Zero Trust in a COVID-19 remote world

Millions across the world have made the transition to remote working in past months, and this massive migration has challenged advanced security models and user behaviors in a COVID-19 world. In Asia Pacific, Gartner reported that an estimated 91% of organizations have adopted work from home arrangements since the outbreak, with 54% indicating that poor technology and/or infrastructure was the biggest barrier to effective remote working.

As the world progresses towards the new normal of hybrid workplaces, organizations in Asia are now taking stock of their business continuity measures and addressing the pressing needs that can restore productivity levels in the near to long-term. A big part of this effort is ensuring that they have the right technological infrastructure and tools for their employees as well as the best practices in place like modern cyber hygiene controls.

This is where Zero Trust security comes in: an organizational process and perspective that takes precautions on security every step of the way, as if the organization is being accessed by a stranger each time.

Enabling safer work from home processes effectively means transitioning existing network infrastructure and capabilities into a Zero Trust security framework. Most organizations are already moving toward this goal and it is anticipated that they will accelerate this transition in the coming months.

What is and why Zero Trust?

“Never trust, always verify”, is the bedrock of Zero Trust.

Instead of assuming everything behind a corporate firewall is safe, the Zero Trust model assumes breach and verifies each access request as though it originates from an open network – regardless of where the request originates or what resource it accesses. With this model, every data access request is fully authenticated, authorized, and encrypted before it is granted.

Across identities, devices, applications, data, infrastructure and the network, the Zero Trust strategy involves always verifying this access explicitly, always using least privileged access and always assuming breach. It empowers organizations to limit access to specific apps and resources only to the authorized users who are allowed to access them.

This model has become especially important given that cybercriminals are here to stay, even as they evolve their tactics, with or without COVID-19.

man using phone

Securing flexible work going forward

For companies which already have proof of concept underway for their Zero Trust journey, COVID-19 served as an accelerator, moving up the timelines for adoption. The ability to separate application access from network access, and secure application access based on identity and user context, such as date/time, geolocation, and device posture, was critical for IT departments’ ability to enable remote work.

In rethinking cybersecurity strategy, organizations can evolve beyond traditional security controls to implement Zero Trust across six key pillars:

  1. Identities – whether representing people, services or IoT devices, these are where the attempt to access a resource will originate from and need to be verified.
  2. Devices – IoT devices to smartphones, BYODs to partner managed devices, on-premise workloads to cloud hosted servers, where data can flow to when access is granted.
  3. Applications – providers of the interface where data is consumed.
  4. Data – the item that security teams are focused on protecting; these should be classified, labeled, and encrypted, with access restricted where needed.
  5. Infrastructure – represents a critical threat vector, which is the path/means by which a cybercriminal may gain access.
  6. Networks – where all data is ultimately accessed over; these should be segmented with real-time threat protection, end-to-end encryption, monitoring and analytics, to prevent lateral movements by attackers

Across the digital estate, the below illustrates how all of these components work together in a Zero Trust model.

Security Policy Enforcement

Tools that drive Zero Trust

Organizations across Asia would be at different stages of their Zero Trust journey, and understanding an organization’s maturity level could help bring it closer to optimal adoption. Some of the key attributes of robust Zero Trust implementation includes:

  1. Strong authentication – using multi factor authentication (MFA) and session risk detection as the backbone of access strategy to minimize the risk of identity compromise.
  2. Policy based adaptive access – involving defining acceptable access policies for resources and enforcing them with a consistent security policy engine that provides both governance and insight into variances.
  3. Micro segmentation – moving beyond a simple centralized network to comprehensive and distributed segmentation of networks with micro-perimeters.
  4. Automation – investing in automated alerting and remediation, to reduce an organization’s mean time to respond (MTTR) to attacks.
  5. Intelligence and AI – utilizing cloud intelligence and all available signals to detect and respond to access anomalies in real time.
  6. Data classification and protection – discovering, classifying, protecting, and monitoring sensitive data to minimize exposure from malicious or accidental exfiltration.

Future-proofing cybersecurity

The increasing adoption of Zero Trust is a highly integrated and much needed one, especially when remote access is now no longer an option but a necessity. Progressively, a phased approach in-line with resources and priorities can allow organizations to move toward higher levels of security.

Ultimately, people are at the forefront of any successful organization, and safe technology is here to enable. Zero-trust advancement comes hand-in-hand with empowering employees to work when, where, and how they need to, using the devices and apps they find most useful. It is the foundation of a future-ready workforce here in Asia.


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