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Adopt a zero-trust framework for a safer IT ecosystem

Zero trust sounds like opposition to DevOps' all-for-one culture model, but it's a safety model organizations should evaluate. Safeguard everything with identity authentication.

A zero-trust security framework enables IT professionals to meet today's threat challenges because it encompasses core aspects of IT operations: applications and data, network processes and identity-based access and devices. In current business environments, mobile end users, hybrid work employees and third-party contractors all need access to corporate applications and data. However, cyber attacks have simultaneously expanded in scope and escalated in frequency, jeopardizing digital commerce and IT operations.

The evolution from traditional data centers with well-defined network perimeters to cloud adoption and edge processing has enabled malicious actors to easily exploit porous IT boundaries. In terms of safeguarding corporate data and business transactions, zero trust offers comprehensive protection and identity controls. It also requires a reorientation to secure IT operations and data.

Assess the current threat landscape

Identity verification has become the new security perimeter and sets controls based on credentials, context and device access to internal applications, data and infrastructure. Different factors have contributed to the demise of network-based perimeter security. Along with accelerated digital transformations, cloud adoptions and edge processing, organizations are also transitioning to hybrid work environments. This means security controls must be both comprehensive and granular to defend against the volume and variety of cyber attacks.

A zero-trust framework limits access to IT environments by assigning users the least number of privileges necessary to complete a task, based on their job role, and generates automatic alerts around anomalous activity. It incorporates broad data safety principles and dynamic policies to make access decisions and monitor infrastructures continually. The strict access protocols allow only verified and authorized networks, applications, users and devices inside the network

The zero-trust framework protects sensitive business data, whether a threat is insider-generated, external ransomware or via security gaps introduced by contractors, remote workers or third-party supply chains. The zero-trust model is based on the key foundational principles below.

Continuous monitoring

Through continuous monitoring and visibility, security teams gain critical insights on how end users access the IT infrastructure and interact with business data. This information helps combat the threat of insider and external attacks. Drawing from a variety of sources -- including threat intelligence, network logs and endpoint data -- continuous monitoring assesses requests for access as well as end-user credentials and behavior to determine validity.

Least privilege

With least privilege designation, end users receive only as much access as necessary to perform certain actions. Along with minimizing sensitive data exposure, least privilege ensures that security teams can assess, respond to and mitigate threats. Every access request is scrutinized automatically and verified before granting access to corporate resources.

Automation

Organizations that automate monitoring and verifications to protect data access achieve high levels of security flexibility. Security teams can customize mitigation responses based on end-user activity or events and can act once they detect an anomaly.

Identify strategic business areas

In today's threat environment, it's no longer effective to combine isolated security tools to build a unified security framework. IT ops teams and security administrators often must pivot and identify new threat vectors or data leaks. It requires not only a holistic approach like zero trust to limit incursions, but also requires high degrees of orchestration to streamline protections, such as eliminating identity sprawl to ensure governance and compliance.

Through continuous zero-trust verification, security teams push beyond traditional network security to acquire precise, granular tools to safeguard these four important business elements:

  1. Data. Data access control is crucial to the zero-trust framework because it protects end users as they launch business applications and handle corporate information. An effective zero-trust strategy provides control over access, end users' permission levels and anomaly detection. These capabilities also help IT operations teams identify any transfers of personally identifiable information and unauthorized end-user downloads.
  2. Assets. Cybercriminals increasingly target cloud-based workloads as well as assets, such as containers, functions and VMs. Administrators require precise tools to tailor zero-trust monitoring and access management. They can evaluate the legitimacy of a request using role-based access controls and contextual data. Moreover, by identifying critical assets, organizations can focus their efforts by priority.
  3. Applications. Zero trust uses continuous monitoring at runtime to validate behavior. By understanding which applications end users are using and how they're connecting, IT security teams can enforce protection controls.
  4. End users. The modern enterprise includes a range of employees, contractors and partners who access business applications and corporate data from managed and unmanaged mobile devices. They also regularly use multiple identities and access rights that pose significant IT management challenges. Closely related is the risk of security key sprawl, which severely undermines identity tracking and creates security gaps.

Zero-trust implementation

Long-term leadership commitment and strategic planning are crucial to implementation. Integrating a zero-trust model into current IT operations and security takes considerable time and dedication. A zero-trust approach is not a single one-size-fits-all solution. It requires holistic integration that considers the complex interplay between infrastructure, devices, applications and personnel.

For example, security service edge adoption, which integrates multiple cloud-based zero-trust technologies into a single tool, requires dedicated time and resources to capitalize on the investment. It also involves a thorough understanding of the current IT infrastructure, cybersecurity tools and security gaps. A successful zero-trust adoption avoids redundancy, as well as determining which preexisting security tools are zero-trust compatible and those that are not.

In certain instances, methods such as multifactor authentication can function as a foundation for zero-trust adoptions. Another key goal at the planning stage is to ensure a high degree of modularity to future-proof a zero-trust security framework as cyberthreats evolve. IT leaders should prioritize security risks, start with small implementations and build out incrementally.

Each focus area provides an on-ramp for zero-trust adoption and dictates the necessary technology support. For example, a network-specific zero-trust approach requires microsegmentation, network encryption and the ability to block lateral threat movements as well as enabling breach isolation. Zero-trust data access and applications will necessitate tools for data classification and container security.

Similarly, access management requires organizations to adopt tools that enable biometrics, multifactor authentication and identity control. By using a unified and integrated zero-trust approach, IT leaders can push beyond traditional perimeter security to effectively manage every aspect of a company's overall risk.

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