What Are Zero Trust Principles and How Can You Apply Them?

In today’s hyper-connected world, implementing a zero trust security framework is the ultimate security goal for many organizations.

A zero trust framework sits at the heart of operating models for a growing number of businesses, as cloud-based applications, remote working and a proliferation of devices increase the cyber risks businesses face.

A recent survey cited cyberattacks and data breaches as the top risk among North American businesses in a recent survey. Implementing a zero trust architecture can make the difference in bolstering your cybersecurity strategy.

What Is Zero Trust?

What is zero trust? It can be difficult to gain consensus on a definition. As the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre notes, “Zero trust means many different things to many different people.” 

At its core, zero trust security is an approach that does what it says: it starts from an assumption that every user, every device and every application is untrustworthy.

This “least privileged access” ethos applies whether users, devices or applications are inside or outside your business’s network.

Implementing Zero Trust Principles

To implement a zero trust framework, we need an understanding of zero trust principles.

What are the core principles of zero trust security? Defining key assumptions around zero trust is vital in your plan toward achieving a zero trust architecture.

  1. Understand the zero trust network. The first and most fundamental principle of zero trust is the need to get your arms around your network. The cloud, the Internet of Things, the proliferation of devices and the prevalence of hybrid and remote working extend and muddy your network perimeter — your potential “attack surface.” Get to know your architecture, which means all users, applications and devices.
  2. Assess your zero trust workloads. You’ll also need a clear picture of the workloads you put through your devices and applications, particularly the workload you entrust to the cloud, including assets like virtual machines and containers, which have specific security requirements and can invite cybercriminals. Identifying your vulnerabilities is one of the first stages of an effective cybersecurity strategy, particularly in a zero trust framework.
  3. Build a complete picture of key data. Similarly, it will be helpful to have a comprehensive picture of your data. Implementing zero trust requires identifying the data you particularly need to protect and map the data flow within your network. You can then pinpoint data access requirements, giving no more access than necessary. Getting a full picture of critical data is a core zero trust principle.
  4. Get acquainted with people and access. Zero trust demands that you control access to your data and services; defining how your people — and which people — access your network is one of the fundamental zero trust security principles. Compromised credentials account for 20% of data breaches; implementing safeguards like multi-factor authentication and other best practice access protocols is essential.
  5. Understand what devices are in scope. The principles of zero trust security require a complete picture of all the devices that connect to your network. All these devices are viewed as untrustworthy under zero trust; therefore, you need to build a robust inventory of relevant devices and their users to determine access requirements. Defining the universe of devices in scope also enables you to identify and isolate a compromised device swiftly.
  6. Authenticate, authenticate, authenticate. A zero trust approach assumes that users, devices and services cannot be trusted. Robust authentication needs to be implemented at every step to protect your network and is a core zero trust principle.

Apply Zero Trust Principles To Strengthen Your Cybersecurity

In a landscape where cyber-risks evolve and refine constantly, there is no such thing as being over-vigilant. Zero trust security is, in many ways, the ultimate example of this; trusting nothing and ensuring the highest level of authentication and security is applied at every level.

As cyber threats multiply and criminals become more skilled, organizations need to stay a step ahead. Applying zero trust principles will help to fortify your network.

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Kezia Farnham Diligent
Kezia Farnham
Kezia Farnham, a Senior Manager at Diligent, has spent several years working in the B2B SaaS sector. Her expertise in equipping governance, risk, audit, compliance and ESG professionals with key insights into sustainability, cybersecurity and the regulatory landscape helps them stay ahead of an increasingly challenging business environment.