The rise of remote and hybrid working environments in 2020 has also brought a more pressing concern, especially to businesses striving to survive through health protocols and social distancing measures. It has exposed companies to various forms of cybersecurity threats.
With the coronavirus pandemic drastically changing the world, we have developed new habits both in the workplace and at home. Our increased reliance on virtual interactions will likely stay in one form or another. While the flexibility that remote collaboration brings to a company is intriguing, it comes with security risks. And organizations, as they rush the implementation of automation and digitalization, are struggling with what security approach to adopt.
Zero-trust data security
The zero trust approach to protecting corporate data has gained a lot of traction lately, in part because of its ability to defend against ransomware and other major threats. The concept has been around for years, but it’s only recently that security vendors have begun to release products built around the concept.
Zero trust is at its core a philosophy, a mindset that prioritizes data security above everything, requiring authenticated access to all systems and processes. A remote employee, for instance, should use company-authorized devices that should be dedicated solely to work-related matters. Every time corporate data is accessed should be authorized and authenticated. When transmitting sensitive information, encryption must be in place.
Humans as the weakest link
When it comes to securing sensitive corporate data, trust no one, because, whatever their motivation, cybercriminals steal data. They victimize unsuspecting employees by tricking them into providing access to the network and company information. The assumption is that the weakest link in cybersecurity remains people.
Bad actors getting into the system stealing account information and accessing corporate data could besmirch a company’s reputation, halt operations and lead to significant losses. Therefore, there’s a need to restrict access to data as much as possible. Maintaining a zero trust posture toward users, applications, providers, and networks reduces the incidence of data breaches and minimizes any damage.
Defense beyond the perimeter
Cybercriminals have become more sophisticated. Security threats increasingly expand from the traditional server or data storage to the edge of the network.
The task of securing networks is complicated. For one thing, accessing corporate data from a mobile phone is not a two-way interaction between the device and the data center. Data passes through several network layers — Wi-Fi (home network) or cell tower (if using mobile data) and across multiple servers and service providers. There are gaps that hackers can exploit, factors like the distance between the edge and the cloud, remote location, network-to-branch, or human interactions.
The more defenses the better, from core security tools like firewalls, endpoint detection and security information and even management (SIEM), to more advanced tools like behavior analytics, data loss prevention and zero trust.
Zero trust is a mechanism that extends defenses beyond the network’s perimeter to the users and data wherever they are, solving security issues on the end-user side not covered by VPN. And it holds users accountable for the security of their computers and networks to ensure data protection, mitigate breaches, and prevent unauthorized users and access. Inside the firewall, companies can add protected zones with microsegmentation to guard the most critical data and applications.
Protecting data as the top priority
Authenticating and validating requests for access to data are the keys by which zero trust operates.
Although it’s easier to grasp the idea of zero-trust, implementation poses some challenges. It involves using various tools and means to protect data, including the use of analytics. The goal is to protect corporate data from malicious threats, both from the outside and inside. And then build layers of security measures, such as multi-factor authentication, authorization, and enforcing permissions. If malicious elements manage to penetrate defenses, they have limited access to protected data.
Principles of zero trust
Zero trust isn’t perfect, but it can minimize damage from data breaches. It is founded on understanding the nature of the data to protect—whether stale or sensitive—and identifying the threats. It asks questions about location and the people and devices with access to corporate data.
Identifying the threats
Once data is established, creating a data tracking system helps detect real and potential threats. Professional hackers, cybercrime networks, state actors, and malicious insiders lurk in the shadows. They actively look for vulnerabilities in the system to exploit. Verifying access to data, enforcing control logs, and using analytics to detect patterns can dramatically reduce the risks.
Granular control and microsegmentation
Isolate data and restrict access by having granular control and employing microsegmentation. Authentication should not be limited to allowing or denying users access to data through username and password. The devices used, location and the time data is accessed must also be authenticated. There’s also the need to gain control over networks and endpoint applications, ensuring proper monitoring of data access and usage.
Security everywhere, not only data access
With zero trust, security policies cover not only access to data. Permission extends to machines, data usage, content volume, files, and transfer. Data control entails persistent and consistent enforcement of security protocols for applications, networks, and system tools.
Creating an audit trail
Every tool installed must undergo a rigorous review for security, and there has to be a record of all data access. Keeping logs — user, location, time, device, application, and other factors — provide visibility, creating an audit trail.
Adopting zero trust
That an organization prioritizes data security enough to adopt zero trust shouldn’t be taken as a slight by employees. It is necessary to protect the company from embarrassment and loss and to keep jobs. The threats are real. Malicious entities seeking to steal company intellectual property or other sensitive information might be insiders, although it is highly probable that they come from elsewhere.
Adopting a zero trust approach requires investing in training employees on cybersecurity and developing a security-first culture. Knowledge of data protection and different security threats enables office-based and remote employees to take the necessary steps to prevent leaks and attacks.
Zero trust empowers companies to create and enforce security policies for everyone, everywhere, reducing the risks of data breaches by humans and promising a decrease in damaging losses. It is a collaborative endeavor that serves as a blueprint for the future of cybersecurity.