A Guide to Zero Trust Architecture

Traditional cybersecurity allows users to move freely within a corporate network once the individual has made it past the authentication or authorization stage. However, this approach is susceptible to insider threats and misuse from privileged users, who have access to significant amounts of information — information that isn’t strictly necessary for many users’ privileged access levels. 

The concept of Zero Trust architecture aims to address these vulnerabilities by ensuring that every user is authenticated at all times — eliminating the concept of a security perimeter altogether. With authentication and authorization at every level, Zero Trust is meeting the challenges of today’s cybersecurity environment head-on.

Contents

What is Zero Trust?
Zero Trust Architecture Explained
Key Zero Trust Principles
Benefits of Zero Trust Architecture
Zero Trust Use Cases
Zero Trust vs. Other Frameworks
Zero Trust Architecture is the Future
Making the Move: SSH Zero Trust Solutions

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What is Zero Trust?

The idea behind Zero Trust is simple: trust no one — even privileged users who have already proven their credentials in the network.

In a basic sense, Zero Trust architecture applies the principle of least privilege — that no user should be able to access any more information than their position requires. By authenticating each user at every access point, businesses can apply the principle of least privilege every step of the way. To avoid security breaches by privileged users, Zero Trust utilizes a simple mantra: never trust, always verify. 

It’s important to note that Zero Trust typically involves biometric authentication and other passwordless authentication methods to authorize users. This is because privileged users, in a truly Zero Trust system, should be able to quickly navigate their network without needing to log into each access point with inconvenient passwords. By using passwordless biometric authentication, Zero Trust can make navigating within a corporate network easier, faster, and more efficient.

Zero Trust Architecture Explained

Zero Trust architecture assumes that every device is compromised. With this basic assumption, Zero Trust solutions can prevent cyberattacks from even privileged users who have already been verified by the system. If a user cannot authenticate themselves at a certain access point, the Zero Trust architecture will prohibit entry. But if a verified user with the right credentials is using their privilege to attack the system, Zero Trust architecture helps to ensure the damage can be mitigated quickly and easily. 

Before Zero Trust, cybersecurity relied on establishing a perimeter for any secure network. To ensure security, only privileged and verified users were allowed access to the information within the perimeter. Additionally, the perimeter allowed for free movement within the corporate network, so users didn’t have to enter passwords and other inefficient access credentials repeatedly.

A security perimeter usually consists of only on-premises devices and secure VPN connections. That means remote access is limited to devices within the perimeter of a remote VPN. With Zero Trust architecture, constant identity-based authorization allows users across networks to access the system without requiring businesses to establish a separate VPN for remote users.

Key Zero Trust Principles

Zero Trust architecture involves three basic principles for secure access: reducing risk, terminating permissions, and securing the network. Each of these Zero Trust principles allows enterprises to adapt security solutions to make their systems more secure — and easier to navigate — than ever before. 

Combined, the three Zero Trust principles allow for a sustainable and comprehensive security solution. Here’s what each concept means in the context of Zero Trust.

  • Reduce risk. Reducing the chance of a cyberattack is the most basic principle of Zero Trust architecture. In the context of Zero Trust, reducing risk means only allowing the users to access the parts of the network they need — nothing more. Gone are the days of a security perimeter that anyone with credentials can access. 
  • Terminate permissions. Traditional security approaches allow users access to a network but cannot terminate the permission once the user has gained access. With this system, cyberattackers can continue to operate even after they’ve been detected by a security alert. Zero Trust architecture continuously inspects network traffic, so every connection is terminated after each access point in the network. 
  • Secure the network. Securing your network may seem like a vague concept, but protection as a Zero Trust principle is quite specific — to assess each access request using context clues. Instead of simply allowing anyone with credentials (like a password) to access the network, Zero Trust protection requires you to set policies that continuously assess the context of each login attempt.

 

Benefits of Zero Trust Architecture 

Zero Trust has become increasingly popular since its inception in 2010 — and for good reason. The three core principles of Zero Trust have continuously proven their ability to prevent cyberattacks and facilitate easy access for authorized privileged users. By reducing the amount of access, terminating connections, and protecting every part of the network, Zero Trust architecture has quickly become the gold standard for cybersecurity. 

