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Key principles of the Zero Trust concept in practice

Date of issue

31. 5. 2024

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Key principles of the Zero Trust concept in practice

Due to the high sophistication of today’s cyber threats, the seemingly solid defences of your digital environment can be easily breached. All it takes is finding a single weak link in the chain – a leaked password, an unsecured computer, or a poorly configured cloud application. In this article, I will therefore focus on the fundamental pillars of modern security based on Zero Trust principles.

(Un)trustworthy network perimeter

The traditional perimeter-based security concept is a model that focuses on securing the network by protecting its boundaries. Security is ensured by implementing firewalls, VPNs and other security measures at the network’s edge to prevent unauthorized access from the outside. Everything inside the network is trusted, while everything outside it is not.

In today’s highly dynamic IT environment, it is no longer possible to confine the security perimeter to the walls of a building, office or internal network. Data storage and mail servers running in your server room are being replaced by modern cloud tools. Employees work in a hybrid manner, accessing corporate resources from different locations and devices, including their private ones. Quick and efficient collaboration between internal users, external suppliers and customers has become a necessity. Transforming sales or customer systems to the cloud for easy scalability, continuous development and accelerated deployment of new versions is a significant competitive advantage today.

All of these factors have a major impact on the overall security of your IT environment. Cybercriminals have many more opportunities to compromise your identities or devices, infiltrate your environment, steal your data, and damage your reputation. Various studies have also reported that attacks do not always come from the outside, but roughly 30% of attacks are conducted from within the organization, whether due to intentional behavior or negligence.

Trust in the internal environment, corporate devices or employee identity is thus very illusory.

What are the key principles of Zero Trust?

  • Explicit Authentication – Every user and device must be verified and authorized before access to corporate resources is granted, regardless of location.
  • Minimum permissions – Users and devices are granted only the minimum level of access necessary to perform their tasks, reducing the potential impact in the event of a compromise.
  • Microsegmentation – Broad access is never granted. Movement between network zones or different corporate applications is being constantly verified and authorized.
  • Continuous Monitoring – Activity is continuously monitored to detect and respond to suspicious behavior in real time.

Protection is typically multilayered and the ability to tightly integrate between the technologies used plays a very important role. Let’s introduce the most essential ones.

User Identity

Modern Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems play a key role in today’s IT environment. They make it easy to connect employees, business partners and customers, allowing them to collaborate efficiently and securely from anywhere. These tools allow you to implement centralized management of all user accounts, modern authentication methods (multi-factor, passwordless), single sign-on, and access control to all company applications. They will not only increase security, but also improve the user experience.

Endpoint management

Within the framework of Zero Trust, modern device (endpoint) management has become a critical element of the first line of defense. Each endpoint represents a potential entry point for an attacker into your environment. Modern Mobile Device Management (MDM) / Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) tools not only make it easy to deploy, configure and manage all corporate devices, but also provide oversight of the use of personal devices in BYOD mode. They ensure compliance with corporate security policies and play a key role in authorizing device access to corporate resources.

EDR and XDR

Traditional antivirus solutions based on vendor-updated virus databases are long outdated. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) systems constantly monitor endpoints for signs of compromise. They analyse and evaluate anomalies using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent previously unknown types of attacks that exploit so-called zero-day vulnerabilities. XDR (Extended Detection and Response) tools extend this functionality with additional protective mechanisms at the network, cloud and application layers.

Zero Trust Network Access

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) technology allows you to replace your current Virtual Private Network (VPN). Instead of broad network-level access, it emphasizes micro-segmentation and advanced application-level access. Protection from Internet threats is also provided through classification and inspection of network traffic.

Data protection

Document flow management and organization protection against data leakage are another important security feature. The systems enable automated classification and protection of emails and documents based on storage type, keyword occurrence, defined text patterns, etc. This prevents their unauthorised sharing outside the organisation or the recipient circle.

SIEM and SOAR

SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) systems are used for the centralized collection of application and system logs and audit records for subsequent analysis. It is the eyes and ears that sift through the vast amount of information gathered to identify potential threats. SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation and Response) platforms complement SIEM by introducing automation and orchestration into the response process. Nowadays, again with the use of artificial intelligence.

Challenges of adopting the Zero Trust concept

A clearly defined IT strategy and conceptual approach play a major role in the adoption of Zero Trust principles. No organisation can adopt all principles and technologies at once. The deployment of individual components must therefore always be systematic, in well thought-out steps and with regard to the impact on existing processes and users. A well-executed adoption can dramatically enhance an organization’s security while improving the user experience by unifying and simplifying access, authentication and authorization. Improper deployment, on the other hand, can lead to high user dissatisfaction, deliberate circumvention of security rules, and subsequent non-strategic concessions.

In conclusion, it is worth repeating that by adopting these modern security principles we are not just adopting a new set of tools. It fosters a culture of thinking, comprehensive monitoring and proactive countermeasures. It is an ongoing and never-ending journey aimed at minimizing the risk and impact of a potential cyber attack.

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