Employees now prioritize work-life balance and the ability to choose their work environment. If your business can offer flexible work options, including remote and hybrid work, it is more likely to thrive as it will attract and retain top talent. But this comes with security challenges, how can you securely enable flexible work, ensuring data access from anywhere while minimizing secuity risks?
Legacy information systems that rely heavily on perimeter defenses, such as firewalls and VPNs, can no longer provide adequate protection with remote workers accessing data from the cloud in different regions. But here’s where the winds of change are blowing, organizations are recognizing the need to shift toward more robust and adaptable cybersecurity solutions, such as zero trust frameworks.
In this report, you will learn how to effectively adjust your information system to safeguard data and systems, no matter where they are or what device accesses them.
Traditional cybersecurity falls short
Despite having its critics, remote work is highly favored by those who practice it. Recent insights, show that a remarkable 98% of respondents expressed their desire to continue working remotely throughout their careers.
Flexibility within the remote and hybrid work model plays a crucial role in enhancing employees’ overall well-being. It often results in increased job satisfaction and higher retention rates. Which, in turn, can positively impact business performence. But as the modern workforce extends beyond traditional office spaces, employees access cloud-based data and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications from various locations. The conventional cybersecurity approach, which relied on perimeter defenses is no longer effective.
Most companies rely on the following top three conventional solutions to secure their business assets:
Most companies rely on the following top three conventional solutions to secure their business assets:
- Firewalls: Implementing a firewall acts as the first line of defense. Firewalls monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic, allowing or blocking data packets based on pre-established security rules. This prevents unauthorized access and potential threats from reaching the organizaiton’s internal network.
- Antivirus Software: Employing reputable antivirus software helps protect systems from malware, such as viruses, Trojans, and spyware. Regularly updating and scanning the corporate network with this software is crucial to detect and remove any potential threats.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): Businesses use VPN to secure data transmitted over the internet. A VPN encrypts data and establishes a secure tunnel between the user’s device and the server, making it much more difficult for eavesdroppers to intercept sensitive information during transmission. This is particularly important when remote workers access the company network from various locations.
But the above conventional solutions have their limits when it comes to remote and hybrid work models, here is why:
- Firewalls: Traditional firewalls primarily rely on port-based filtering. If remote employees use common ports for legitimate services (e.g., Port 443 for HTTPS), it becomes challenging to distinguish between legitimate and malicious traffic. Cybercriminals can take advantage of this limitation by utilizing encryption to hide malicious content within seemingly legitimate web traffic. Encryption involves encoding data in a way that can only be understood by someone with the decryption key. This process is similar to how sensitive information is secured during online banking or shopping. The malicious content within web traffic is sent via commonly used communication channels, such as Port 443. Port 443 is frequently used for secure web communications, commonly known as HTTPS, where the “S” stands for “secure.” This port is widely trusted, and data transmitted through it is encrypted to protect user privacy. Cybercriminals exploit this trust to hide their activities, knowing that traffic on this port is rarely scrutinized because it’s assumed to be safe. Furthermore, firewalls may not easily scale to accommodate the increasing volume of remote connections and the associated data traffic. This could lead to performance bottlenecks.
- Antivirus Software: Traditional antivirus software primarily relies on signature-based detection. It identifies known malware by matching it to a database of virus signatures. This approach is less effective against zero-day threats (new and unknown malware) because there are no signatures to detect them. Although it is worth mentioning that most of the new antivirus softwares include behavior analysis capabilities. These new capablities detect malware that uses evasive tactics or exhibits malicious behavior without fitting a known signature. Nevertheless, antivirus software often depends on the host operating system for its effectiveness. They are for example less effective on mobile devices, which have different operating systems and vulnerabilities.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): VPNs typically grant full network access to remote users once they’re connected. This can pose a risk if a user’s device is compromised because the attacker gains full network access. The device can be compromised when a user’s VPN credentials are stolen or if the user’s device is infected with malware, the malware may propagate onto the corporate network once the VPN is established. Also, VPNs don’t follow a zero trust security model, meaning they often grant extensive network access based on user credentials without continuous verification of user and device trustworthiness. Besides the security risks, VPNs can introduce performence and scalability concerns. Remote employees can have a bad user experience due to routing all traffic through the corporate network, especially for bandwidth-intensive tasks. And as organizations grow and the number of remote workers increases, scaling a VPN infrastructure can become challenging and costly.
