Zero trust is a security framework that asserts that no user or application should be trusted by default. A zero trust architecture enforces least-privileged access controls, which establish trust based on context (e.g., user identity and location, the security posture of the endpoint, the app or service being requested) with policy checks at each step. Access requests—even from known individuals—are never granted until they pass strict authentication.
“Never trust, always verify” is a key maxim of the zero trust security model. To understand why, let’s look at the long-established model of firewall-based network security.
Traditional firewall approaches to cybersecurity assume that access requests from outside the network perimeter aren’t inherently trustworthy, but anything from inside is. This further assumes firewalls can effectively block external threats and that none are already inside the network’s defenses, which is simply not the case.
Cybercriminals take advantage of assumed trust to circumvent defenses and deliver ransomware and other advanced malware, exfiltrate sensitive data, and more. Zero trust counteracts the risk of assumed trust by recognizing that anyone could be compromised. At the core of the model are three tenets:
Before we look farther into implementing zero trust, let's distinguish between two terms:
Put another way, a zero trust architecture provides the foundation organizations need to deliver ZTNA and make their resources accessible from anywhere, at any time, and from any device. ZTNA is a more agile and responsive security approach, better suited to multicloud configurations and remote work.
In the face of remote work trends, the rise of IoT devices, and cloud adoption, the task of forming a zero trust strategy can seem overwhelming. Let’s look at some typical hurdles and what you can do to overcome them.
Not Knowing Where to Start
To begin your zero trust journey, try to identify a specific pain point in your ecosystem. Maybe it's a security risk, such as an exposed attack surface or overprivileged access. It could be poor user experience or the costs of technical debt, infrastructure, or connectivity. Starting small gives you a foundation from which to tackle more difficult problems.
Being Tied to Legacy Investments
It’s hard to look beyond past investments, even if they’re not serving your needs anymore. The lead-up to refreshes and renewals is a great time to take a critical look at whether your legacy tools and technologies are still supporting your current business objectives, meeting capex and opex requirements, and keeping you truly secure amid ongoing cloud, mobility, and IoT trends.
Needing Stakeholder Buy-In
Zero trust can touch every corner of your organization, which means getting a lot of stakeholders on board. Be open with them about the benefits and sticking points of a zero trust transformation. Understand their drivers and concerns, including those they may be unaware of (e.g., legal or compliance risks). Pinpoint key use cases. Socializing your small starting use cases can also help with early buy-in.
Zero trust transformation takes time, but for today’s organizations to survive and thrive, it’s a necessity—and successful transformation has three core elements:
It’s important to recognize that change can be uncomfortable, especially if your architecture and workflows are deeply entrenched. Working in phases helps to overcome this, which is why Zscaler breaks down the journey to zero trust into four steps:
By reaching each of these goals one by one—transforming your network and security along the way—you’ll attain a zero trust architecture that securely connects users, devices, and applications over any network, wherever they are.
Zero trust is more than configuring microsegmentation, multifactor authentication (MFA), permissions, and rethinking your on-premises security. It’s about meeting the realities of today’s networks, workforces, and threats to make your operations safer, more agile, and more competitive.
When it comes to zero trust implementation best practices, there’s more to it than the technical necessities. You must, of course, secure your endpoints, apply the principle of least privilege, and leverage AI, ML, and automation. But before you can do any of that effectively, you need to approach the challenges of implementing your new security strategy with a plan:
Zscaler delivers zero trust with the cloud native Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange™ platform. Built on a proxy architecture, the platform securely connects users, devices, and applications using business policies over any network. The platform does this in four steps:
Benefits of the Zero Trust Exchange
Legacy security models that rely on assumed trust can leave your network and users dangerously exposed as cyberthreats continue to evolve to take advantage of trusted relationships. The zero trust model enforces strict authentication for all requests, no matter who or where they come from, offering more comprehensive protection.
Traditional cybersecurity models leave applications exposed to the internet. Today, with applications and data increasingly residing in the cloud, these models make network attack surfaces broader than ever. A true zero trust model connects users directly to resources, not your network, keeping your sensitive traffic invisible to the internet.
The modern cyberthreat landscape has exposed the need to replace legacy VPN technology. With a traditional VPN, users are authenticated once, and then placed on the network. With zero trust, users and devices are continuously validated and only granted access to specific, authorized applications.
Match a zero trust provider to your needs based on the vendor’s track record, comprehensive offerings, and level of tailored support. The right zero trust provider will understand your environment and be able to make targeted recommendations to secure your data and empower your workforce.
The best way to start with zero trust is to start small. For instance, find an issue related to risk, cost, or user experience and apply a zero trust strategy there. You can point to these small-scale successes when seeking stakeholder buy-in, budget, and future-looking plans. Don’t think you have to do it alone. If your team lacks the expertise to implement zero trust, consider a service provider you can work with as a trusted partner.
Successful zero trust transformation takes time, but to ensure long-term success, it’s critical to build your team’s knowledge; understand the ways you can use technology to reduce costs, cut complexity, and advance your objectives; and foster a cultural and mindset change toward zero trust across your organization.
The steps to create a zero trust network include: