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What are the key components of a Zero Trust approach?

Learn about the key components of a Zero Trust approach, which addresses the need for a modern approach to your cybersecurity strategy.

The rapid adoption of Zero Trust is driven by the need to address modern cybersecurity challenges.

Adapting your organization’s IT security in this fast-evolving technology landscape can initially seem like a mammoth task.

However, identifying the components of a Zero Trust approach will enable enterprises to better understand the critical steps needed to provide robust protection against modern cyber threats.

Implementing Zero Trust will help your organization protect its data, systems, and reputation, and ultimately create a more secure and resilient operational environment.

The guiding principles of Zero Trust

Zero Trust challenges the traditional ‘verify and trust’ approach to IT security.

Instead, it operates on the principle of ‘always verify and validate each action, every time, and in context’.

The Zero Trust methodology assumes that our IT systems are already open to the world, and therefore, trust must be established and explicitly verified whenever access to an IT resource is required.

This security approach can be outlined in the three guiding principles of Zero Trust:

1. Verification

Verify and validate every action by continuously authorizing attributes and context. Never assume that a user, device or system is already trusted.

Instead, the action must be validated using a combination of data points, such as user identity, location, device health, service or workload, data sensitivity, and anomalies.

2. Enforcement

Enforce least privileged access using a combination of ‘Just-In-Time’ (JIT) and ‘Just Enough’ (JE) access. Both JIT/JE access models provide users with temporary and limited access to sensitive IT resources only when necessary for specific privileged tasks.

It is a critical component of Zero Trust and is designed to minimize the risk of unauthorized or excessive access to critical systems and data.

3. Adoption

Adopt a proactive security posture by assuming you are already breached. This principle allows you to prevent threats by quickly addressing any anomalies encountered within your cybersecurity environment.

An assumed breach strategy helps organizations further reduce their attack surface by encouraging them to identify areas where their digital assets may already be exposed.

By adhering to these guiding principles of Zero Trust, organizations will improve their cybersecurity posture and better protect their critical assets in an environment where trust is earned, not assumed.

The Six Pillars of Zero Trust

Implementing a Zero Trust strategy will require these guiding principles to be applied across the six foundational pillars.

These pillars collectively form the foundation of a Zero Trust security strategy, emphasizing the importance of verifying every access request while continuously monitoring for threats and minimizing trust assumptions within an organization’s IT resource environment.

Implementing these principles can significantly enhance an organization’s cybersecurity posture and improve its resilience against evolving threats.

1. Identities

Whether they represent people, services, or devices – when an identity attempts to access a resource, you must verify that identity with strong authentication, ensure access is compliant and typical for that identity, and follow least privilege access principles.

2. Devices

Once an identity has access to a resource, data can flow to various devices – from company-issued laptops, bring your own device (BYOD) phones, partner-managed devices, and on-premises workloads and cloud-hosted services.

This diversity creates a huge attack surface area, requiring that you continuously monitor and enforce device health and compliance to ensure secure access.

3. Applications

Applications and their APIs provide the interface by which data can be accessed. Sensitive data may reside in legacy software, cloud workloads, or modern software as a service (SaaS) applications.

Controls should be applied to ensure appropriate access to this data and in-app permissions that will restrict access and actions based on real-time analytics.

4. Data

The primary focus of a Zero Trust strategy is the protection of data. Data should remain safe wherever possible, even if it leaves the devices, apps, infrastructure, and networks that the organization controls.

Data must be classified, labelled, encrypted, and have access restricted based on those attributes.

5. Infrastructure

Infrastructure represents a critical threat vector for attackers to target, whether it is on-premises servers, virtualized devices, containers or cloud-based hosts.

Maintaining and assessing for vulnerabilities, configurations, and Just-In-Time access hardens your infrastructure defence.

6. Networks

Sensitive data is ultimately accessed over network infrastructure. Networking controls and segmentation should be implemented to prevent attackers from moving laterally across your environment.

Real-time protection must be enforced with end-to-end encryption, activity monitoring, and analytics.

As you assess your Zero Trust readiness and plan on the changes to improve protection across identities, devices, applications, data, infrastructure, and networks, consider utilizing Orchestrated Authorization with Axiomatics to help drive your Zero Trust implementation more effectively.

The Six Pillars of Zero Trust - Identities, Devices, Applications, Data, Infrastructure, Networks

Addressing Zero Trust challenges with Orchestrated Authorization

With Axiomatics, policy-driven authorization is at the heart of a robust Zero Trust approach.

If you are considering the above principles for implementing an IT security strategy, it may seem fairly straightforward.

But putting Zero Trust into practice, and then continuously maintaining that security posture will be challenging.

Yet, continuity is vital, as we must ‘always verify’ to address the ever-increasingly complex number of users and devices that are requesting access to our applications, data and network infrastructure on a constant basis.

This begs the question: How does an organization effectively verify each and every action to ensure a solid and consistent Zero Trust security posture?

The answer is with a centralized orchestrated authorization policy.

By leveraging Axiomatics’ security solution, organizations can easily create dynamic security policies that enable access, but with very specific permissions, and fine-grained controls to ensure Zero Trust compliance without disrupting the flow of business.

Axiomatics’ authorization policy will continuously validate permissions for every identity based on a set of rules that will use attributes to verify the user’s identity, security clearance, physical location, time of day, device, and sensitivity of the resource they are using – and much more.

We will continue to validate that access for every action that happens in that session.

So, if a user’s risk profile were to change, the authorization policy would dynamically adjust what data is visible to that user.

For example, an individual could be working in the office then they close their laptop and move to a different location, such as a coffee shop.

When they reopen the laptop and are connected to a different network, in a new location, their next action will be reassessed based on the context that their location has changed from a secure office environment to a public location.

The application they are using may then dynamically mask sensitive information, switch to read-only mode, or deny access to the data altogether.

That is Zero Trust with Axiomatics.

Take the next step

Request a demo with one of our solution experts to learn more about the importance and benefit of a Zero Trust approach as part of your enterprise’s access control strategy.

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About the author

Dave is a data protection specialist with a track record of success in data-centric compliance and governance projects. For over 20 years, Dave has assisted customers of various sizes and complexity in a range of industries; from financial, legal and retail, to hospitality, manufacturing, and defence.