NordLayer - Network Security

As the attackers are getting more creative at using various channels to infiltrate internal networks, it requires different strategies to keep the threats at bay. Zero Trust came about as the security model eliminating implicit trust in any connection: internal or external. Presuming that hackers are already inside is an effective strategy in cases when they actually are.

While this approach may be easier implemented on-premises, it’s different when the conversation shifts to cloud infrastructure. Only a secure web gateway isn’t enough to ensure Zero Trust enforcement. Here’s what you should consider when planning the Zero Trust model for your cloud resources.

Zero Trust security basics

The common problem with how cybersecurity was done for a long time was that it always had zones considered secure. The threats were believed to only come from outside the network’s perimeter. While this always was a flawed approach, evolving cyber threats quickly showed how trust in location-based connections could backfire.

The Zero Trust security model reorganized this concept, suggesting that it might be better to assume that threats are present on all channels. According to this framework, verifying everything is the only way to maintain security. This creates more roadblocks for hackers trying to access protected company data.

The model’s requirements:

  • Continuous identity verification
  • Device compliance enforcement
  • Network segmentation
  • Application-access based control
  • Least privilege access for users

Implementing these requirements solidifies the organization’s status as an adopter of the Zero Trust model.

Why do companies need Zero Trust in a cloud environment?

It’s pretty easy to imagine how the Zero Trust security model could be applied on-premises. However, working with predominantly cloud infrastructure, it may not be as straightforward. The main problem with replacing hardware servers with virtual machines is that they aren’t static. They have various granular components with short lifespans, so setting up permanent rules can become a puzzle. Not to mention that virtual machines face the same amount of vulnerabilities as their hardware counterparts.

However, the Zero Trust model helps to put a lid on this chaos by design — it would never work to build it as a mirror copy of on-premises methods. The key is to enforce strict verification for all accesses and workloads. Various labels and policies can alter the configuration changes. It’s a different approach to cybersecurity, making it truly cloud-centric.

Technologies Behind a Zero Trust architecture

The zero Trust security model requires organizations to segment their networks and set up different security policies depending on the accessed data. This makes it more difficult for unauthorized individuals to slip by authentication.

Therefore, the technologies used in this case include identifying access management and authentication options. In addition, the Zero Trust model engages in active monitoring, so network analytics, threat scoring, and other systems also find their place. There may also be added facilitating functions that instantly inform network administrators that authentication is taking place with options to allow or deny it. Overall, it greatly reduces various pain points associated with an organization’s network security.

How to implement Zero Trust for cloud

Before you start doing anything, it’s a good time to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve by implementing Zero Trust. No two Zero Trust security implementations are alike, and it’s a great opportunity to set out some specific company goals that it will help address. Therefore, the desired outcomes and their value may also be much higher.

Step 1: Catalog all your company’s IT assets

This will allow you to see the company’s scope more clearly. It will be much easier to devise a protection plan when you have a better understanding of what it is that has to be protected. The list should include:

  • The sensitive data storage.
  • Used third-party applications.
  • Assets.
  • The most critical services.

Step 2: Map out the infrastructure

With the list of the total assets, you should connect the dots to see how each component interacts with one another. If you have sensitive data, analyzing how it is collected and what channels are used for sending it can reveal a lot of information on how your business is functioning. This also highlights the critical areas that need the most attention.

Step 3: Create a template

You should have a framework for how your current infrastructure could be orchestrated from the cloud. There should be boundaries between specific teams, users, and their applications. Make sure that there are no overlaps that could be spilling your data.

Step 4: Develop a user access management plan

Your user access management plan should outline users’ permissions to specific content. Remember that for security reasons, it’s also best to implement permissions based on the least privilege access — only materials needed for work functions should be allowed. This will make it much easier to control the data flow and make your security airtight when accessing the cloud.

Step 5: Don’t forget the maintenance

Inspect your setup for misconfigurations and inefficiencies. Ongoing maintenance and monitoring should be a part of the plan’s implementation long after the plan has already been in effect. In addition, active monitoring does help with expanding the protection surface, meaning that it also functions as an additional security countermeasure.

Tips for Zero Trust in a cloud

We’ve outlined some tips to help you implement Zero Trust security tools and control mechanisms.

Automatize your asset discovery

Instead of manually going through every device in your organization, extracting this data using web filtering is much easier. Set a longer time of monitoring, say, several weeks, and then check what applications and assets were identified — this should portray a somewhat accurate picture of your network, including shadow IT assets. This will help you to plan secure access management whitelisting only specific applications.

Adjust Zero Trust architecture to your business

Your Zero Trust approach should be centered around your business and be a method to increase its security. It won’t do you much good to throw away everything that you’ve built thus far and start from scratch — likely, you’ll have to go through a hybrid approach and only fully move to the cloud later on. Therefore your Zero Trust transition should be gradual so as not to endanger any current business operations.

Follow the data’s trail

When it comes to sensitive data, it’s not a bad idea to have its journey fully mapped out from the moment the user submits it. As it’s one of the critical assets, Zero Trust should focus additional attention on this area to ensure that the protection is on par with the highest quality standards.

Expand the architecture

With Zero Trust is better to start small, and once you get comfortable, try to incorporate additional functionalities supplementing the core functions. Over time you’ll have a lot of internal insights ready, which can be a good direction to point your further development. This contributes to your Zero Trust architecture being a living project. Online threats never stop evolving, so neither should your protection system.

Cheat sheet & summary

Zero Trust is a modern and secure approach to handling network security management. It works by introducing stricter authentication requirements for all connections, whether from inside the network or outside of it. The method can also be applied for cloud security for securing various cloud resources, as most organizations have already moved to cloud computing.

The steps to Zero Trust implementation in the cloud aren’t much different from its deployment on premises. It involves:

  1. Cataloging all IT assets
  2. Mapping out the infrastructure
  3. Creating a transition plan
  4. Outlying security policies
  5. Active maintenance

Following through with the cloud security Zero Trust provides much better security, enabling an organization to better defend against various cyber threats.