Data Security: Essential Zero Trust Principles

Diana Ipacs

August 9, 2023

Follow us:

Learning the foundations of Zero Trust security just got easier! Check out our guide to some essential Zero Trust principles and practices.


What Is the Zero Trust Security Model?

The Zero Trust security model was developed and popularized by John Kindervag, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in 2010. It was developed as a response to the realization that traditional security models, which assumed anything within an organization's network could be trusted, were becoming obsolete in the face of increasing cybersecurity threats.

Kindervag proposed the concept of "never trust, always verify" as the foundation of modern network security. It’s the basis of a security strategy that relies not on assumed trust, but on constant verification, segmenting access, and a strategic response to cybersecurity threats.

Zero Trust gained recognition as organizations increasingly realized the limitations of traditional perimeter-based security models. These models assume that everything inside an organization's network is safe, while everything outside of it is potentially harmful. However, with the rise of remote working, mobile access, cloud computing, and complex supply chains, this boundary became blurred and often non-existent, making the traditional model less effective.

Zero trust principles – Bluebird blog

Essential Zero Trust Principles

Different organizations and cybersecurity or data security professionals might have different interpretations of Zero Trust based on their specific contexts and needs. However, the core idea behind all interpretations remains the same: "Never trust, always verify."

It's also important to note that Zero Trust is not a one-size-fits-all solution but a strategic approach to security. It needs to be customized according to the specific requirements and infrastructure of each organization.

Therefore, the exact implementation of Zero Trust principles will vary based on the organization. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on the latest research and recommendations from trusted sources in the field—it’s a cliché, but the cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving.

So let’s see the most important Zero Trust principles and practices!

1. Never trust, always verify

One of the foundational Zero Trust principles. This idea challenges the conventional approach of inherent trust within a network.

In the Zero Trust model, trust is viewed as a vulnerability rather than an attribute. This means no component, system, or service inside or outside an organization's network is automatically trusted. Instead, every access request to an organization's resources is treated as a potential threat. It must be verified and validated thoroughly, regardless of its origin, to prevent unauthorized or malicious access.

To make the principle of "Never Trust, Always Verify" a reality, organizations must integrate several key strategies and technologies into their security practices.

Every access request needs to be authenticated and authorized, which often entails implementing robust Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems. These systems verify the identity of every user and system trying to access resources, typically through multi-factor authentication methods (more on this in a sec), and then authorize access based on pre-defined permissions.

However, implementing this Zero Trust principle goes beyond simply setting up an IAM system. Organizations must identify their sensitive data and critical assets, map out all the possible pathways to these assets, and ensure they're adequately protected.

2. Least-privilege access

The Zero Trust principle of "Least-Privilege Access" is also critical. This restricts the access rights of users, systems, and devices to the minimum necessary to perform their functions.

By doing so, it minimizes the potential damage from each individual access point. If a user's account is compromised, for example, the intruder won't have open access to all systems and data but only to what's necessary for that user's tasks.

This Zero Trust principle reduces the 'attack surface' and limits the potential for lateral movement within a network.

3. Micro-segmentation

This involves dividing security perimeters into smaller, isolated zones. Each zone maintains separate access controls for different parts of the network.
If a cybercriminal or untrusted source manages to penetrate one zone, they won't gain automatic access to others. This micro-segmentation strategy effectively contains potential breaches, minimizing the extent of potential damage.

4. Continuous monitoring and analytics

This is another important Zero Trust principle or practice. Rather than relying on periodic audits, this principle involves collecting and analyzing data continuously to identify abnormal behaviors or anomalies that might signify a threat. Real-time monitoring allows swift responses to potential security incidents, reducing the window of opportunity for attackers to cause damage or steal information.

Implementing the Continuous Monitoring and Analytics principle of the Zero Trust model involves establishing comprehensive logging and monitoring across all systems, using tools like Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems, network monitoring tools, and intrusion detection/prevention systems. (Examples include LogRhythm, Splunk, IBM's QRadar, or SolarWinds.) These tools help identify patterns or anomalies that could indicate a security incident.

In addition, user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) tools (such as Exabeam), which use machine learning to establish a "normal" behavior baseline, play a crucial role. They trigger alerts when there are deviations from this baseline, such as unusual data transfers or access patterns.

Cloud monitoring services like Amazon CloudWatch or Google Cloud's Operations suite (formerly Stackdriver) are valuable for real-time monitoring and log analysis in cloud environments. By integrating these tools, organizations can promptly identify and respond to security incidents, aligning with the Zero Trust principle of "never trust, always verify".

As mentioned earlier, some interpretations of Zero Trust might include additional or slightly different principles—this is worth keeping in mind. For example, some might emphasize identity and access management (IAM) or threat intelligence and response.

+ Cybersecurity Practices Closely Associated With Zero Trust Principles

End-to-end encryption

For an organization that operates based on Zero Trust principles, this is key. With end-to-end encryption, all data, regardless of whether it's in transit across the network or at rest in storage, is encrypted. Encryption renders data unreadable to anyone without the necessary decryption keys, ensuring that even if data is intercepted or accessed without authorization, it remains secure and confidential.

The widespread use of end-to-end encryption is most notable in digital communication channels, particularly in secure messaging apps. For instance, applications like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram utilize end-to-end encryption to secure the messages sent between users. When a message is sent, it is encrypted on the sender's device and can only be decrypted and read on the recipient's device. Even the service providers themselves cannot access the content of these messages, ensuring that the conversation remains private even if data transmission is intercepted.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

This is a cybersecurity practice that probably doesn’t need much in the way of introduction by now, but here it is: Multi-factor Authentication ensures additional layers of user verification. It recognizes that a single form of identification, such as a password, isn't enough to secure access.

MFA demands at least two forms of proof before granting access, typically something the user knows (like a password), something they have (such as a physical token or smartphone), or something they are (biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition). This multi-faceted verification approach makes it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access.

As mentioned earlier, some interpretations of Zero Trust might include additional or slightly different principles—this is worth keeping in mind. For example, some might emphasize identity and access management (IAM) or threat intelligence and response.

Want to know more about Zero Trust Architecture? Check out the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Special publication for details.

We hope you enjoyed our article on Zero Trust principles. If your company is looking for IT professionals and you are interested in IT recruitment or IT staff augmentation, please contact us and we will be happy to help you find the right person for the job.

To be the first to know about our latest blog posts, follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook!

More Content In This Topic