Zero Trust Security Model

Never trust. Always verify.

Learn Zero Trust Security Model

Wendy Rodriguez

Today’s cybercriminals are more cunning and ambitious than ever. They have the means, the time and the intelligence to attempt to hack into anything (network or technological asset) they believe to be vulnerable. There are always ways to enhance your company’s security posture: Steps to take in order to reduce the possibilities of harmful cyberattacks. One of the strategies that has been making waves is the zero trust philosophy and its model.

This model was coined in 2010 and has become more and more popular as a result of the complex and evolving cybersecurity landscape, the expansion of cloud computing and the necessity for remote access, and the rise of stricter privacy regulations that call for more comprehensive security strategies. Gartner predicts that “more than 60% of organizations will embrace zero-trust principles as a starting place for security by 2025.” The goal of the zero trust architecture is to eliminate inherent trust and implement strong identity and access management (IAM) controls, which would lower a company’s cyber risk by reducing access to only essential resources or data inside its perimeter and preventing unauthorized access.

Let’s first understand what companies around the world have been working with so far and why it has made them vulnerable to some kinds of attacks.

Good old castle-and-moat

Let’s imagine a building with residential apartments, social areas, administrative offices and commercial spaces. Every time a resident enters the building, they are required to provide proof of residency. After this is completed, residents have free rein and can enter any location they like, even apartments that don’t belong to them. They are trusted to move without encumbrance.

Traditional network security relies on that “trusted by default” concept, and it’s called the “castle-and-moat” approach. Consider the network within a company as a castle and the network perimeter as a moat, trusting anyone and anything inside the network. No one outside it is able to access the data, but once inside the network, lateral movement becomes easy. Companies had relied on this approach when all of their data and resources resided in one physical place, an on-premises data center, to which employees accessed through a company-owned device and they were located in the company’s base office. However, several factors have rendered the castle-and-moat approach obsolete. The 2020 pandemic sped up this process, making remote work and access necessary. Cloud services have become an intricate part of modern IT structures, killing on-premises data centers. Cyber threats keep evolving, finding ways to bypass traditional network security. These factors, among others, have left the castle-and-moat approach behind, but it’s not like it was ever completely secure.

The castle-and-moat approach assumes that attacks originate on the outside of the network, concentrating on protecting its perimeter. Nevertheless, threats do also come from within, making this approach insufficient and vulnerable. For example, if a malicious actor gains access to credentials (stealing them or buying them on the dark web), this approach wouldn’t detect or be able to stop the attacks, permitting the attacker to move laterally and create havoc. Companies that use this approach have to employ other resources to defend their perimeter with security tools like firewalls, intrusion prevention systems (IPS) and intrusion detection systems (IDS), which, needless to say, has a greater monetary cost.

It has become absolutely necessary for companies to find other ways to secure their resources, through more efficient approaches that solve the fundamental flaw of inherent trust within a perimeter. Zero trust security addresses that flaw by continuously verifying access requests and granting only minimum permissions.

What is zero trust security?

Imagine another building. This building has the same areas as the building above, but the residents in this building can only enter their apartments and can do so only after they have been properly validated. The residents must obtain prior authorization and pass strict verification, just as they did when they entered their apartments, to access any other areas of the building. The zero trust security architecture is based on this regular monitoring methodology and provides a set of principles to design and implement secure IT networks. The main idea in this philosophy is “never trust, always verify,” which means that authentication and authorization are necessary for every user or device trying to access company resources, no matter their location (company’s office, home office, co-workings, work cafes, etc.) This eliminates the inherent trust or “trust by default” of legacy models by assuming that threats could originate from wherever.

Zero trust security relies on the idea that no one and nothing can be inherently trusted. Its principles are grounds that, if applied correctly, provide a more secure company posture that has the ability to face an attack, which could happen at any time. That is why zero trust is important. It’s a robust cybersecurity strategy that counters risks like those associated with credential theft, malware or ransomware, social engineering and vulnerability exploitation. So, what principles are we talking about?

Zero trust principles

Zero trust security should be built on a foundation of core principles that stand up against traditional approaches. These principles are:

  • Least-privilege access: Users are granted the bare minimum level of access to networks and systems required to perform their tasks. This limits the potential reach an attacker might have if access is gained. Privileges can always be elevated after trust brokers examine each request thoroughly.

