With two-factor authentication and a cloud native platform that secures users, apps and devices, the New Jersey Judiciary’s 10,000 employees can securely anywhere.
A foundation of zero-trust security controls helped the New Jersey Judiciary (NJJ) enable a fully remote workforce of 10,000 employees and increased the number of virtual courtrooms from 40 to 400 in six days at the onset of the pandemic.
One of the major changes was the use of two-factor authentication, which NJJ had begun to require for anyone trying to access the judiciary network remotely. When everyone went remote, it was just a matter of scaling up.
In summer 2020, as workers began returning to on-premises work, NJJ Chief Information Officer Jack McCarthy made two-factor authentication a requirement for everyone.
“No matter where you are, whatever device you’re using, we wanted you to come in by two-factor,” McCarthy said.
That’s a significant change from the way things used to be: Anyone could enter a conference room and plug a laptop into a port in the wall and get network access. Now, his team knows exactly what devices and users are on the network – and what they’re doing there.
“It’s not that we’re giving up and saying we can’t protect everything, but when the bad guys only have to be right once and you have to protect against a million things, eventually you need a way to do things,” McCarthy said. “What zero trust offers us is the ability to look at our network and say, ‘OK, everything that’s on here, we’re not going to trust implicitly,’ and we’re going to say, ‘If you want to come onto our network, you have to meet these factors, and we have to be able to authenticate who you are.’”
The next step was ensuring that workers can access certain applications on the network only by going through Zscaler solutions. NJJ had begun working with the cloud security company about a year before the pandemic started. “We created a bubble around applications, which protects them,” McCarthy said, adding that it’s an ongoing process as NJJ adds access points and applications.
McCarthy said one of his favorite solutions is Zscaler Digital Experience, which lets his team monitor network traffic to see where the most data packets are lost, indicating a problem. With so many remote workers, that was a huge help to help-desk staff, who could quickly identify the cause of any system slowdowns.
“Our biggest challenge was getting everyone to understand [work from home] was going to work, it was going to be OK,” McCarthy said. “You can imagine the complexities of trying to run court on a Zoom meeting when it first came out.”
A big win came in early spring 2020, when NJJ ran a state supreme court trial virtually. That success demonstrated to the rest of the judiciary what was possible. “We did it and you guys can do it as well,’” he said.
The courts are still taking advantage of the lessons learned from the pandemic experience. Last winter, when a snowstorm hit the area, the court switched to virtual with just 45 minutes’ notice. “That didn’t get enough press because nothing went wrong,” McCarthy said. “They just did it, it worked. But it was something I took as a badge of honor for my staff.”
Zero-trust controls don’t replace other defense measures such as firewalls, McCarthy said, but it is “a great tool in our toolkit,” particularly for stopping the spread should something malicious gain access.
“If something was to get into one of our PCs or – God forbid – get to a server, with zero trust, in theory, that ransomware can’t see anything else, so it can’t jump to another PC because it doesn’t know anything else exists,” he said. “Even if it’s a worm and it’s spreading … with the correct architecture of zero trust, it shouldn’t be able to jump across and get access unless you’ve explicitly said, ‘You can go from A to B using these credentials, using this authorization.’”
For other government entities looking to implement zero trust, he advises just starting somewhere.
“It allows you to do two things: You learn about the technology, you try something even if it’s one project with five users,” McCarthy said. “It also allows you to develop that relationship with the vendor, and what we saw in March 2020 is everybody that we had a relationship with came to us and said, ‘How can we help you?’”