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Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) is a cybersecurity strategy that continuously verifies all aspects of network interactions, with five core pillars: Identity and Access Management, Device and Application Security, Network Security, Data Security, and Visibility and Analytics. Implementing ZTA can enhance security, aid compliance with standards like NIST 800-171 and CMMC.
What is Zero Trust Architecture?
Zero Trust Architecture or ZTA as its commonly referred to is a strategic approach to cybersecurity that aims to secure organizations by continuously validating/verifying every phase of an end-to-end session interaction. Zero Trust is a set of policies, initiatives, frameworks, and architectures rooted in the "never trust, always verify" principle. In the ZTA model "who, what, where, when, why, and how" is always examined, and if it is determined that any of those fall outside of the acceptable use boundaries, then access is reevaluated and potentially rejected. In this blog, we discuss ZTA, how it can improve cybersecurity and how its technology pillars can provide a foundation for remediating security gaps that prepare organizations for assessments such as 800-171 and CMMC.
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Why is ZTA Important?
Zero trust is important because organizations no longer can solely rely on traditional network perimeter security tools and technologies. The traditional approach needs to be replaced by a strategic approach to validate more than just the user. In a ZTA model, the device, the network, the type of data being accessed or shared, and the session activity must be examined and validated. This approach will help organizations determine whether activities are inappropriate and/or malicious and can help organizations contain and minimize damage associated with inappropriate and/or malicious activities.
The infamous SolarWinds attack demonstrated the importance of why organizations can't trust previously authorized individuals, network systems, devices, and applications.
Does Zero Trust Architecture have Core Technologies (Pillars)?
Yes, in fact, the key to ZTA is based on a set of core principles called the five pillars. These pillars are designed to help organizations implement ZTA, allowing the adoption of each along the journey.
The Five Pillars of Zero Trust Architecture are:
- IAM (Identity and Access Management):is the first pillar of Zero Trust architecture. Every user and device that attempts to access network resources must be verified and authenticated. It means that before being granted access to any resource, users must provide their identity and credentials. IAM ensures that only authorized users have access to the resources required to carry out their job duties. It also ensures that access is granted in accordance with the principle of least privilege, which means that users have access to only the resources and permissions required to do their job.
- Device and Application Security: Device and application security is the second pillar of Zero Trust architecture. It entails securing all network-connected devices and applications. This means that all network-accessible devices must be registered and authorized. The devices must also have the latest security updates, anti-virus software, and firewall protection. To access the resources they require, applications must be authorized and have the necessary permissions. This pillar also includes data security in transit and at rest.
- Network Security: is the third pillar of the Zero Trust architecture. It entails constantly monitoring and analyzing network traffic for any unusual behavior. This means that all network traffic must be examined for evidence of malicious activity, such as malware and unauthorized access attempts. The network must also be segmented, which means that various parts of the network are separated and only authorized users can access specific segments.
- Data Security: is the fourth pillar of Zero Trust architecture. It entails safeguarding all data stored, processed, or transmitted by the network. This means that all sensitive information must be encrypted and securely stored. Data must be classified and labeled based on its sensitivity, and access must be restricted to those who need it. To prevent data exfiltration from the network, data loss prevention (DLP) techniques must be implemented.
- Visibility and Analytics: are the fifth and final pillars of Zero Trust architecture. It entails gaining a better understanding of the IT environment and analyzing data to identify potential security threats. This means that all network activity must be recorded, and security teams must have access to tools that allow for real-time network traffic analysis. Threat intelligence feeds that provide information on new and emerging threats must also be available to security teams.
These pillars work together to strengthen security by establishing a comprehensive and proactive security posture. Zero Trust architecture assumes that the network is always under attack and that no user or device should be trusted by default.
|Identity and Access Management (IAM)||Verifying and authenticating every user and device that tries to access network resources, granting access based on the principle of least privilege|
|Device and Application Security||Securing all devices and applications that access the network, including registering and authorizing devices, keeping them updated with the latest security software, and ensuring that applications have the necessary permissions|
|Network Security||Continuously monitoring and analyzing network traffic for any suspicious behavior, inspecting all network traffic for signs of malicious activity, and implementing network segmentation to limit access to specific segments|
|Data Security||Securing all data that is stored, processed, or transmitted by the network, including encrypting sensitive data, classifying and labeling data according to its sensitivity, and preventing data exfiltration with DLP techniques|
|Visibility and Analytics||Gaining better visibility into the IT environment and analyzing the data to identify potential security threats, including logging all network activity, providing real-time analysis of network traffic, and accessing threat intelligence feeds|
Why you should be ready?
Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) can be a confusing concept for many organizations. For most organizations, regardless of its size, critical applications and workloads are moving from corporate-owned infrastructures/data centers to the public or hybrid cloud. That, by itself, should make cybersecurity leaders reconsider the legacy assumptions of trust around people and data center security tools, technologies, and processes. The traditional assumption of trust in the corporate infrastructure cannot/should not invoke the same confidence in IT security leaders. Businesses must be proactive and adopt ZTA approach to instill a cyber-secure future for their customers, partners, and employees.
How to get started?
ZTA is not provided by a single solution or product but is instead a unified concept to adopt an ongoing methodology for building/enhancing a security model. As such, your organization may already have some of the pieces in place to adopt a zero trust stance.
To start, your organization must commit to the paradigm shift to forever change its traditional view of "trusted networks". Then, you must understand your current maturity, relative to a ZTA model to develop a strategy, and a subsequent roadmap, which addresses planning, budgeting, prioritization, time management, and implementation of strategic initiatives required to help achieve your desired Zero Trust goals.
How can AtWork Systems help?
AtWork Systems can help you develop and execute a ZTA plan with a ZTA Readiness Assessment. Our approach leverages ZTA principles and different capability frameworks applied which will result in a practical roadmap your organization can use to build and mature your ZTA capabilities.
Some of the benefits are:
- Develop a strategy and roadmap that addresses the planning and budgeting required to achieve desired Zero Trust state. AtWork can help transform your business into Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) framework focusing on the tools, policies, and procedures to protect all ZTA pillars.
- Meet compliance requirements with no extra work. AtWork can help with delivering streamlined reports of system access across the organization and ZTA Security technologies.
- Conduct baseline, and subsequent periodic assessments to determine organizational posture against the Zero Trust and other requirements across domains.
- Our managed cybersecurity services will provide your business with expertise for cybersecurity protection services such as assessment, security program implementation, and governance. Furthermore, AtWork provides several cybersecurity tools (applicable to ZTA model) to ensure end-to-end cybersecurity protection.
- Based on the results of AtWork's ZTA Readiness Assessment, CISOs can determine the gap between the current and the desired state and can develop an implementation and improvement plan.
- By implementing the five pillars of Zero Trust architecture, organizations can limit the attack surface and prevent lateral movement by attackers within the network.
How can implementing a ZTA approach help with achieving NIST 800-171 or CMMC compliance?
Implementing a Zero Trust Architecture is a way to fast-track your organization's Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) process by remediating issues proactively.
- The most compelling reason for organizations to take the initiative to improve their cybersecurity posture is that NIST SP 800-171 is currently the law of the land. Contactors doing business with DoD (as well as other agencies) are required to report their NIST SP 800-171 self-assessment scores and they will be held accountable for the validity of the score.
- The CMMC initiative is part of a larger effort of renewed scrutiny and enforcement of cybersecurity regulations to protect valuable assets such as Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). So, while it is imperative to understand Zero Trust Architecture is a mindset across an organization, by implementing a Zero Trust Architecture, your organization will cover and surpass many CMMC requirements including protection of CUI.
- Adopting Zero Trust Architecture technologies and techniques will contribute to compliance with NIST SP 800-171 and paves the path to greater overall compliance for your organization.
If a user tries to access a resource to which they are not authorized, IAM will deny them access. If a device tries to connect to the network without authorization or is infected with malware, device and application security will prevent it from doing so. If network traffic is deemed suspicious, network security will disable it. Data security will prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data. If there is a potential security threat, visibility, and analytics will detect it and notify the security team in real time.
The Zero Trust architecture's five pillars work together to create a comprehensive security posture that addresses all aspects of network security. Organizations can reduce the risk of cyber threats, comply with regulatory requirements, manage the complexity of their IT environment, and reduce the risk of insider threats by implementing a (ZTA) Zero Trust Architecture.
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