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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How agencies can make the shift to zero trust

Cyber threats targeting the United States and its critical infrastructure are increasing in frequency, and the federal government is quickly taking action to revamp cybersecurity processes.

President Joe Biden’s May 2021 cybersecurity executive order aims to address these issues head-on, with arguably the most important order of business being an emphasis on zero-trust architecture. The EO had an initial timeline requiring all federal agencies to have a plan to begin adopting a zero-trust framework within 90 days. Following this order, the Office of Management and Budget released a zero-trust draft strategy, giving agencies until September 2024 to meet five specific security goals in relation to zero trust.

This isn’t the first major zero-trust effort. In October 2020, the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence initiated its Implementing a Zero Trust Architecture project, which seeks to create architectures and guidelines that will enable federal agencies to efficiently adopt zero trust. The initiative will also contribute to the NCCoE’s forthcoming Cybersecurity Practice Guide featuring real-world cybersecurity challenges and solutions.

Implementing an effective zero-trust framework can be complex because it challenges the de facto approach of perimeter-based security -- the notion that adding stronger walls around the perimeter is enough to address today’s cyber threats. Current technology requires agencies move away from perimeter defense as cloud and mobile usage make it ineffective.

Zero trust verifies all users and devices, continuously reviewing access privileges and interpreting activity. It also includes often overlooked gaps generated by unprotected mobile endpoints or cloud applications.

With this in mind, zero-trust architecture must be built on secure access service edge and its associated elements, cloud access security broker (CASB) and zero trust network access (ZTNA). SASE serves as an umbrella of cloud security solutions, enforcing security policies in a manner tailored to identity while contextualizing and continuously assessing risk. It works to monitor activity and changes in the cloud and cloud-based apps. As a result, the approach secures access to an organization’s cloud network regardless of the location of the devices requesting access. 

CASB is an element within SASE that performs critical monitoring of cloud-based apps. It records how apps communicate, identifies app risks and detects anomalies, like abnormal behavior or privilege changes. Changes in cloud environments often happen in real-time, so CASB matches this pace.

For example, if a bad actor gained access to an agency’s network through an employee’s mobile device and searched for critical information in areas that the user had no place being, CASB would be able to detect this anomaly and enable the implementation of security controls to help stop the bad actor before too much damage is done.

Also, within SASE, ZTNA gives users seamless and secure connectivity to private applications without ever exposing apps to the internet or placing them on a network. ZTNA allows agencies to give users the least amount of access necessary, reducing potential attack surface and making the monitoring process easier.

On top of the SASE platform lie additional security apps and features to enhance the zero-trust approach, including antivirus and anti-malware solutions as well as technologies and processes to discover, monitor and control sensitive data.

When combined, these platforms and features form a baseline for a successful zero trust strategy. While many agencies are beginning their journey to adopt zero trust and comply with new regulations, the approach must be broad and holistic. To truly improve efforts to identify, deter, protect, detect and respond to bad actors and actions, agencies need an integrated security platform that covers the endpoint, the cloud and every data point in between.

About the Author

Tony D'Angelo is VP of Americas, public sector, at Lookout.

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