Zero-Trust Architecture: What You Need to Know

If your organization hasn't yet adopted a zero-trust architecture, it's sitting on a cybersecurity time bomb. Now is the time to defuse the threat.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

April 4, 2024

5 Min Read
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Alexander Yakimov via Alamy Stock Photo

Zero-trust architecture has emerged as the leading security method for organizations of all types and sizes. The approach shifts cyber defenses away from static, network-based perimeters to focus directly on protecting users, assets, and resources. 

Network segmentation and strong authentication methods give zero-trust adopters Layer 7 threat prevention. A growing number of enterprises of all types and sizes have embraced the zero-trust approach in recent years as they grow increasingly aware of the weakness of traditional security models. 

Zero-trust architecture is built on the core principle of never trusting anything inside or outside an organization's perimeters, observes Wayne Mattadeen, Deloitte's risk and financial advisory unit's zero-trust leader, in an email interview. "Instead, organizations must explicitly verify all requests before granting access to corporate systems and applications," he advises. Individual identities and devices are provided with the minimum level of access -- or least privileges -- they need to perform their tasks. "Every access request should be continuously validated for security compliance." 

Zero trust moves adopters away from legacy perimeter-based cybersecurity to a model that focuses on protecting critical assets in real time. The approach provides continuous authentication and validation, as well as monitoring all interactions between users, devices, and the data they are accessing, explains Imran Umar, a Booz Allen vice president and head of the advisory firm's zero-trust initiatives, in an email interview. The strategy, he notes, is based on a handful of core principles: assume a breach, never trust, always verify, and allow only least-privileged access based on contextual factors. "The idea is to remove all inherent trust from a network and enforce authorization." 

Related:How Bloomberg Designed a Layered Zero-Trust Philosophy

Zero-trust architecture has become table stakes in today's digital landscape due to the inevitability of security breaches and the insufficiency of traditional perimeter-based security models, says Kyle Fox, CTO at aerospace, defense, and government services integrator SOSi, via email. "With a zero-trust architecture, the focus shifts from defending against external threats to protecting assets inside the network." 

Essential Benefits 

Zero trust provides an agile and dynamic security foundation that's resilient to organizational change and flexible enough to meet the challenges faced by modern business, workforce, and technology trends, Mattadeen says. "From a cybersecurity perspective, a zero-trust architecture can reduce an organization’s attack surface, making it more resistant to attacks and more resilient to compromise." 

Related:Top US Gov’t CISO Details Zero-Trust Strategy Race

Adopting zero trust helps organizations protect critical data in real time from dynamic threats. "It provides greater security and visibility across the enterprise," Umar notes. If a breach does manage to break through, zero trust reduces the attack surface and blast radius. Zero trust also helps reduce network complexity and cost by reducing the number of security devices that serve identical functions within a conventional defense-in-depth model. 

Building Zero Trust 

The first step in building a zero-trust architecture is identifying the data and assets that need protection. Mattadeen also advises conducting a zero-trust readiness and business value assessment, allowing stakeholders to better understand the organization's current security state, as well as how to develop an effective zero-trust plan. 

Fox recommends forming a small, agile, cross-functional team. To gain a holistic view of the organization's security posture, risks and needs, the team should engage with key stakeholders, including IT, application development, cybersecurity, data governance, and operations teams, as well as business decision-makers, internal communications, and senior leadership. 

Related:SEC Ruling Is a Win for Citizens’ Digital Information

Umar advises conducting a security baseline review to identify current strengths as well as areas requiring improvement. He notes that organizations should pick a particular zero-trust model, such as the approach used by the Department of Defense or the one recommended by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. Larger organizations might also want to consider establishing a dedicated zero-trust office responsible for leading the initiative. 

Final Thoughts 

Transitioning to zero trust requires a culture shift, which can be challenging, Umar says. He believes that organizations need to integrate the security model into their data-protection strategy, break down organizational and programmatic silos, and gain and maintain buy-in from senior leaders and other key stakeholders. Umar feels that every type of enterprise can benefit from a zero-trust approach. "Any organization that needs to protect its critical assets, such as applications and data, from evolving cyber threats should consider transitioning to a zero-trust architecture." 

A zero-trust architecture is fully effective only when the model is aligned with its adopter's operational reality and risk posture, Fox notes. Constant vigilance is essential. "Organizations must continuously inspect and evolve their trust model by reviewing access controls and policies, assessing data sensitivity, and considering the impact of evolving threats." 

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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