What Are Zero Trust Principles and How Can You Apply Them?

Kezia Farnham

In today’s hyper-connected world, implementing a zero trust security framework is the ultimate security goal for many organizations.

A zero trust framework sits at the heart of operating models for a growing number of businesses, as cloud-based applications, remote working and a proliferation of devices increase the cyber risks businesses face.

A recent survey cited cyberattacks and data breaches as the top risk among North American businesses in a recent survey. Implementing a zero trust architecture can make the difference in bolstering your cybersecurity strategy.

What Is Zero Trust?

What is zero trust? It can be difficult to gain consensus on a definition. As the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre notes, “Zero trust means many different things to many different people.” 

At its core, zero trust security is an approach that does what it says: it starts from an assumption that every user, every device and every application is untrustworthy.

This “least privileged access” ethos applies whether users, devices or applications are inside or outside your business’s network.

Implementing Zero Trust Principles

To implement a zero trust framework, we need an understanding of zero trust principles.

What are the core principles of zero trust security? Defining key assumptions around zero trust is vital in your plan toward achieving a zero trust architecture.

  1. Understand the zero trust network. The first and most fundamental principle of zero trust is the need to get your arms around your network. The cloud, the Internet of Things, the proliferation of devices and the prevalence of hybrid and remote working extend and muddy your network perimeter — your potential “attack surface.” Get to know your architecture, which means all users, applications and devices.
  2. Assess your zero trust workloads. You’ll also need a clear picture of the workloads you put through your devices and applications, particularly the workload you entrust to the cloud, including assets like virtual machines and containers, which have specific security requirements and can invite cybercriminals. Identifying your vulnerabilities is one of the first stages of an effective cybersecurity strategy, particularly in a zero trust framework.
  3. Build a complete picture of key data. Similarly, it will be helpful to have a comprehensive picture of your data. Implementing zero trust requires identifying the data you particularly need to protect and map the data flow within your network. You can then pinpoint data access requirements, giving no more access than necessary. Getting a full picture of critical data is a core zero trust principle.
  4. Get acquainted with people and access. Zero trust demands that you control access to your data and services; defining how your people — and which people — access your network is one of the fundamental zero trust security principles. Compromised credentials account for 20% of data breaches; implementing safeguards like multi-factor authentication and other best practice access protocols is essential.
  5. Understand what devices are in scope. The principles of zero trust security require a complete picture of all the devices that connect to your network. All these devices are viewed as untrustworthy under zero trust; therefore, you need to build a robust inventory of relevant devices and their users to determine access requirements. Defining the universe of devices in scope also enables you to identify and isolate a compromised device swiftly.
  6. Authenticate, authenticate, authenticate. A zero trust approach assumes that users, devices and services cannot be trusted. Robust authentication needs to be implemented at every step to protect your network and is a core zero trust principle.

Apply Zero Trust Principles To Strengthen Your Cybersecurity

In a landscape where cyber-risks evolve and refine constantly, there is no such thing as being over-vigilant. Zero trust security is, in many ways, the ultimate example of this; trusting nothing and ensuring the highest level of authentication and security is applied at every level.

As cyber threats multiply and criminals become more skilled, organizations need to stay a step ahead. Applying zero trust principles will help to fortify your network.

To keep pace with the ever-advancing governance, risk and compliance threats you face, you can sign up to the GRC newsletter from Diligent, which will keep you abreast of the latest GRC thinking, and ensure you’re well-positioned to face the latest threats.

Related Insights

The Rising Tide of ESG – Navigating the Road Ahead

video

The Board's Role in Leading and Enabling GRC

article

Board and Executive Collaboration: Components of a Secure Platform for the Evolving Workplace

White Paper
Kezia Farnham Diligent
Content Strategy Manager
Kezia Farnham

Kezia Farnham is the Content Strategy Manager at Diligent. She's a University of the Arts London graduate who has enjoyed over seven years working across journalism, public relations and digital marketing, with a special focus on SEO and CRO in the B2B SaaS sector.

Kezia is passionate about helping governance professionals find the right information at the right time.