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5 Zero Trust Adoption Best Practices

Zero Trust Best Practices
Chris Adams
Chris Adams
May 20, 2022

Anyone entrusted with IT security should be familiar with the concept of zero trust, but that doesn’t mean that risk management personnel and other stakeholders can afford to be in the dark. Businesses across all industries are in possession of at least some form of sensitive data, and the security of that data can best be assured in a zero-trust security posture.

Industries like banking, mortgage lending, healthcare, and others all face significant regulatory, civil, and potentially even more serious penalties should a data breach occur due to a failure of their information security practices. In an ever-evolving business landscape that has seen a significant shift towards work from home positions, bring your own device policies, cloud-based data storage, and even cloud apps, it’s become even more important to consider implementing zero trust procedures to secure your data.

What Does Zero Trust Actually Mean?

It is important to be clear from the start that zero trust is not a magic bullet, nor is it an application or service that can simply be rolled out. It is a security posture that should inform all levels of IT security and network security decision-making from its implementation point forward. The basic concept of a zero-trust security strategy is fairly simple, but its execution can be significantly more complicated if some simple planning steps are not taken.

At face value, zero trust is a security posture that treats all device, system, and network access as a potential breach. There are no “trusted devices.” Access is limited to only what is necessary for the assigned roles given within the system, and that holds true for all employees, contractors, and vendors from the C-suite down to the janitorial contractor.

Our Top 5 Zero Trust Adoption Best Practices

As mentioned just above, you can easily run off the rails if proper planning steps were not taken prior to rolling out the major identity and access management changes involved in an effort to achieve zero trust. These top 5 best practices will help you formulate a manageable plan to develop your zero trust architecture.

Prioritize Device Security

Secured computer devices

In the heart of the bring your own device era, many companies have given up the total control that they benefited from when providing devices to their employees. Previously, they could ensure that updates were applied, prohibited applications were not installed, and otherwise monitor all activity from each device if they chose. Even if all company applications are secure and up to date, a compromised device can still cause the loss of access credentials or unauthorized access to secure networks.

This is where the focus on device security comes from. The true weakest link in any trust journey is the human element. That’s why social engineering is so successful and used so widely to perpetrate any number of frauds and other scams. The zero-trust approach to device security is to treat each and every device accessing your network or cloud apps as a bad actor until they can be proven to be legitimate. This posture holds true regardless of whether the device is attempting a connection from the corporate network, public WiFi, or a private home internet connection.

Start Small and Progress at a Measured Pace

Zero trust journeys can be understandably overwhelming, and that’s why it is key to break down the process into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Every network has inherent protective features like firewalls built into it, and leveraging those existing resources into a zero-trust build will save you time and effort.

Focusing on the desired end-state of your security posture and envisioning each process as a step in that direction will help guide you towards deciding which area to tackle first. Develop, test, and then implement a minor change in a controlled segment of the network. Then receive feedback, tweak your approach, and apply updates before rolling out the process company-wide. These steps should be taken with each shift closer toward full zero trust.

Implement Network Segmentation at a Micro Level

Network Concept

Network segmentation is a key component of a zero-trust security posture. It coincides perfectly with the principles of least access. Once access privilege is granted to the network, and move laterally must involve the reauthentication of the user. We’ll delve more deeply into authentication in just a moment.

The theory behind network segmentation as a zero-trust security control effectively limits the damage of a potential data breach by securing other network areas behind additional layers of security. This can significantly reduce the consequences when and if a breach occurs.

Educate All Employees and Embrace Roles

Like many of the best security tools and anti-fraud features, zero trust policies work best when employees are aware of not only their existence but the purpose that they serve and their own place within the system. This can also serve as a deterrent feature should a disgruntled or compromised employee decide to try and export data or take other steps towards perpetrating a crime or engaging in corporate espionage.

Assigning roles within the zero trust architecture itself is the easiest way to incorporate the least access into your security controls. It’s imperative that you attempt to limit the potential roles as much as possible while still only giving employees access to that which is truly necessary to accomplish their assigned tasks. It is possible to create as many as you want, but the administration of the system will shortly become bogged down in the attempt to manage hundreds or thousands of roles. As every risk manager knows, the increased complexity of a system leads to an increased risk of fraud.

Remember That Authentication Is the Priority

Two-Factor Authentication

User, application, and device authentication are the hallmark of a zero-trust posture. Integrating single sign-on features, multifactor authentication, passwordless authentication, and other emerging technologies can further secure your sensitive data while at the same time reducing the burden on your employees. They are inherently more likely to comply with security policies that don’t make their daily tasks more difficult.

Passwordless authentication is the wave of the future especially as corporations like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are continuing to embrace the technology. Biometric identification like fingerprint scans, facial recognition, and retinal scans as well as device PINs are all types of passwordless authentication. Continuous authentication is one of the best ways to achieve zero trust, but it is the most efficient when it doesn’t involve any action by the end-user. This can be accomplished by continuous monitoring of the inbound IP address, device ID, or outbound data. Any violation of the user’s normal system activity would trigger an alert and could require reauthentication to continue.

Adopting Zero Trust in Reality

You must understand that an absolute zero trust posture is effectively impossible. That should not stop you from attempting to come as close as possible in your attempts to achieve zero trust principles. As the world moves closer toward international expectations of serious data security, penalties for failing to appropriately secure your sensitive data will only continue to increase. Zero trust is a massive leap forward towards implementing this, and these zero trust adoption best practices endorsed by Brent Stokes and his team at Venture Lynk will help you do so.

At Venture Lynk, our team of cyber security and risk management professionals specialize in vendor risk management and work closely with many enterprises across a wide range of industries. From vendor risk assessments to whole enterprise vendor management programs, contact us to see how we can assist you in your third-party risk management and zero trust journey.