Covid-19 triggered an abrupt move to home working for many people and, even as the threat posed by the virus starts to fade away, many remain on a hybrid working pattern. Other businesses have done away with a physical office and moved to fully remote working, perhaps with the occasional team meeting at a co-working hub or shared office space.
But having staff working remotely, whether that’s from home or in public spaces, presents businesses with IT infrastructure and security challenges. Yes, sales and field staff have been working this way for decades, but this shift sees whole operations working outside of the constraints (and security) of the office. If even your payroll and HR teams are working remotely, how can you ensure that data is sent and received securely? Are all your staff using managed devices to access business data or do they sometimes use a personal phone or laptop? Coupled with continuing migration of servers to the cloud and an ever more sophisticated threat from cyber criminals, the time for businesses to step up their digital transformation is now.
An emerging concept in cybersecurity called a zero trust environment (or zero trust infrastructure) is set to transform the way businesses approach network security. But what is a zero trust environment and how can it help businesses like yours? Let’s take a closer look.
What is a zero-trust environment?
It’s worth looking at the way security protocols for IT networks have been designed in the past. They worked on the basis of implicit trust, assuming that if someone were able to access the network they could be trusted. That meant that as well as staff having free access to move laterally within a network and access data as they chose, so could any hackers, cyber criminals or other malicious users if they got in.
A zero trust environment assumes the opposite. There is no trust implied, and they instead work on the idea that the network could be accessed by anyone outside the organisation and therefore take steps to segment and secure the data stored in it. Checking the authenticity of every user and authorising access to everything becomes key.
How do zero trust environments work?
We’ve covered that the idea behind a zero trust infrastructure is to eliminate any implicit trust, and that means everything must be verified. It also expands the idea that just data needs to be protected – with zero trust, so too do the applications and the infrastructure it sits on. In addition, all communication, both internal and external, needs to be carried out on secure channels too.
In order to take security to a granular level you need to know everything about your network. That means recording every user, application, service and device on the network and giving them each a unique identity. What data is being stored and why; who needs to access it and why? Are there any legacy systems or services still being used, and do they still need to be used? This approach helps you to identify areas of risk and set access levels and authentication requirements to segment the network.
Then the approach can be split into the following areas:
- Users and devices must be authorised before they access infrastructure, data and applications. This will consider user identity, user status (do they have the level of access needed to view this data?), device location and device health (for example, whether the software on it is up to date).
- Users and devices do not get legacy/lifetime access to resources, the authorisation is only given for specific purposes and then revoked afterwards. Your zero trust policy can help you identify when and for how long different users and devices need access to parts of the network.
- All communication related to a zero trust network should take place on secure channels and there needs to be protocols in place to ensure a measurable baseline. This should provide confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of messages exchanged between users and devices and will add an extra layer of security. For example, you need to prevent anyone connecting to a comms channel from an unauthorised device and can stop access at certain times of day or days of the week.
- All activity – users, devices and software processes – are monitored at all times. That not only ensures that extra layer of security, but also helps to inform the zero trust network design as you add or remove business functions and integrate new software.
What are the benefits of zero trust networks to businesses?
Implementing a zero trust environment will boost your data security, but the benefits to your business will be further reaching. Let’s look at just four of the many benefits in greater detail:
- Exceptional data protection
A zero trust environment greatly reduces the risk to your business of a malicious actor gaining access to your data and systems. In an age where digital transformation and new technologies offer us so many business benefits, zero trust will allow you to benefit and keep your data secure. The impact of a data breach on both your business operation and brand trust is enormous, so it’s worth putting the most robust systems in place, and a zero trust environment does just that.
- Business growth is supported
Home and hybrid working is set to stick around, and that means that to attract the best candidates for a job you need to offer this flexible approach to location for workers. Limiting yourself to the pool of people who can be physically present in your office will put you a step behind your competition. A zero trust network means you can work with people from anywhere in the world without compromising your cybersecurity. You can also adopt new technologies more quickly because you’ve mapped out exactly who in your business uses different IT, and when and how they use it.
- Business continuity
If the worst were to happen and there is a data breach, a zero trust environment means it will be contained to just one area of your network. Access is locked down immediately and they can’t access data or services. Your IT provider or department can deal with the breach, and everyone will be able to get back to work far more quickly than if you have to shut the whole network down to prevent the attack spreading.
- It supports compliance initiatives
If you are operating in a sector where compliance with rigorous standardisation is required or you’re working towards compliance as a business differentiator, a zero trust environment will be an asset. It will demonstrate your high levels of visibility of your IT network, the permissions you have granted and why, and the level of control you have over access to data.
How to improve cyber security for your business – How to improve cyber security for your business – YouTube