Zero Trust Architecture and Securing the Remote Workforce

 In Blog, Cybersecurity

Thousands of organizations around the world have transitioned to a completely remote workforce in the past 12 months. Students started learning from home due to school closures as parents, teachers and employers quickly adapted to the new demands of social distancing and flexible work. Workforces had been trending towards more flexible schedules and remote work opportunities for years prior but 2020 brought a dramatic shift in the trend almost overnight. When the shift happened, few organizations were prepared to effectively handle a new 100% remote environment. There were productivity challenges, information access challenges, video meeting challenges, and of course the huge IT security challenge.

Securing a remote workforce requires data, people, and infrastructure. The IT infrastructure and data access models for on-premise security doesn’t translate to a work-from-anywhere environment. To truly defend against the cybersecurity threats a remote workforce will face, we must take a ground-up approach and rethink security, permissions, and device-level access to data and networks. Technologically security and accessibility of the new workforce are established through VPNs and the cloud; but, a Zero Trust approach should be considered when defining data access and authentication. In a Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA), an IT security model will consider:

  1. Single strong source of user identity
  2. User authentication
  3. Machine authentication
  4. Additional context, such as policy compliance and device health
  5. Authorization policies to access an application
  6. Access control policies within an application

The concept of a Zero Trust Architecture isn’t new, but the idea has grown in significance recently through the shift towards work-from-anywhere. Large enterprises such as Microsoft and Google (Alphabet) have taken the principles of Zero Trust in transitioning their own workforces which have furthered visibility of the approach.

In 2018 the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Cyber Security Center of Excellence (NCCoE) published A NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-207, Zero Trust Architecture which defines Zero Trust as:

Zero Trust (ZT) is the term for an evolving set of cybersecurity paradigms that move defenses from static, network-based perimeters to focus on users, assets, and resources. A Zero Trust architecture (ZTA) uses zero trust principles to plan industrial and enterprise infrastructure and workflows. Zero trust assumes there is no implicit trust granted to assets or user accounts based solely on their physical or network location (i.e., local area networks versus the internet) or based on asset ownership (enterprise or personally owned). Authentication and authorization (both subject and device) are discrete functions performed before a session to an enterprise resource is established. Zero trust is a response to enterprise network trends that include remote users, bring your own device (BYOD), and cloud-based assets that are not located within an enterprise owned network boundary. Zero trust focuses on protecting resources (assets, services, workflows, network accounts, etc.), not network segments, as the network location is no longer seen as the prime component to the security posture of the resource. This document contains an abstract definition of zero trust architecture (ZTA) and gives general deployment models and use cases where zero trust could improve an enterprise’s overall information technology security posture.

Implementing the concepts of Zero Trust allows an organization to more effectively address security risks associated with devices not owned by an organization including employee or vendor/partner-owned devices or devices with limited security controls such as IoT devices. A Zero Trust infrastructure treats every access attempt as though it were originating from an untrusted network and device. Instead of assuming everything on-premise or behind the firewall is safe, a Zero Trust architecture assumes every access attempt is malicious and requires verification — never trust, always verify. In a Zero Trust environment, all access attempts are authenticated, fully authorized, and encrypted before access is granted.

Along with helping to secure corporate resources by eliminating trusted access based on devices or networks, ZTA helps to reduce the growing threat from insecure IoT devices through micro network-segmentation and least-privileged access principles.

Supporting an extended security boundary through Zero Trust in our “new reality” of work-from-anywhere includes expanding VPN capabilities with stronger identity management, device management and device health, alternate access for unmanaged devices, stronger network segmentation, and isolation of resources. To learn more about how a Zero Trust Architecture can benefit your organization, contact us.


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