complete it alone. You can partner with an experienced cybersecurity company, such as us at Aligned Technology Solutions, and borrow its expertise and experience to ensure smooth implementation.

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