Architecture & DesignZero Trust Security Architecture Overview

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If your tightly secured network has ever been hacked by a falsely authorized user, then you may benefit from learning about the Zero Trust architecture security model. While the term “Zero Trust” might seem like a buzzword referencing a dystopian science fiction concept, the truth of the matter is, once you know more about it, you will likely wish to add it to your security toolset.

That being said, implementing this magic buzzword will create some much needed security changes and great benefits, befitting such a luxury name! So, what on earth is Zero Trust architecture, what are its core principles, and how can developers benefit from adopting the security architecture? We discuss that and more in this tutorial.

What is Zero Trust Security?

Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) is a security strategy that is particularly useful for networks and cloud computing. It’s based on strict conditions of identity reauthorization every time any user or device tries to log in or access any resource on a network.

These conditions apply to everyone – whether they are an authorized user or just a guest. This is key for strengthening a firm’s security in light of increasing cyberattack innovations and ransomware exploits.

Briefly, the main philosophy of Zero Trust is to never trust, and to constantly ask both users and machines to verify their identity to protect private networks. This is probably the easiest way to think of the Zero Trust architecture.

Zero Trust security techniques can be compared with the old approach of “castle-and-moat” security, which is based on the “trust, but verify” concept. In essence, the network was based on trusting every user and anything within it. This is a completely different security approach than Zero Trust employs. This older system is flawed, because if an attacker has managed to gain access, the network as a whole will be hacked.

To take the concept one step further, Zero Trust architecture evaluates what cybersecurity controls are already in place and sets additional policy compliance and authorization policies to guarantee applications access and devices increased health. Also, Zero Trust comes with additional security tools that provide added layers of protection, alongside conducting monitoring and using alerting tools that work under the assumption of untrust for every request until proven trustworthy.

Zero Trust Architecture

What are the Benefits of Zero Trust for Business?

Despite the fact that there are some articles that describe Zero Trust as an “enemy” for business, by and large this is just an opinion that was formed due to superficial knowledge of the Zero Trust architecture. In truth, Zero Trust’s advanced security features have many benefits especially for enterprises in several key aspects. Zero Trust tackles many challenges faced by security professionals, not only for networks, but for the whole security realm.

In an interview with IEEE, Senior Member Jack Burbank talked about the reality of zero-trust adoption and planning: “Zero Trust also involves humans and workplace culture. It involves organizational policy and sometimes requires organizational change. You need it all in order to make it work.” he said.

To have a clearer idea of this concept, let’s showcase the benefits of Zero Trust security architecture:

  • Protect Your Business and Customers’ Data: Zero Trust enables the security provider team to accurately monitor every user and device accessing the network. This increases their ability to keep track of every threat more efficiently.
  • Reduce Time to Breach Detection: Although it appears that the process will need more time for every repeated verifying case, the behavioral analytics of the data gathering will help your team to apply better security compliance and policies that can save time.
  • Reduce the Complexity of the Security Stack: Zero Trust is not merely a strict policy, but rather a new revolution that eliminates repeating of redundancy inherited from overlapping traditional technologies. This includes VPN appliances, identity providers, and single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, next-gen firewalls, secure web gateways, and so forth. Zero Trust solutions simplify this via migrating most of these complexities to the cloud-services model as one package.
  • Solve the Security Skills Shortage: Since Zero Trust is applied in the cloud, there is no more need for installing an equipment stack for security. It’s a mere one security resource at the cloud for all applications, data, users, and devices. This reduces the need for a huge number of security staff and other high cost resources.
  • Combining Security with an Excellent User Experience: It may be the first time you can deliver both strong security and a good productive user experience, thanks to Zero trust. No need for complicated passwords, which are bad for user experience. Alternatively, there is a simple multi-factor authentication that provides stronger security.
  • Facilitate the Move to the Cloud: Migration to the cloud is an inevitable step – sooner or later most companies will make the move. Companies need to modernize their applications and infrastructure; the best way is by moving to the cloud. When doing that, there are no better security solutions than Zero Trust; Zero Trust solutions are based on a new security approach designed especially for the cloud.

Zero Trust Architecture Examples and Use Cases

In order to reassure you that Zero Trust isn’t a heretical heresy, buzzword of the day, or a whim, let’s look into some big names worldwide, such as Google and Microsoft, that are utilizing Zero Trust:

Google BeyondCorp Zero Trust security framework: A zero-trust system modeled by Google. It runs on the assumption that anyone inside the corporate firewall is just as suspicious as anyone outside. Also, it makes the employees work in a more secure environment without using old-fashioned security technologies.

Microsoft Zero Trust: To embrace proactive security, Microsoft has established a Zero Trust strategy. With a special focus on health devices and applications. It also uses Microsegmentation and least privileged access tactics for reducing lateral movement, alongside active intelligent analytics to help to respond in real-time.

AWS Management Console: One of the most prominent uses of Zero Trust is in AWS APIs. It has a variety of public and private networks. It does not depend on network reachability, but each API request gets authorized every single time for millions of requests per second around the world!

IBM Security Zero Trust solutions and services: With a goal to wrap security around every user, IBM also breaks into the world of zero trust. With a slogan “every device, every connection, every time”, it manages your security needs, combines security tools, and increases protection based on choosing top priorities.

How to Apply the Zero Trust Security Approach

Zero Trust as a security strategy seems to need a clear roadmap for agile implementation. Fortunately, there is a thing called the simple “Five Steps” methodology:

  • Define the protected surface
  • Map the transaction flows
  • Architect a Zero Trust network with a next-generation firewall
  • Create the Zero Trust policy: who, what, where, when, why, how
  • Monitor and maintain the network

In most cases (except for cloud migration), Zero Trust doesn’t need additional infrastructure, and it can work greatly upon your existing architecture. Since there are no special security products for Zero Trust, this makes deploying it much simpler.

However, a different approach was taken by the National Cyber Security Centre to identify the core concepts of Zero Trust architectures. They are solid and consistent steps also, which include:

  • Single strong source of user identity
  • User authentication
  • Machine authentication
  • Additional contexts, such as policy compliance and device health
  • Authorization policies to access an application
  • Access control policies within an application

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