Why a Zero Trust approach is necessary for a secure IT ecosystem

Now more than ever, digitalization is becoming prominent across industries such as finance, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and beyond. And integrating technology, relevant to business needs, requires an ecosystem of qualified IT professionals, systems, and processes. With diversified businesses, IT needs are getting complex, necessitating different technologies, expertise, and customized solutions. Beyond facilitating these needs, the IT ecosystem must also deal with the most significant challenge — security.

With hybrid work culture dominating industries across the globe, the role of IT has become more crucial than ever. In the current business environment, mobile users, employees in hybrid work mode, and third-party associates, all need access to collaborative networks and shared data. Subsequently, organizations are more prone to cyber attacks, data theft, ransomware, and other sophisticated threats, jeopardizing digital systems and IT operations.

Beyond systems, these security threats also affect employees and their productivity. A susceptible IT system can compromise sensitive data related to employees and teams working in collaboration. This affects employee confidence and trust in the organization, creating bigger challenges for the organization. It also affects the end-user experience, affecting the business, as clients and associates lose trust in their partners and vendors.

Adopting a Zero Trust approach

Traditional network architecture was built with the concept of a perimeter network where, once someone was on the network, there was an implicit level of trust. The shift toward cloud hosting, remote work, and other modernization, has created challenges with a traditional perimeter network architecture. These challenges can be addressed by implementing a Zero Trust security approach, which ensures that all traffic in and out of business is verified and authorized. Implementing a Zero Trust architecture can be done without disrupting employee productivity and connectivity.

A Zero Trust security framework empowers IT teams to meet today’s threat challenges by encompassing key aspects of IT operations, such as applications, network processes, identity-based access keys, and devices. It limits access to IT ecosystems by giving users fewer privileges, based on their roles and responsibilities, and by generating automated alerts on detecting unusual activity. These stringent accesses allow only verified and authorized networks, applications, users, and devices inside the network.

Why Zero Trust?

Identity verification is the new security perimeter and sets controls based on credentials, context, and device access to internal applications, data, and infrastructure. Along with accelerated digital transformation and cloud adoption, organizations are also transitioning to hybrid work environments. Thus, security controls must be thorough to defend against the advancing scale and range of cyber attacks and security threats.

Zero Trust enables organizations to function safely and productively even when people and data are spread across settings and locations. Although there is no one-size-fits-all method for adopting the framework, most firms can start off by organizing the adoption process into three major steps:

  1. Foresee: To establish a Zero Trust framework for a company, it is important to first visualize all its aspects and interconnections. This entails a detailed analysis of the risks associated with the organization’s resources, access methods, and usage. For instance, the legal department may have to access a database storing confidential client data, but loopholes with such connections involve significant threats. Thus, the process of evaluating and assessing resources and the need to access them will inevitably continue to develop as the company expands. Likewise, the significance and risk attached to these elements will evolve. Therefore, businesses wishing to apply the Zero Trust framework should start with the areas they anticipate would be the most crucial and vulnerable, as the adoption of the framework progresses.

  2. Mitigate: The earlier step allows businesses to identify all potential vulnerabilities, prospective threats, and attack routes. This phase prioritizes issues and tackles them one at a time. The business will then need to develop processes and tools that automatically detect emerging vulnerabilities. Furthermore, there could be methods that automatically prevent attacks or minimize the impact (by, for example, controlling the data that would be revealed).

  3. Execute: In this stage, firms will need to expand policies and standards to cover all facets of IT. It is vital to evaluate the framework to verify efficacy and usability as it expands. When implementing security frameworks like Zero Trust, organizations should emphasize the user experience since failure to do so would result in non-compliance and lower productivity.

The Zero Trust framework adds verification of credentials at every level, thus protecting sensitive business and people data. As organizations across sectors embrace digital transformation and move their operations to the cloud, they can implement Zero Trust to help provide a robust and secure network infrastructure. The challenge, however, is that in many organizations, responsibility for networking and security lives in different parts and these groups often rely on different vendors in their respective areas. Breaking down the silos between security and networking teams and choosing the right tools, products, and vendors to align with desired business outcomes is critical to implement Zero Trust. Now more than ever, it has become even more valuable for organizations to collaborate with the IT ecosystem to lead a Zero Trust adoption successfully.

This article is part of a series on the latest trends and topics impacting today’s technology decision-makers.

This article was originally produced for CXO Today


John Engates — @jengates
Field CTO, Cloudflare

Key takeaways

After reading this article you will be able to understand:

  • How a Zero Trust security framework empowers IT to meet today’s threat challenges

  • 3 steps to start the adoption process of Zero Trust

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