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With more companies undergoing digital transformation, where more data is being stored and accessed electronically than ever before, Zero Trust has proven itself to be a powerful framework capable of addressing the many challenges associated with cloud/hybrid environments and remote employees. Here's a closer look at how organizations can use the Zero Trust concept to reduce vulnerabilities, ward off threats, and control data use and access amongst employees.

What is the Zero Trust concept?

To put it simply, the Zero Trust concept redefines processes to assume that every user is untrustworthy at the start of every interaction. In doing so, systems automatically authenticate and check authorizations for a user each time before they are granted access to any application, database, or business asset. Additionally, each user's authorization status is continuously validated while using apps and data.

As more businesses and governments operate on top of cloud and hybrid environments, the need for the Zero Trust framework is rising. These environments make it increasingly difficult for companies to determine who and what should be trusted with access to networks and applications. That's why implementing architecture and strategy that doesn't need to assume user trust is becoming commonplace.

Of course, one important focal point is the user workflow and ease of use. When it comes to performance concerns, the right framework means all validations processes will take place rapidly in the background, minimizing interruption to the user while greatly strengthening business security. To effectively implement it, the process takes place in three stages.

What are the three main stages of the approach?

Zero Trust helps businesses operate securely and effectively, even with dispersing users and data across various locations and environments. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing the framework, so most businesses will begin planning the adoption process by breaking it down into three primary stages.

1. Visualize the organization

The first approach to establishing a Zero Trust framework for an organization is to visualize all of its components and how they connect. This requires a thorough evaluation of the organization's resources and how they are accessed, along with their risks. For instance, a database containing private customer data may need to be accessed by the financial department, and vulnerabilities with that connection impose inherent risks.

It is a given that this visualization and evaluation process is ongoing as an organization's resources, and the need to access those resources will continuously evolve as the organization grows. Likewise, the importance and risk associated with these components will also change. Therefore, organizations planning to implement the Zero Trust framework should start with what they presume will be most important and the most vulnerable as the adoption of the framework begins.

2. Mitigate risks and concerns

Since potential vulnerabilities, along with all conceivable threats that could exploit them and the paths an attacker could take, were identified in the previous stage, the mitigation phase addresses those concerns one by one in order of priority.

During this phase, a business will establish processes and tools that will help automatically detect new vulnerabilities and threats. There should also be processes that automatically stop threats or, when that is not possible, mitigate the impact of the likely outcome (e.g., by limiting the data that will be exposed) as much as possible.

3. Optimize execution

During the third stage of implementing the Zero Trust framework, organizations will work to extend their processes and protocols to include all aspects of IT. The speed of this rollout will be entirely dependent on the organization's complexity and the resources they invest into the implementation process.

What matters most is that as the framework rolls out to cover more aspects of the organization's infrastructure, it is routinely tested to ensure efficacy and usability. Organizations that do not properly prioritize the user experience when implementing security frameworks like Zero Trust will end up facing noncompliance and reduced productivity at scale.

Benefits of using the Zero Trust approach

There are many benefits of implementing the Zero Trust approach. First and foremost, this framework helps heighten security for organizations undergoing digital transformation, and it helps future-proof organizations that intend to fully adopt and stay in the cloud. This makes Zero Trust particularly relevant for software as a service (SaaS) companies and growing businesses across industries. It is especially beneficial for organizations that need to accommodate remote workers or maintain a multi-cloud environment.

By far, the greatest advantage of the Zero Trust model is it helps greatly reduces business risk because applications and data remain inaccessible and unexposed until a user is authenticated and authorized to interact with them. In turn, this improves access control as it encourages organizations to rethink how access is granted and tighten control over how long authorization lasts for a given use case.

In tandem with these things, the Zero Trust framework also supports compliance with various internal and external regulations. By shielding every user, resource, and workload, the Zero Trust framework greatly simplifies the auditing process and makes complying with PCI DSS, NIST 800-207, and other standards much easier.

Overall, the benefits of Zero Trust greatly outweigh the initial challenges associated with implementing it. The next step is taking a closer look at your organization's unique requirements to help determine the best way forward.

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Further reading

How the Zero Trust concept is shaping cybersecurity at scale

To put it simply, the Zero Trust concept redefines processes to assume that every user is untrustworthy with every action. Here's why that's so important.
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