Hybrid work models, the need for location-independent IT use, and the associated infrastructure digitization require new security concepts. Because classic solutions such as VPNs or firewalls are not up to cloud-based models. They thus offer a gateway for hackers who could work their way laterally to the critical data once they have penetrated the network. A solid zero-trust architecture enables secure digital transformation without side effects, so companies can secure their decentralized workplaces and ensure a comfortable user experience.
The desire for flexible working is more present than ever among German workers. According to a study by Bitkom, 50 percent of employees currently work entirely or partially on the move, while nine out of ten respondents see their future in the home office. The shift to a “work-from-anywhere” world must enable users to move flexibly between local locations, networked branch offices, home offices, and mobile workplaces. But medium-sized companies are still lagging in digitization, which forms the basis for the “New Way of Work.” According to the report, there is a lack of the necessary resources in many places, and the high demands on IT security and the fear of data loss are also hampering digitization projects.
Indeed, in a cloud-enabled, edge-centric, and highly dynamic world, the attack surface for cybercriminals is increasing. One reason for this is the complexity of the networks, which makes reliable protection difficult. However, most traditional network architectures are based on several static, isolated solutions that allow implicit access to all applications. However, since users, devices, and applications are constantly on the move, such an approach is no longer recommended. After all, it is about ensuring secure access to critical resources on a large scale. In securing data traffic, it must be routed to fixed checkpoints, which can lead to delays in business processes. Therefore, many companies tend to
So how is it possible for a company to keep up with the high dynamics, i.e., increase productivity, and at the same time protect the increasingly decentralized network from attacks? IT security experts recommend a zero-trust cyber security concept. But what exactly is behind it, and what challenges does such a “zero trust model” pose for small and medium-sized companies?
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Is Zero Tolerance Worth It?
Securing remote access is all about authenticating and authorizing users. Anyone who approaches user authentication with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) enables their employees to access all the resources they need and transfer data securely via a secure, encrypted access tunnel. The advantages of a VPN are apparent: a well-mastered protocol, well-known encryption algorithms, and identified capacities and limits. However, there is still the problem of access control for heterogeneous applications and uncontrolled endpoints, to which the Zero Trust approach lends itself. Unlike the VPN, which establishes trust in a secure connection between two entities, this approach is based on access verification,
The Zero Trust model is a security framework based on trusting no one. The concept is based on two central pillars: sensitive data should be identified, and their flow must also be mapped. On the other hand, it is essential to clarify who, when, where, why, and how to access data and process it further. In principle, every entity is considered a potential threat until it has been sufficiently verified. This is, therefore, a consistently data-centric approach based on constant monitoring.
Given the danger that has long emanated from insiders of the company, the strict security practice is understandable. However, the model also poses some challenges.
These are the strengths:
- Strict policies for user identification and access: The use of multi-factor authentication and the categorization of users so that only those who need it to do their job have access to data and accounts ensure a high level of security.
- High data protection: The Zero Trust model ensures that data is adequately protected at rest and in transit. The measures include automated backups and encryption.
- Eliminating security vulnerabilities: A Zero Trust model ideally ensures that all elements of IT security work together efficiently and effectively.
- Intelligent data segmentation: Critical data is protected, and potential attack surfaces are minimized since not all users are allowed to access a large data pool. Instead, the data is segmented according to type, sensitivity, and application area.
These are the challenges:
- The problem with outdated structures: Not all legacy systems are compatible with a Zero Trust framework, so setting it up ties up many resources. It pays to start from scratch instead of accepting transition problems when in doubt.
- Specific policies for various user groups: Since customers, partners, and third parties must also be granted access to the network, there are so many points of attack that companies must develop reliable data and account access policies for each user group.
- Complex management of applications: Cloud-based apps are used on different platforms and can also be shared with third parties. It is essential to plan the use of applications, tailor them to other user groups, and monitor this.
- Humans as the primary target: As the weakest link in the security chain, users can easily fall victim to phishing attacks and other cleverly launched actions by hackers if they do not know how to behave in certain situations. Therefore, it is not enough to set up a Zero Trust architecture if companies forget to eliminate human vulnerability. Regular training for the entire workforce, the establishment of strict IT hygiene, and the inclusion of the zero trust principle in the corporate culture are therefore of central importance.
The Path To The Cloud Starts With Zero Trust
With the “New Way of Work,” which is characterized by flexible working models, the use of cloud services has increased. However, with every device that connects to the corporate network from anywhere and every new cloud service, the attack surface for cybercriminal activities increases. In addition, accounts and roles with permissions that are too permissive are a common reason for the misconfigurations of cloud services.
However, once hackers have gained access via a vulnerability, such as an employee’s login data, they can move freely in the network if in doubt. Some companies rely on the network perimeter as a protective wall consisting of firewalls, VPNs, security information and event management (SIEM), and access control solutions. However, this ignores threats originating from within the network.
Effective protection is therefore made more difficult by the increasing threat situation and the complexity of the infrastructure caused by cloud services and applications. Businesses, therefore, need a holistic approach that can mitigate the overall threat landscape in the cloud without negatively impacting compliance. This is where the Zero Trust model comes into play: With its help, IT managers can analyze user behavior and device usage and take a close look at the data flow and company processes. In this way, threats can be identified more quickly, and potential attacks can be prevented. that originate inside the network.
More than just a technology, Zero Trust is a security strategy that must impact all levels of an organization. Implementing security solutions such as multi-factor authentication, SIEM, and threat intelligence are not enough if companies fail to get employees on board through awareness training.