It’s a perfect confluence of events for zero trust to take center stage in the world of cyber security: the rise of hybrid and remote work, the ongoing shift to cloud services, the continuing growth of mobile devices in the workplace, and an onslaught of sophisticated attacks that can impact entire supply chains.
Never have organizations faced so many challenges in protecting their data resources, and never have they needed to be more suspicious of users and devices trying to access their networks. The zero-trust model, with its principal concept that users, devices, applications and even networks should not be trusted by default — even if they are connected to a permissioned network and even if they were previously verified — is well suited to today’s typical IT environment.
There is simply too much risk that an outside entity trying to gain access actually has nefarious intent. There is too much at stake to trust anyone or anything. One of the more notable effects of the shift to zero trust is the realization that traditional virtual private networks (VPNs) are no longer fully capable of securing remote access to corporate networks.
The distributed workforce at an organization might have access to highly regulated customer data through on-premises or cloud-based customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning systems. They might also need to access commercially sensitive intellectual property—all of this from personal devices.
Organizations need an effective way to secure and authenticate these users, and unfortunately, traditional VPNs have struggled to keep up with the traffic workloads that work-from-home generates.
Research by Tanium has found that overtaxed VPNs were the second biggest security challenge for organizations transitioning to a distributed workforce. The problems with legacy VPNs have not only imperiled the security of traffic flows, but they are also contributing to a growing risk of security threats related to endpoints.
When the pandemic hit and organizations were forced to allow many employees to work from home, they relied on VPNs to support their distributed workforces, but with less-than-stellar results. While VPNs are familiar to many users and already in use for remote access, they are not the ideal tools to provide secure access for so many users relying on devices that in many cases are not as secure as they could be.
VPNs will not provide adequate defense against threats aimed at home networks. In addition, companies with a sizeable mobile or hybrid workforce will need to support a significant volume of VPNs, which can be burdensome for IT to manage and maintain.
Zeroing in on zero trust
To truly provide secure access for a large number of remote workers, organizations need to think beyond VPNs and fully adopt the zero-trust model of cybersecurity.
With a zero-trust strategy and tools, it’s easier for security teams to provide secure access to applications because they have more granular access controls and users do not get blanket permissions. Access rights are specific and require continuous verification.
The term “zero trust” is used a lot in the cybersecurity market and can mean different things to different people. If done right, this approach should look at three things: a user’s credentials, the data that user is trying to access, and the device (the endpoint) the user is employing to gain access.
By combining the principle of least privilege with a modern approach leveraging contextual access, multi-factor authentication (MFA) and network access, enterprises can maintain a more agile security model that works well with a remote workforce and cloud-heavy environment.
They can reduce the attack surface and make sure sensitive data is only accessible by users who need it under approved, validated context. This serves to reduce risk.
Device validation is one of the keys to a successful zero-trust strategy, and with remote work making up a large portion of end-user access today, device posture is extremely important. Devices in many cases are the new “perimeter” within organizations, and their validation enables organizations to protect against stolen credentials or even stolen devices that cybercriminals can use to gain access to networks.
This is why practicing strong endpoint management is such an important part of a zero-trust approach. Without real-time and accurate endpoint management, organizations can’t enforce compliance or validate device posture as a prerequisite for access. Authentication alone can’t ensure that a device is secured.
The right tool can allow security teams to continuously check device posture against policies and ensure that the zero-trust approach really does trust no one, even after identity and access policies are in place. Ideally, organizations should be able to integrate new zero-trust solutions with the tools they already use, so they don’t have to start from scratch.
The key components of a zero-trust practice should include:
- Device compliance monitoring and enforcement to confirm security posture for the device and give security teams the ability to take action if something is not right.
- Identity and access management to authenticate users’ identities and compare their access against role-based rules.
- Network access controls including restricting access to resources on network segments based on a user’s persona and the device being used.
The concept of zero trust might come across as negative — even paranoid: Don’t trust anything, whether it’s devices and other endpoints, applications, networks or individuals. However, what the model really indicates is that organizations are operating in uniquely challenging times, and much is at stake when a data breach or ransomware attack occurs.
More people are working remotely, in many cases using their own devices and networks. Companies are relying on cloud services more than ever. Attacks have become more sophisticated and can impact entire supply chains.
Organizations need to take the initiative to ensure that valuable data resources are always protected and to be certain that the users and devices trying to access their networks will not do harm.
Implementing a zero-trust strategy is a truly effective way to achieve this level of security. Learn how Tanium can help.