How to Move to Zero-Trust Security in 9 Steps

Feb 03, 2022

Is your virtual private network (VPN) technology keeping your network safe? It might not be as secure as you think it is. In the first quarter of 2021, hackers upped the rate of attacks nearly 2000 percent against VPN technologies.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more organizations shifted to remote work, their VPN implementations have become a popular target for hackers. By compromising a user, hackers can enter through the VPN to access networks, steal information, and spread ransomware. If you’re looking to minimize your organization’s risk of a VPN attack, it’s time to take the zero-trust security approach. Read on to learn what zero-trust security is, why you need it, and how to implement it.

What is zero-trust security

Zero-trust security provides deep network protection using a multilayered approach. It uses a strict verification process to authenticate, authorize, and continuously validate users and devices for access to applications and data. When verified, they get just-in-time, restricted access to resources. Zero-trust security protects applications, their users, and local, cloud, and hybrid networks from external cyber threats by using resources in any location, regardless of where employees are.

On the spectrum of network security, zero trust and VPN sit opposite each other. Where zero-trust networks prohibit access to all users all the time, VPNs provide connectivity for approved remote users and managed devices. With most common VPN implementations, once users are authorized, they can access everything on the company’s internal network. If a hacker compromises a user, such as through social engineering, they can access everything on the network the user can. Meanwhile zero-trust security restricts user access, even if they steal credentials to get in.

Why you need a zero-trust security model

COVID-19 brought the world new challenges, heightened societal chaos, and showed us how we can adapt to change. It’s the perfect mix that hackers love to take advantage of. Shifting to a zero-trust security model enables you to secure your network from anywhere to everywhere your employees and devices are.

Within this mix, factors that drive the need for zero-trust security include:

  • Unsecured environments in the shift to remote and hybrid work
  • Increased use of cloud platforms to support devices and networks
  • Current state of the world, specifically COVID-19 and politics
  • Growing number of employees in your organization
  • Bring your own devices (BYOD)
  • Unsecured internet network
  • Ineffective perimeter-based security
  • Shared security required for cloud data centers
  • More frequent attacks and advanced threats

The rate of cyberattacks increases each year, with the average cost of an attack in the US at $4.24 million in 2021 alone. Now more than ever, organizations need to move to a zero-trust security to increase their protection and minimize the devastating impacts of an attack.

How to move to zero-trust security in 9 steps

Adopting and moving to zero-trust security can be intimidating, especially if you plan to do it all at one time. Instead, migrate your assets and access bit by bit using the following staged approach.

1. Assess your current situation

Take inventory of your existing security strategy and infrastructure. Consider the skilled personnel who manage it, its maturity, the assets it protects, and the access to those assets. By starting here, you understand where your current strategy stands relative to where you need to strengthen it.

2. Gain support from leadership

As with any major undertaking, seek support from the business leaders in your organization. Often, they’re the ones who push for greater security. By gaining agreement early in the process, you’ll have assurance to invest staff, time, and budget resources to carry the project through.

3. Determine what to protect

Focus on the most valuable aspects of your company that you need to protect. Identify the users, devices, and assets that need network access. Also, identify the data, applications, and services that will connect to or transmit over the network.

4. Identify critical and noncritical business applications and processes

Define the least critical, low-risk applications and corresponding processes for your organization. Plan to migrate these applications in the first group to zero trust. Then, identify the most critical, high-risk applications and corresponding processes. Move these applications after the first group once you’ve tested the design.

When distinguishing between low-risk and high-risk processes, consider a cost-benefit analysis based on their performance, user experience, and workflow.

5. Map transaction flows across your network

Protect network traffic based on how it moves across your network. Note interdependencies of your data, applications, assets, devices, employees, and services and how they interact. By gaining this understanding, you’ll know where you need to enforce controls to protect your data.

6. Build your zero-trust network

Build your zero-trust network to protect your data, applications, assets, devices, employees, and services. Zero-trust networks are unique based on what you need to protect, how it flows, and the needs of your organization. As you design your zero-trust network, use network segmentation to build in layers of protection and prevent against lateral network attacks.

7. Create your zero-trust policy

Create zero-trust policies based on which resources require access to other resources. Factor in the following details:

  • Users who require access to a resource
  • The application that’s used to access a resource inside the protected area
  • Time when the resource is accessed
  • Location of the packet destination
  • Why the packet tries to access the resource within the protected area
  • How the packet accesses the protected area from a specific application

This granular level of information ensures only specific traffic or application communication is allowed.

8. Monitor and maintain the network

Review the logs for each layer of the zero-trust security infrastructure to gain insights into where the network needs improvement. Keep in mind the impact of zero trust on the operations to ensure everything flows smoothly. This step will be helpful as you move to the next iteration of the process.

9. Repeat these steps

After you migrate the first group of applications and processes, move to the next group. As you migrate more high-risk applications and processes, keep in mind they are likely to require more downtime to move than the low-risk ones.

Partner with security experts to guide you

The security strategy you choose depends on your threat landscape and what you need to protect. While a VPN might be all you need, is it worth the risk? You can achieve greater depth of security with the layered approach of a zero-trust security strategy.

Moving to zero trust isn’t about taking on a whole new set of technology. Rather, it’s a way to view security based on trust. Once you understand what you need to protect, why, and who needs access, figure out how to safeguard it. You might already have the right technologies in place, or you might need to invest in new ones you hadn’t considered before.

If you’re hesitant to go it alone in adopting zero-trust security, partner with security experts who can help you assess and advise what you need.

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