A 2022 Guide to Zero Trust for Data Protection

Zero Trust is a major change in data security that is going to be essential for stopping cyberattacks.
zero trust for data security
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Data breaches have become far more common in recent years. There were nearly 1,300 data breaches between January 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. This was nearly 20% higher than all of 2020, when data breaches already became higher than ever due to so many people staying at home.

The rate of data breaches is going to continue to increase, due to the changing nature of the economy. The pandemic, as we all know and understand at this point, led to a rapid, dramatic shift to remote work, among so many other business-related changes. Ongoing virus waves and general changes in how workers view the traditional work environment is leaving companies to abandon the idea of bringing people back into the office. This is going to create the need for new data protection requirements. They are going to need to take new initiatives such as investing in data encryption.

Some organizations are looking at the current situation as an excellent way to boost productivity strategically.

However, even when organizations shift their perspectives and take on a rosier view of remote work, they still have to contend with challenges. This is going to be necessary to stave off the growing wave of data breaches that could hurt their businesses.

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One broad area of challenge right now is cybersecurity. More cybersecurity professionals have a background in big data to be able to address these concerns.

Organizations continue to identify strategies to improve security protocols and practices for remote teams when they would have otherwise been using a secure network.

There are specific strategies like multi-factor authentication (MFA) for remote employees, but these specific approaches need to fit into a larger, more holistic picture of cybersecurity.

That holistic approach to security looks increasingly to be reliant on Zero Trust architecture.

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The following is a comprehensive guide to what you should know for the implementation of a Zero Trust security approach if it’s a 2022 organizational priority.

What is Zero Trust Architecture?

Zero Trust is one of the most prominent terms in cybersecurity right now, but it’s more than a buzzword. In fact, it looks like it may represent the future of cybersecurity in many ways. Zero Trust is an initiative to prevent data breaches through the elimination of the concept of trust.

Beyond never trusting, the second philosophical element of Zero Trust is always verify.

Zero Trust protects modern, digital, and often cloud-based environments through network segmentation. Zero Trust can also help prevent lateral movement, and it serves to simplify the implementation of granular user access control.

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John Kindervag created Zero Trust when he was vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research. He concluded that traditional security models were operating on an outdated assumption.

That assumption underlying operation was that everything within a network should be trusted.

Further, the user identity is assumed not to be compromised in a traditional model. The Zero Trust model turns those conventional concepts on their heads and sees trust as a vulnerability.

Once a bad actor gets on a network, they can move laterally. That lateral movement can then lead to the exfiltration of data.

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Zero Trust is about the elimination of trust rather than trying to make a system trusted.

The Protect Surface

In Zero Trust, there’s an identification of a protected surface made up of the most critical assets, data, services and applications. A protected surface is unique to a particular organization.

The protect surface contains only what’s most critical to your operations, so it’s much smaller than your attack surface.

Once you identify a protected surface, you can begin to understand how traffic moves across your organization in relation to the protect surface. You then can also start to understand who users are, what applications they’re using and how they’re connecting.

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Only then can you create and enforce policies for secure data access.

Creating a micro-perimeter becomes relevant, meaning that you’re putting controls as close to your protected surface as you can.

After implementing a Zero Trust policy to surround your protect surface, monitoring and maintenance continue in real-time. As part of this monitoring, you’re looking for anything else that should be included in the protect surface, interdependencies you aren’t accounting for, and ways you can improve your overall policies.

To sum it up even more succinctly, basic principles of a Zero Trust architecture include:

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  • The assumption of breach
  • Assuming the environment owned by the enterprise is no more trustworthy or different than environments not owned by the enterprise
  • Continuous analyzing and evaluating of risk
  • Continuously using risk mitigation protections
  • Minimizing asset access and user access to resources
  • Continual authentication and authorization of identity and security every time there’s an access request

No Dependence On Location

The reason you may be hearing more about Zero Trust now than ever before is that it’s not dependent on location. With remote work, this is critical.

Users, applications, and devices are everywhere. There are often no geographic boundaries.

