Over the past decade, the working world has undergone a dramatic transformation. Spending each day of the week in an office is no more for most, while many have the flexibility to work from any location using a device and network that the organisation often has no control over. Productivity levels have certainly increased because of the flexible working environment, but it has opened the door to new challenges, mainly protecting the organisation’s critical assets.
To address the emerging challenges that have been birthed from hybrid working, cybersecurity experts and vendors have recognised the value of adopting a zero-trust approach. However, defining zero-trust has been a topic of debate within the industry. Some argue multi-factor authentication (MFA) is sufficient, while others state it must include a comprehensive approach that incorporates the principle of least-privileged access.
To define the zero-trust concept appropriately, it emphasizes the regular authentication and validation of all entities, both internal and external, before granting the necessary access. When you consider today’s landscape, where the number of users, endpoints, applications and data accessed has exploded. What’s worse, they’re being used outside the confines of the traditional security perimeters, meaning it is no longer safe to assume trustworthiness based on location or device.
Implementing zero-trust is no easy task, especially in the context of cloud adoption and remote work scenarios. With that said, it is essential to consider the specific requirements and objectives of the business. For instance, having endpoint detection and response will safeguard data from risks associated with endpoints. The same with cloud security which will protect cloud data from threats and unauthorised access. For zero-trust to work successfully, it is crucial to address all the various factors that revolve around securing your data.
For example, many organisations will implement zero-trust by evaluating how staff perform their work. This could involve requesting employees to utilise virtual private networks (VPNs) along with a second factor of authentication when accessing corporate resources. However, it should be proposed that the central emphasis should not be solely on restricting activities, but rather on safeguarding data, particularly when you factor in employees are routinely involved in creating and managing data.
A primary goal for modern threat actors is to steal data so simply authenticating a user at the time of access is insufficient. Security needs to be more comprehensive than this because it is crucial to focus on the types of data being handled, how they are being accessed and modified, and the fluctuating levels of risk associated with both the user and the endpoints being utilised. By understanding these factors, organisations can better protect their valuable data within a zero-trust framework.
Data is everywhere; it permeates every aspect of work with employees using it for various business activities on a daily basis. From sending information via email, messaging apps to downloading content to mobile devices, data is being transferred in a variety of ways with each method creating new data lifecycles. This can quickly get out of hand and managing and safeguarding data scattered across different locations can be overwhelming.
When taking the first steps to implement zero-trust security, it's imperative to categorise the organisations data based on its sensitivity. Here you can prioritise and identify the data that needs the most protection, so it is advisable to focus on the most critical applications and assets that hold the most sensitive information. It is worth noting that this approach is continuous and can be applied to various elements enabling you and the organisation to establish a strong foundation for zero-trust practices throughout.
Another key step to evaluate are the common methods in which data is being shared and accessed within the company. Is cloud-based sharing the preference of choice by staff? Or do they mainly transfer via email or on instant messaging platforms like Slack? Having the knowledge of how information flows within the business is critical as without this understanding, knowing how to effectively protect data becomes extremely difficult.
Therefore, by comprehending the flow of data movement within the organisation, across departments, and externally with third parties, one can see the potential avenues for threats and vulnerabilities to appear and act accordingly to implement the necessary security measures to safeguard the data.
Now, a word of warning – many in the industry have latched on to zero-trust data security promising their solution provides it etc. This is where due diligence is needed. You may even have heard, “there's an app for that.” In most cases, there is an application or software solution for many issues in the world.
Zero-trust is an exception to the rule because its more than just buying a software solution. It’s a mindset and philosophy that needs to be adopted by the entire organisation. The approach takes into account, and encompasses, all the elements of the organisations infrastructure including the network, policies, processes, principles, privileges – something that a single software solution cannot provide. Zero-trust is providing a holistic view and if embraced properly will lead to successful results from implementation to meeting the data security objectives.
The workforce also plays a pivotal role in the success of zero-trust data security, particularly during its implementation. Of course, investment in software and security are important but if the workforce is disengaged, lack understanding or commitment to helping secure the data, presents a greater obstacle and risk to the organisation. Naturally, employees will be set in their ways, so it is time to start afresh with them. Educate and bring to their attention the significance of data security, multi-factor authentication (MFA) and empower them to enforce it on their own devices.
With the evolution of the current tech landscape, complexity has outstripped legacy methods of cybersecurity as there is no single, easily identified perimeter for enterprises. Investing in a single catch-all solution to address the data security needs of the company is not the answer. Take the time to identify the most sensitive data that requires prioritisation and protection and evaluate how it is currently being handled. Subsequently, focus on training and educating your employees about Zero-trust. Remember, it is a journey, a philosophy, and a framework that necessitates step-by-step implementation and ongoing reinforcement.