While these top three conventional solutions are valuable tools for providing secure remote access, they should be used in conjunction with other security measures, such as the zero trust security framework, to mitigate these limitations and vulnerabilities. Zero trust focuses on identity verification, continuous monitoring, and least privilege access, addressing many of the shortcomings of these traditional solutions.
Adopting the Zero-Trust model – Google case
Many experts now recommend adopting a zero-trust security model. This approach entails an overarching mindset shift, where trust is not assumed based on a user’s location or network perimeter. Instead, trust is established through rigorous verification, regardless of where users or resources are located. The zero-trust framework is specifically effective in the remote and hybrid work model because it has the following advantages:
- Identity-Centric Security with least privilege access: Zero trust focuses on verifying the identity of users, devices, and applications before granting access. The access is also limited to only the resources necessary for the task at hand. This reduces the attack surface and potential damage that can be causes by an employee connecting from an unsecure nextwork, leading to a compromised device.
- Adaptive Access Controls: Zero trust dynamically adjusts access controls based on the context and security posture of the user and device, allowing for greater flexibility while maintaining security. For example: a remote employee needs to access confidential company files stored on a cloud server. The employee is using a personal laptop to connect to the corporate network. In a traditional VPN setup, once the remote employee logs in with their credentials, they are granted full access to the corporate network, including the cloud server. This access remains consistent throughout the session. With Zero Trust, the process is different. The user’s access to the cloud server is continuously evaluated based on the context and security posture. If a user’s account is accessed simultaneously from locations that are physically impossible to reach in a short timeframe (say New York and Hong Kong), it could indicate a compromised account. This continuos monitoring process is crucial in a hybrid work environeemnt.
- Protection Across Environments: Zero trust is designed to secure data and resources regardless of where they are accessed, be it within the corporate network, in the cloud, or by remote users.
Google was one of the first companies worldwide adopting the Zero Trust security model, resulting to BeyondCorp product for business. It was a transformative journey with several key phases:
- Initial Concept (2007-2009): The idea for BeyondCorp emerged.
- Pilot Phase (2010-2011): Google tested the model with selected employees.
- Global Rollout (2011-2017): BeyondCorp was implemented worldwide with the following key phases:
- Ditching VPNs (2011-2013): Google phased out VPN usage in favor of user and device trust.
- Trust Model (2013-2016): Developing a new trust model based on device and user identity.
- User Trust (2016-2017): The focus shifted to user trust, ensuring secure authentication.
- Implementation of Services (2017-2019): Google implemented security services like end-to-end encryption.
As you may have observed, the above transition to BeyondCorp Zero Trust security spanned several years, with distinct phases and evolving challenges. Some of the key challenges observed were linked to the copany size, creating a complete device inventory took over two years. Ensuring compatibility with legacy applications and devices presented was also substantial challenge.
Fortunately, many companies are less complex than Google.
The time it takes for a business to build a Zero Trust security model can vary significantly based on the organization’s size, existing infrastructure and resources.
In the next chapter, we will cover the best practices for implementing a zero trust security model, regardless of the size of the company.
Zero-trust implementation recommendations
It is important to note that implementing a Zero Trust framework is an ongoing process and should be adapted to the organization’s specific needs and risks. Regular assessment, adjustment, and employee training are critical components of a successful Zero Trust security strategy. The framework goes beyond the solutions and cybersecurity products. It is a combination of software, process and projects. Here are some important steps and best practices to keep in mind when implementing the zero-trust framework. This list is not exhaustive, and certain elements may not be necessary after conducting a security and risk assessment:
- Identify and Classify Data: Start by identifying and classifying the organization’s data based on sensitivity and criticality. This classification will help in setting access controls and monitoring.
- User and Device Verification:
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Enforce MFA for user authentication. It adds an extra layer of security.
- Device Trustworthiness: Verify the trustworthiness of devices accessing the network. Ensure they meet security standards.
- Least Privilege Access:
- Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Implement RBAC to grant the least privilege access to users. Users should only have access to resources necessary for their roles.
- Network Segmentation: Implement network segmentation to divide the network into smaller, isolated segments. This reduces the risk of lateral movement by attackers.
- Continuous Monitoring:
- User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA): Use UEBA tools to monitor user and device behaviors. Detect and respond to unusual activities promptly.
- Threat Detection: Employ threat detection solutions to identify threats and vulnerabilities.
