Security Experts:

5 Questions to Help Chart Your Course to Zero Trust Security

As Organizations Digitize Their Business, They Need to Know What and Who They Can Trust 

It wasn’t that long ago that businesses restricted employees from doing certain activities online. Despite spending most of their time on the road, sales teams but could only access customer data and applications from the office. If the network went down, IT personnel had to be in the network operations center to bring it back up, even if that meant returning in the middle of the night. 

Now, companies are allowing any user, on any device to access data from any application, in any location. Sales teams can work on a train or in a coffee shop, from a mobile device, on or off the network, at any time. Waiting until they are back in the office could cost them a deal. IT teams can access infrastructure on-premise or in the cloud from anywhere. With 24x7 access they can save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in downtime costs. 

As organizations digitize their business and make these shifts, they need to know what and who they can trust. For example, are you okay with your video cameras talking to your data storage services? Can you trust Bob’s personal devices to connect to any work application? Are you sure that access controls won’t be exploited even inside the network? Is it safe for Amy to allow a third-party application to access your Google applications? 

These questions reveal that we need to think differently about security. To address this shift, in 2010, Forrester branded the concept of a Zero Trust network. In subsequent years, Google and Gartner followed suit with similar yet different approaches. While these various frameworks are straightforward to explain, and there are many resources out there to help, organizations are finding it tricky to determine where and how to begin. 

As you start your Zero Trust journey, these five questions can help you chart your course.

1. Who are my stakeholders? Like any other IT project, Zero Trust will touch multiple points in your network. The impetus for Zero Trust is often a new, cross-architecture project or a company-wide effort to enable the business, enhance security or add a new technology. At a minimum, you need representation from areas that govern the people, data, network, devices, applications and workloads affected by these initiatives.

2. What does my existing environment look like? To assess your security gaps and weaknesses, you need to know how different groups within the organization define an asset and if the existing controls align with the assets that need to be protected. You can’t also protect everything, so you need to identify what is critical. If you’ve recently completed a segmentation project, you can repurpose some of that work to help figure this out. However, the Zero Trust conversation doesn’t start or stop with assets. Look at how people are accessing data and if your security infrastructure is due for refresh.

3. How do data and workloads flow in my network? If you are going to provide access controls to secure an end result, like enabling a mobile workforce, then you need to understand the inputs to that end result – the people, devices and any other associated applications and databases. These inputs are equally important and may need the same level of controls. 

4. Do our policies map to flow? Most security teams continue to append to existing policies out of fear of causing a problem if they change the core policy. They don’t perform an audit to determine if the policy is still applicable to the way the business runs today or needs to be updated. Over time, policies balloon to thousands of lines of code, are unwieldy to manage and many are no longer relevant to current business processes and network flow. 

5. What controls can help? Take a fresh look at controls to grant or restrict access to critical assets and modernize your approach to policies. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) establishes trusted user-device access and enforces policies based on authorized user-device combinations and application risk for secure access. Micro-segmentation and software-defined access define and enforce application and network access based on dynamic context across the campus, data center and cloud. User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) and machine learning help to create a baseline for trusted workload access. Embedding continuous verification and detection, stops untrusted or compromised users, devices and workloads from accessing applications and the network.

Now you’re ready to compare your existing environment against any of the trust-centric models and determine where to start your Zero Trust journey. You probably already have some elements in play and with a few modifications can bring them in line with a Zero Trust methodology. If you’re beginning with a clean slate, a good way to move forward is to identify and implement foundational controls, like MFA, that start to build trust. With a few quick wins you can gain the support you need to move on to longer-term initiatives and proceed further down the path. You’ll know you’ve made substantial progress when you have consistent policy across your business ecosystem, can dynamically and securely respond to evolving business needs, and can proactively address threats before damage is done. 

view counter
Ashley Arbuckle, Cisco’s VP/GM, Global Security Customer Experience, is responsible for the company’s security services portfolio, designed to accelerate customers’ success and deliver an exceptional customer experience. With over 20 years of security and customer success experience, Arbuckle has a long record of accomplishments that span security consulting, enterprise security operations, product management and general manager responsibilities. Arbuckle started his career in security consulting at PwC working with Fortune 500 customers. After PwC he joined PepsiCo, where he led enterprise security and the strategic planning process for PepsiCo’s IT budget of over $2 billion. He has a BBA in MIS and Accounting from the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University, is a CPA, and holds a CISSP and CISM.