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Deploying a Zero Trust model to reinforce cybersecurity


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The state of cybersecurity has been drastically altered by the pandemic and is likely never going to return to the way it used to be. Work is being conducted on a plethora of devices and offices are scattered across swaths of employees’ homes. And while this forced operational shift has resulted in a major boost in productivity and innovation, it has also brought with it a new set of security challenges that require a more contextual and intelligent security strategy.

The complexity of setting up the right rules within the older models — especially under the added complexity of work-from-home models — will require security teams to balance outdated policies with the reality of today’s new work dynamic. No matter which way you break it down, relying on the models of the past will undoubtedly result in increased risk; exposing your organization to threats such as ransomware, infrastructure misuse for malicious intent, breaches in compliance, and data loss.

Ed Rodriguez, Citrix

Now more than ever, a Zero Trust security framework is needed to properly secure your organization in these uncertain times.

To the uninitiated, Zero Trust security is a contextual IT security model that operates on a simple mission statement: “Trust no one.” This means that no user or device has default access to your organization’s network, workspace, or other assets. Your employees will need to pass security protocols before they are granted access. These protocols are based on a range of criteria like their identity, time of access, and device posture.

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A Zero Trust architecture can include access control, user identity verification, and secure workspaces to prevent malware and other attacks on your data.

This type of security model operates much like an airport and its multiple levels of security, for example.

To begin the process of gaining access to an airport you must first verify your identification with your passport and ticket. Then you must pass through security as they once again check your identification as well as ensure the safety of the items you are bringing with you and review your destination and reason for travel. Once inside the airport terminals (think of this like your internal IT environment) you are only permitted in certain areas and cannot exit and reenter without going through the entire security protocols all over again.

Is there a way to speed this process up? Absolutely. The airlines do it with pre-check procedures or fast-track lines for Global Entry/NEXUS at customs. In the IT world, these shortcuts would be procedures such as using corporate owned/managed devices rather than using your own personal device, simpler forms of multi-factor authentication like push tokens with SSO/SAML authentication to avoid the rechecks, or conditional access based on profile, network, end point and IT resource requested.

Despite the many benefits that such a model can provide your organization – reduced data breaches, greater enterprise visibility, enhanced employee experience, and more – it does not come without its own challenges. But these concerns can be overcome with the right strategy in place.

The main challenge is the possibility of a technological bottleneck caused by restricted access. As an organization, you will need to invest time into the restructuring of your network security and access control at every level.

Here are four steps to properly implement a Zero Trust security architecture and prevent an operational bottleneck:

1. Complete a thorough audit of your organization’s network to gain a clear sense of the infrastructure and endpoints in place.

2. Conduct a thorough threat assessment and formulate security scenarios you may encounter. Ask yourself questions like “Who is most likely to access what data?” and “If the first level of security is penetrated, how easy will it be to penetrate subsequent ones?”

3. Brainstorm and decide how to trust users, devices, and applications as separate but related entities. Granting access to what is actually needed on a use-by-use basis is key.

4. Test your Zero Trust architecture. This will help you see how it operates in a real-life scenario and help you foresee any potential issues. Run a variety of scenarios in which your IT team tries to gain access to data through methods like a lost device, unsecured WIFI network, malicious URLs, or malware. This will bring potential vulnerabilities in your network to the surface and allow you to adapt your strategy accordingly.

As you look to address your organization’s evolved cybersecurity concerns through the implementation of a Zero Trust architecture, there will certainly be operational hurdles to overcome, as there are with any new security model. But these can be easily tackled with the right strategy and clear communication. And as we rapidly move toward a more remote and geographically dispersed workforce, the benefits and peace of mind that a Zero Trust framework provides will far outweigh any of the challenges you could potentially face.

Ed Rodriguez is vice-president of sales and general manager at Citrix Canada.