- Data Encryption:
- End-to-End Encryption: Implement encryption protocols for data in transit and at rest. This secures data even if intercepted.
- Secure Access to Cloud Services:
- Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB): Implement CASB solutions to secure access to cloud services and protect data.
- Regular Security Audits and Testing:
- Penetration Testing: Conduct regular penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
- Red Team Exercises: Simulate real-world attacks through red team exercises to evaluate the organization’s readiness.
- Education and Training:
- User Training: Train employees and users to recognize security threats and follow best practices.
- Phishing Simulations: Run regular phishing simulations to test user awareness.
- Incident Response Plan:
- Develop a comprehensive incident response plan to ensure the organization can respond effectively to security incidents.
- Integration and Automation:
- Integrate security solutions and automate security processes wherever possible to improve efficiency.
- Vendor and Supply Chain Security:
- Extend Zero Trust principles to third-party vendors and supply chain partners to protect against supply chain attacks.
- Policy Enforcement:
- Enforce security policies consistently across the organization. Ensure policies are updated to address evolving threats.
- Audit and Compliance:
- Regularly audit and assess the security posture of the organization to maintain compliance with industry standards and regulations.
- User Privacy and Data Protection:
- Ensure compliance with privacy regulations, especially if dealing with personal or sensitive data.
- Regular Updates and Patch Management:
- Keep all software, systems, and devices up to date with security patches and updates.
- Zero Trust Framework Tools and Solutions:
- Invest in tools and solutions that align with the Zero Trust framework, such as Identity and Access Management (IAM), Network Access Control (NAC), and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems.
- Documentation and Reporting:
- Maintain detailed documentation of security practices and incidents for reporting and analysis.
- Feedback Loops:
- Create feedback loops to continuously improve the Zero Trust framework based on lessons learned and emerging threats.
- Collaboration and Communication:
- Encourage open collaboration between IT, security teams, and other relevant stakeholders.
Zero Trust: Benefits and Challenges
When adopting a Zero Trust framework, small and bigger orgnizations can easily justify the investment by drafting a use case to. The potential advantages extend beyond the enhancement of remote work security and encompass the possibilities of cost savings and an improved user experience.
While the precise cost and user experience benefits can be challenging to quantify, there are opportunities to estimate them by considering the assessed value of assets at risk and productivity KPIs. The following elements can be useful to create a solid use case:
- Reduced Data Breach Costs: A Zero Trust approach significantly reduces the risk of data breaches. The cost savings associated with mitigating a potential data breach can be substantial, covering legal fees, compliance fines, and reputation damage control. Here are few examples on how to quanitfy the cost of a data breach:
- Direct Costs:
- Calculate the costs associated with the breach’s immediate aftermath. This includes expenses related to incident response, forensics, and notification of affected parties.
- Example: The cost of hiring a cybersecurity forensics team to investigate the breach is $50,000.
- Regulatory Fines:
- Identify any regulatory fines or penalties incurred due to the breach, taking into account the specific regulations that apply to your industry.
- Example: GDPR fines for non-compliance with data protection regulations can reach up to 4% of global annual revenue.
- Legal Costs:
- Consider legal expenses for handling lawsuits, settlements, and court fees associated with the breach.
- Example: Legal fees for settling a class-action lawsuit amount to $200,000.
- Data Recovery Costs:
- Estimate the expenses required for recovering lost or compromised data and ensuring data integrity.
- Example: Data recovery and restoration costs after a breach total $100,000.
- Reputation Damage:
- Assess the impact on your brand reputation, customer trust, and potential loss of business with partners and future customers.
- Example: A 10% drop in business opportunities post-breach results in a revenue loss of $500,000.
- Operational Downtime:
- Calculate the cost of business disruption and downtime during breach recovery.
- Example: Two days of operational downtime due to the breach result in a loss of $1,000,000 in revenue.
- Post-Breach Investments:
- Consider cybersecurity enhancements and investments required to prevent future breaches.
- Example: Implementing advanced security measures costs $300,000.
- Loss of Intellectual Property:
- If applicable, assess the value of any intellectual property or proprietary data lost in the breach.
- Example: The theft of intellectual property worth $2,000,000.
- Estimate Customer Churn:
- Calculate the loss of customers who decide to discontinue their services or products due to the breach.
- Example: 5% of customers leave, resulting in a $250,000 loss.
