Zero trust security model: What it is and how it can help protect your business

Maciej Bartłomiej Sikora
Content Writer
what is zero trust security

Imagine there’s a knock on your door. Do you go and open it right away to let the person in or do you look through the peephole first to see who it is?

In the same way you wouldn’t allow strangers to enter your household, you wouldn’t give outsiders access to your company’s data and resources. Obviously, making sure that no unauthorized third parties will penetrate your company’s IT infrastructure is much more difficult than keeping your house doors closed to unwelcome intruders. After all, it’s not like you ask “Who is it?” when somebody tries to log in to your systems and applications. In other words, you cannot personally verify every person who opens a sign-in form.

So how do you secure access to your organization’s digital assets? One way is to have every user take part in a thorough identification process before they are allowed in. And that, dear reader, is basically what the zero trust security model is about.

What is the zero trust security model?

Although definitions of the zero trust security model sometimes provide slightly different perspectives on how to implement it, the core principle remains the same: never trust, always verify.

The model is often described as a security framework that, when applied by a company, requires all users to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validated before they are granted access to the organization’s systems, applications, and data. This model is to be used no matter if the person is using the organization’s network or any other to log in. In other words, when following the principles of zero trust, you should verify all types of login attempts, regardless of the network or the device used.

We intentionally used the words “framework” and “principles” to highlight the fact that the zero trust security model is not a product that organizations can simply purchase and integrate into their IT infrastructure. Instead, it is a concept that, when made part of your company’s cybersecurity strategy, can help you develop more strict security policies and build IT infrastructures that are hard to breach.

It can also help you solve some of the biggest cybersecurity challenges that most companies must face today, including ensuring the safety of remote employees, managing hybrid cloud setups, and defending against ransomware attacks. Considering the above, it comes as no surprise that companies increasingly decide to adopt it these days.

Key components of the zero trust framework

As we already mentioned, the zero trust security model is not an IT solution or a service but a strategic approach to how companies can ensure the right people have access to the right resources. And like any concept, this one also has its main principles, the five most important of which are:

  1. Continuous authentication: Verifying the identity of all users and devices that try to access your systems and applications

  2. Least privilege access: Providing specific users with access to only the resources they need to perform well at their jobs, and nothing more.

  3. Microsegmentation: Dividing your network into smaller segments and restricting access to each segment based on the least privilege principle.

  4. Network-based security: Utilizing various security controls such as firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, and network monitoring tools to be in full control of who can access what.

  5. Data protection: Using security methods like encryption to protect sensitive data against unauthorized access or theft.

The importance of implementing the zero trust security model

Given everything we've covered so far, you shouldn't be surprised when we tell you that implementing the zero trust model is something that every successful business should make a priority. Why? The reasons are plenty.

First, making the model part of your strategy will help you reduce what is known as the attack surface. This means that the chance of attackers gaining access will be minimized because there will be fewer vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit. In other words, when every attempt to access data resources is treated as a potential cyberattack, it becomes much easier to spot and prevent security breaches before they can cause damage to the system.

Improving incident detection and response is another key benefit of implementing the zero trust model. By monitoring all network traffic, you can quickly identify anomalies, which in turn can lead to faster and more effective responses to security incidents on your side.

Compliance with regulations is also an important argument for implementing the zero trust model. Many regulations require a specific level of security that this model can help meet. Of course, compliance isn't just about avoiding fines — it's about building trust with customers and stakeholders. When clients see you as a company they can entrust with their data, you have a much better chance of encouraging them to buy your products or use your services.

How to implement the zero trust model

While there is no single approach to implementing the zero trust security model, certain criteria can be followed to ensure that the model is used correctly.

For example, one of the first things that you should do before integrating the zero trust framework into your strategy is to make sure you have a clear understanding of what needs to be protected. This means that you need to define assets, services, and applications to which access should be restricted for certain users or groups.

Another important step that you need to take is to map out data flows. Being aware of how data moves within your network will allow you to identify areas that are vulnerable to security breaches. What's more, it will help you design and build a sound zero trust architecture, a combination of cybersecurity tools that enable you to carry out actions aligned with the zero trust principles.

Next, you'll need to set up real-time monitoring of all activity on your network so you can know exactly who accessed what, when, and how. Not only will it help you optimize your network performance, but it will also allow you to detect security incidents before or right after they happen.

Last but not least, we recommend that you train and educate your employees on the principle of the zero trust framework. Raising co-workers' awareness of cybersecurity risks and the role they play in keeping your company's data safe can increase the likelihood that they will comply with your security policies.

Password managers and the zero trust model — What’s the correlation?

For many, the core element of a zero trust architecture is a password manager. Why? Because not only can it help reduce the risk of a data breach — it also allows you to give your employees access to the right resources in line with the idea of “least privilege.” In other words, a good password manager enables you to secure, manage, and enhance your access control models and therefore create a virtual environment to which only trusted employees have access. Isn’t that what the zero trust model is all about?

Of course, choosing one password manager from so many available on the market today is not an easy task. Sometimes it is a challenge to deduce from the descriptions on vendor websites whether a given platform will be a good fit for your company. Here are a few things you should pay attention to when trying to find a solution that will help you realize your zero trust strategy:

  • Encryption: Be sure your password manager uses the latest cryptography and encryption standards to make your passwords very hard to crack.

  • Password health checks: Check if the password manager allows you to identify weak, old, and reused passwords that could put your network at risk.

  • Password policy implementation: Choose a password manager that will allow you to establish a strict company-wide password policy and make it easier for your employees to stay compliant.

  • Monitoring. Find a platform that gives you complete visibility into who has access to what, so you can detect anomalies and quickly respond to all kinds of security incidents.

  • Multi-factor authentication. Consider a password manager that allows you to establish a sign-in process that requires users to provide multiple credentials to gain access.

Using NordPass to execute your zero trust strategy

NordPass is a tool that can help you implement the zero trust security model and follow its principles. That’s because it is an end-to-end encrypted password manager that any company — no matter its size or industry – can use not only to generate, store, manage, and share passwords securely but also to establish clear rules as to who can have access to its data and resources.

As you would expect, NordPass comes with a wide range of features that allow you to monitor all log-in processes, introduce multi-factor authentication, and scan the web for data breaches that involve your credentials. These alone make it incredibly useful and effective.

But the thing that distinguishes it from some other password managers out there is that not only can it improve your cybersecurity, but it also can boost your productivity. NordPass is a solution designed with the idea that maintaining a high level of security does not necessarily mean that activities should be performed more slowly and in a more limited way. Therefore, it helps you optimize your business operations while protecting your data and digital assets.

Need proof? Get a free 14-day trial and put NordPass Business to the test to see what it is capable of.

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