The current workplace sharply differs from work environments one or two decades ago. Currently, employees can complete their assigned tasks anywhere, eliminating the need to report to physical offices. However, while remote work has many benefits for businesses, it exposes businesses to several cyber security risks. Cyber security measures for remote work cannot be compared to traditional work environment security, which focuses on securing networks within the corporate perimeter.
The influx of remote employees, especially after the pandemic, has changed every organization’s security priorities more than ever. Since employees can access company networks and sensitive information from their homes and other remote locations, existing network security may not subvert new vulnerabilities and cyber security risks. As such, cyber security experts developed the zero-trust model, which secures remote users and assets.
What is a Zero-Trust Environment?
The zero-trust cyber security framework requires all users, either within or outside the company’s network, to be authorized, authenticated, and continually validated. This model assumes the traditional network edge and is guided by several industry provisions, such as the NIST 800-207, Gartner’s CARTA, and Forrester eXtended.
Several advanced technologies are used to execute this cyber security framework. Among them include Multi-Factor Authentication, IAM (Identity and access management), end-point security, and identity protection to verify every user identity and maintain your remote systems’ security status.
The Zero-trust security model also includes data encryption, securing email, verifying business assets, and end-points hygiene before connecting to applications. The zero-trust cyber security model relies on the following basic assertions;
- Your network is assumed to be always hostile.
- That internal and external threats exist on your remote network all the time.
- The network locality isn’t enough to decide if you can trust a network
- Every user, device, and network flow should be authenticated and authorized
Cyber Security Policies Should Be Dynamic
Traditional cyber security approach trusted users and network end-points within the business’ perimeter. However, this exposed businesses to risks from rogue credentials and malicious internal players. To curb this, zero-trust architecture requires all businesses to monitor and validate users and devices continuously. As per the policy, one-time validation can’t suffice, as user attributes and threats can change.
That said, organizations should ensure that all requests are vetted before allowing access to the business enterprise or cloud networks. Similarly, enforcement of the zero-trust model relies on real-time assessment of user credentials, such as;
- User identity and the type of credentials
- Privileges assigned to each device
- User geolocation
- Type of end-point hardware
- Firmware version
- The authentication protocols
How to Implement a Zero-Trust Environment
Despite the evident benefits of a zero-trust framework, most businesses find it challenging for various reasons. However, the zero-trust model augments your existing architecture; this doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your network technology. Instead, you should deploy it iteratively and make use of the available tools and technologies.
Below are steps to follow when building a zero-trust framework for your distributed workforce:
- Macro-segment Your Network
The first step to building a zero-trust environment for your remote workers is using your organization’s distributed internal firewall to segment your network at coarse levels to isolate and secure different zones. Doing this prevents cybercriminals and inside threats from shifting laterally from one zone to another.
Note that you don’t need to redesign your remote network or make changes to the network address. Besides, you can change the number of network zones if necessary.
- Evaluate Your Network Topology
Initially, understanding business applications, workloads, and micro-services were difficult. However, modern distributed internal firewalls provide full visibility of your application topology. Viewing your application traffic flow and behavior enables you to control its workload and applications.
- Micro-segment Specific Applications
With full visibility of your applications, you can start reducing the potential attack surface by isolating crucial apps. You should begin by isolating business-crucial applications that are well understood and documented, like the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. The distributed internal firewall inspects application traffic and suggests security policy recommendations depending on the patterns observed. It also ensures that the policy is consistent across your remote network.
- Turn on Advanced Threat Controls
The next step is to turn on advanced threat controls from your distributed internal firewall. Worth mentioning is the intrusion detection/prevention functionality, which helps detect traffic patterns that indicate a potential attack. Doing this also makes you compliant with the HIPAA and PCI-DSS standards.
- Micro-segment All Other Applications
The last step to achieving a zero-trust distributed network is micro-segmenting other applications using the experience gained from segmenting vital experiences in step 3. Even then, start with well-known apps, such as DNS and Active Directory, and segment them using the expressed layer-7 policies for better security. The distributed internal firewall comes in handy in segmenting applications that aren’t well-understood.
The Bottom Line
The Zero-trust framework is a new and perfect iteration that helps businesses mitigate vulnerabilities and cyber security risks associated with hybrid work environments. This model shows great reliability, and you should consider being among the 72% of organizations that have already rolled out zero-trust settings in their workplace.
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