  • Continuous authentication and monitoring: Identity confirmation on an ongoing basis ensures that users are who they say they are. Strong IAM practices are crucial for verifying access requests and ensuring only authorized entities can use specific resources. Moreover, user activity, network traffic, location and device health are monitored for anomalies and suspicious behavior. This allows for early detection of possible breaches and enables a quick response to contain threats.

  • Microsegmentation: This practice advocates segmenting networks into smaller zones to keep workloads separate. It’s a technique that limits the “blast radius” in case of a breach, restricting an attacker from moving laterally.

  • Assume breaches: This principle is the presumption that attacks will happen and promotes a company to prioritize detection, response, and quick recovery to minimize the impacts of security breaches.

Zero trust vs castle-and-moat

"Zero trust vs castle and moat"

Differences between zero trust and castle-and-moat approaches

Which components are used in zero trust?

Several components are available in the market to implement and establish zero trust security. The following are some of the most used technologies and features:

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): User and device multi-step process used for identity management in which at least two proving factors are needed to access. That evidence can be one-time passwords (OTPs), security tokens, security questions, and biometrics like fingerprints.

  • Encryption: Information is transformed into code using this procedure to prevent unauthorized access. PII (personally identifiable information) should be kept encrypted, along with sensitive data like network maps, legal documents, and software information.

  • Active Directory (AD): This is a Microsoft directory service where administrators can control access to network resources and permissions.

  • Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA): ZTNA is the technology solution most commonly used for zero trust security. It restricts access to the particular resources that users or devices need.

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How to implement zero trust

As aforementioned, zero trust moves away from the perimeter-based approach and inherent trust, constantly verifying access and minimizing privileges. For companies with an established legacy model, the zero trust architecture implementation can be somewhat complex at first. But by adopting a staged implementation, doing an ROI and budget analysis, using integration tools and making training sessions for employees, the zero trust adoption process can become less stressful.

The following are five steps to implement the zero trust security model, keeping in mind every company's demands are unique:

  1. Define the attack surface: Identify critical assets (data and resources) and map data flows (how your data moves across your network).

  2. Map out network requests: Make an inventory of users and devices that need access, specifying with certainty who or what needs access to which resource.

  3. Create a policy for zero trust: Define security standards and establish clear and granular access control policies.

  4. Choose your zero trust components: Decide which zero trust security components you’ll be using in your infrastructure, choosing the ideal solution for your company.

  5. Monitor and maintain the network: Regularly review access controls to ensure they remain effective, develop an incident response plan and educate users on zero trust best practices.

Zero Trust security model with Fluid Attacks

As a cybersecurity company focused on AppSec, we firmly believe that zero trust promotes some of the best security practices available and whose ultimate goal is to keep companies safe. We trust it so much that we follow the zero trust philosophy within our company and with our clients. To those clients who want to comply with a zero trust model, we can offer them certain tactics that follow this philosophy.

Our CSPM (cloud security posture management) acts as a strong ally to the zero trust model by constantly assessing cloud configurations. CSPM can identify excessive or illogical privileges, for example when a machine allows SSH access from an unspecified network. We would report this situation and provide certain recommendations (like whitelisting expected IPs) to guarantee the zero trust principle of least privilege is met.

CSPM is complemented by our testing methods, such as static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST) and software composition analysis (SCA), to further strengthen the zero trust posture by ensuring vulnerabilities are being discovered promptly.

We look for security policies that are poorly applied and report on how they can result in vulnerability exploitation and, consequently, impact our client’s zero trust architecture. We can assist your company in maintaining a high-level security plan that keeps everything and everyone farther away from cybercriminals and their methods. We also require that certain applications employ multi-factor authentication, promote credential verification and ensure every login session complies with strong password policies.

Our security testing solution can be a valuable tool for security teams to identify and fix vulnerabilities that could reduce the effectiveness of the zero trust model. For example, when we check our clients' apps for vulnerabilities, we report when there isn't a proper authorization process established or any other situation that compromises their security policies. After a comprehensive evaluation, our hacking team provides you with recommendations that align with the zero trust security model.

If you want more information on how our solutions help your security posture, contact us now.


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