You can’t have one location where you enforce Zero Trust. The enforcement has to extend across the entire environment.

At the same time, with that extension, your users need access to the appropriate data and applications.

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What Are the Benefits of Zero Trust?

If you’re contemplating whether or not to put resources into a move toward Zero Trust, benefits are extensive and include:

Greater Visibility

Due to the increase in remote work that happened very quickly in 2020, IT teams have had difficulty gaining the visibility they need to keep organizations secure.

With Zero Trust, there’s an implication that you need visibility to make it work, giving a strategic approach.

You’ll need to ideally cover all of your data and computing sources, although this might not be realistic right away.

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However, once you do set up needed monitoring, you’ll then have the advantage of complete visibility into who’s accessing your network and what actions they’re taking at that time.

Simpler Management of IT

Zero Trust relies on the concept of continuous monitoring and ongoing analytics. The automation element can be part of evaluating access requests. IT doesn’t have to be an active part of approving all requests, and they can instead only step in to perform administrative duties when the automated system flags a request as potentially suspicious.

This benefit is especially relevant since a majority of organizations report a shortage of cybersecurity skills.

The more you automate cybersecurity through a Zero Trust approach, the more your team can devote their time to strategic endeavors.

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Your security team can work smarter through the use of centralized monitoring and also analytics. The gathering of analytics help teams gain unique insights they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

The security team can be efficient and do more with fewer resources but maintain a more secure environment simultaneously.

Better Data Protection

Zero Trust offers better data protection, preventing employees and malware from getting access to large swaths of your network.

When you limit what your users can access and also how long they’re able to access it, it reduces the impact if a breach does occur.

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Securing a Remote Workforce

More than 70% of IT executives and security professionals surveyed in 2020 said they were concerned about risks and vulnerabilities due to sudden remote work. Under Zero Trust models, identity forms the perimeter. Otherwise, firewalls aren’t sufficient anymore because data is spread across the cloud and users are dispersed physically.

Identity is attached to the devices, applications, and users who are trying to gain access.

Efficient Access

Automation that comes with a Zero Trust framework helps users access what they need fast, so they don’t have to wait for approval. IT only gets involved if there’s a high-risk flag. Remote workers don’t have to go through slow gateways to access what they need to do their jobs. They can instead go directly to resources and request access.

Ongoing Compliance

Zero Trust helps with compliance because every access request is logged and evaluated.

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There’s an audit trail created automatically with a continual chain of evidence.

Creating a Zero Trust Architecture

Despite the many benefits, some organizations are overwhelmed by the idea of implementing Zero Trust and often don’t know where to start. Getting a general idea of the steps in the process is helpful.

These steps include:

  • Understand your workflows
  • Gain knowledge of all services and applications
  • Decide on the technologies you’re going to use
  • Map out interactions between technologies
  • Build the infrastructure and configure technologies

More specifically, steps can include:

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  • Identify users requiring network access. You can’t move any further in Zero Trust implementation without knowing who needs access to what resources. You’re going beyond gathering a list of users. Instead, you have to think about everyone, including service accounts and third-party contractors.
  • Identify devices requiring network access. This is more challenging now because of the Internet of Things (IoT) and BYOD policies but is still a must-do for Zero Trust.
  • What are your key processes? You might start the move to Zero Trust by focusing on low-risk processes, because then you don’t worry about critical downtime in your business.
  • Create policies.
  • From this point, you can begin identifying solutions. Solution considerations include whether or not it will require behavior changes and if it provides support for applications, protocols and services.

Finally, when you understand how everything will work, you can begin migration and then, as needed and as possible, expand  Zero Trust architecture.

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Zero Trust is Key to Stopping Future Data Breaches

Data breaches have become more concerning than ever. This highlights the need for drastic measures to keep your digital assets safe. If you don’t already have a plan in place for a move to Zero Trust, now is when you should start, making it a critical strategic priority for the upcoming new year. You will be able to prevent data from being accessed by hackers.

Matt James
Matt James is a veteran marketer & tech geek that has helped many large brands increase their online footprint. He specializes in influencer outreach and business growth.