- Sum All Costs:
- Add up all the costs and financial impacts associated with the data breach to determine the total cost.
- Example: The total cost of the data breach is $4,400,000.
- Direct Costs:
- Eliminating Traditional VPN Expenses: Traditional VPNs require substantial infrastructure and maintenance costs. Zero Trust, on the other hand, reduces these costs by eliminating the need for complex VPN setups.
- Optimized Resource Allocation: A Zero Trust model allows organizations to allocate resources more efficiently, eliminating unnecessary spending on traditional perimeter defenses and focusing on tailored security solutions.
- Seamless Access: Zero Trust allows users to access resources securely from anywhere, enabling seamless remote work and promoting employee satisfaction.
- Reduced Friction: By continuously verifying user identities and device health, Zero Trust minimizes disruptions and login issues, creating a smoother and more user-friendly experience.
- User Empowerment: Users have the freedom to work from their preferred devices and locations without compromising security, empowering them to be more productive and adaptive in today’s flexible work environment.
With the above challenges, abviously come some challenges:
- Tool Selection: Choosing the right tools and technologies for Zero Trust implementation can be challenging. The market is flooded with various solutions, and organizations must carefully evaluate and select tools that align with their specific needs.
- Resource Allocation: Zero Trust requires dedicated resources for design, implementation, and maintenance. This includes skilled cybersecurity professionals and IT personnel who can manage the system effectively. Resource allocation can be a major challenge, especially for smaller organizations.
- User Acceptance: Shifting to a Zero Trust model may face resistance from employees and partners who are accustomed to more traditional security models. User education and change management are crucial to ensure that the model is embraced and understood by everyone involved.
- Integration Complexity: Integrating Zero Trust with existing systems and applications can be complex. Legacy systems may not be easily compatible with modern Zero Trust principles, necessitating careful planning and possibly additional development efforts.
- Continuous Monitoring: Effective Zero Trust implementation requires continuous monitoring and evaluation. Many organizations struggle to maintain a constant and proactive monitoring approach due to the volume of data and alerts generated.
- Policy Enforcement: Ensuring that Zero Trust policies are consistently enforced is another challenge. Any lapses can expose vulnerabilities. Proper enforcement requires precise configuration and ongoing auditing.
Most common tools used in the Zero Trust
As explained in chapter 3, implementing a Zero Trust framework is an ongoing process It goes beyond the solutions and cybersecurity products as it is a combination of software, process and projects. But it’s critical to mention that without the following most commun tools, organizations cannot effectively secure their assets:
- Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions: Provide a centralized platform for managing user identities and access to resources.
- Main providers: Microsoft Azure Active Directory, Okta, and Ping Identity.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) solutions: Require users to provide multiple forms of authentication before being granted access to resources.
- Main providers: Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, Onelogin, LastPass and Duo Security
2. Network and cloud Security
- Provider: Zscaler, Perimeter 81,Bitglass, Skyhigh Security, Sonicwall, CipherCloud, Netscope, Checkpoint
- Network Segmentation solution: It involves dividing a network into smaller segments to limit the spread of threats. Some popular network segmentation solutions include Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), VMware NSX, and Illumio.
- Endpoint Security: Endpoint security solutions protect devices from malware, viruses, and other threats. Some popular endpoint security solutions include Symantec Endpoint Protection, TrelliEndpoint Security, and CrowdStrike Falcon, SentinelOne, Sophos
- Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): SIEM solutions provide real-time monitoring of security events across an organization’s network. Some popular SIEM solutions include Splunk Enterprise Security, IBM QRadar, and LogRhythm.
For small businesses with budget constraints, several providers offer affordable Zero Trust solutions, such as Perimeter 81 for network security, LastPass for IAM, and Google Authenticator for MFA. It is important though to keep in mind that while these tools and providers offer cost-effective solutions, the specific requirements of your organization should guide your selection to ensure they meet your security needs.
The Zero Trust framework empowers businesses to embrace flexible work models while minimizing data risks. With traditional security models, remote work often posed significant vulnerabilities. However, Zero Trust dynamically adjusts access controls based on the context and security posture of users and devices, ensuring that sensitive data remains secure, regardless of the location or device used for access. By implementing robust identity and access management, encryption, and continuous monitoring, businesses can confidently enable their employees to work from anywhere. This approach prioritizes data security without compromising the flexibility and productivity of remote or hybrid work models, making it a key asset in today’s evolving work landscape.