By reducing the attack surface, Zero Trust architecture can bring an unprecedented level of protection to your enterprise. More specifically, some of the key benefits of Zero Trust include: 

  • Secure cloud computing. With decentralized devices across networks, today’s businesses often use cloud, hybrid, and multi-cloud operating systems. Zero Trust helps to protect decentralized networks while eliminating the inefficiencies and security risks of a VPN for remote access.  
  • Increased visibility. With visibility for every access point, IT admins can view each user’s movement through the enterprise network. Using context-based authorization, Zero Trust allows administrators to flag unusual access attempts and terminate their permissions faster than ever.  
  • Better authentication of users. Zero Trust combines biometric authentication with context-based authentication to understand which users should have access to what information. These access credentials are much more granular than traditional security permissions. 
  • Protection against insider threats. If a verified user with the right credentials is planning a cyberattack, traditional security measures can have difficulty keeping the user from moving laterally within the organization. With authorization at each step of the way, Zero Trust allows you to prevent insider threats from wreaking havoc on your business.

Zero Trust Use Cases

There are plenty of contexts where Zero Trust architecture has real-world applications. Instead of learning about the benefits of Zero Trust in an abstract sense, let’s look at some common use cases of Zero Trust security solutions.

One important use case is cloud migration. Plenty of organizations are in the process of moving to the cloud for increased flexibility, scalability, and efficiency. But the security of cloud-based organizations is often up in the air — as users move to remote devices on different networks, how can you maintain a secure perimeter? And how does cybersecurity work during the transition phase while on-premises services are being moved to cloud-based applications? With Zero Trust architecture, you can gain control and visibility over hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments, with security attached to workloads and not to devices themselves. 

Audit compliance is another real-world use case for Zero Trust architecture. For businesses that need to show proof of security to comply with an industry standard, Zero Trust architecture allows you to show auditors a highly-controlled security approach with granular documentation. Any security threats and vulnerabilities can be quickly addressed, and the highly segmented recordkeeping is great for audit compliance. 

These are just two examples of many potential use cases for Zero Trust architecture.

Zero Trust vs. Other Frameworks

Even though Zero Trust may be an intuitive and effective way to protect network security, traditional security perimeter models are still being adopted by new enterprise systems. A potential explanation for this is the prevalence of password-based authorization, which could make Zero Trust architecture very difficult to achieve — or at least highly inefficient. But biometric security is an easy way to streamline Zero Trust access and avoid burdening your users with constant authentication requests. 

Other, newer frameworks exist in competition with Zero Trust architecture. A major alternative is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework, which provides a detailed set of security standards for minimizing cyber threats in the context of modern enterprise systems — whether on-premises or in the cloud.

While NIST hasn’t traditionally included Zero Trust, it is gradually beginning to adopt many protocols that were introduced by the Zero Trust framework, like per-session authentication. As other security frameworks begin to look more like Zero Trust, it’s easy to see why Zero Trust is at the vanguard of enterprise cybersecurity.

Zero Trust Architecture is the Future

Since its inception, Zero Trust architecture has proven highly effective in real-world scenarios. “Never trust, always verify” allows organizations to implement principles that almost entirely eliminate the risk of security breaches — and greatly reduce the scale of security breaches that occur. 

The effectiveness of Zero Trust is apparent in organizations that are beginning to use Zero Trust services. Even the US government has begun implementing Zero Trust security measures, which President Joe Biden formally identified in a recent move towards greater cybersecurity. This Executive Order (called Moving the U.S. Government Toward Zero Trust Cybersecurity Principles) shows how much Zero Trust has become the gold standard in today’s cybersecurity landscape. 

Even when data is encrypted, traditional security perimeters are woefully inadequate at defending against insider threats. Additionally, the expansion of today’s cloud computing means that perimeter security must be increasingly expanded, causing inefficiencies and frustration with frequent password and access credential requests. With an answer to all of these concerns, it’s clear why the Zero Trust model has become widely recognized as the future of cybersecurity.

New call-to-actionMaking the Move: SSH Zero Trust Solutions

SSH has been a pioneer in cybersecurity for decades, ever since the SSH protocol was introduced for data encryption. Now, SSH is making Zero Trust solutions available with three distinct services: 

  • PrivX Zero Trust — your Zero Trust privileged access management (PAM) solution. 
  • UKM Zero Trust — your Zero Trust universal key management (UKM) solution. 
  • Tectia Zero Trust — your Zero Trust solution for file transfers and secure remote access. 

Migration to passwordless access might seem intimidating — and we’re here to help. All of our Zero Trust solutions come equipped with easy and efficient software to help you manage your transition from perimeter security to Zero Trust architecture. This means you can manage your existing passwords while migrating to a fully passwordless environment at a pace that suits you. 


To learn more about our Zero Trust solutions, contact us for a demo today — and give passwordless security a test drive.