Identity Security as a Core Pillar of Zero Trust

Nowadays cyber risks are constantly increasing. However, companies can significantly increase their level of security with a few preventative measures and the focus should be on an identity-based zero trust strategy.

At its core, zero trust is a strategic cybersecurity model for protecting digital business environments, which increasingly include public and private clouds, SaaS applications and DevOps practices. Identity-based zero trust solutions such as single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are designed to ensure that only authorized people, devices and applications can access a company’s systems and data. Simply explained, zero trust is based on the idea that you cannot distinguish the „good guys“ from the „bad guys“. In other words, the zero trust principle is based on the assumption that any identity – whether human or machine – with access to systems and applications may be compromised.

Traditional concepts that rely on perimeter protection no longer work in an era of digital transformation, the increasing use of cloud services and the introduction of hybrid working models. This has led to the zero trust approach „Never Trust, Always Verify“ to secure identities, end devices, applications, data, infrastructures and networks while ensuring transparency, automation and orchestration.

The five principles of zero trust protection

There are many frameworks that support companies in the introduction of Zero Trust. However, as every company has different requirements, these frameworks should only be seen as an initial guide to developing and implementing a zero trust strategy and roadmap. In any case, an effective zero trust program should include five constants:

  • Strong adaptive authentication

By enabling consistent adaptive multi-factor authentication, organizations ensure that users are who they say they are. Organizations can detect potential threats faster and users can easily and securely gain access to resources.

  • Enabling continuous approval and authorization

Organizations should automate identity provisioning and define approval processes. Re-authenticating and re-validating user identities – for example after high-risk web browser sessions or periods of inactivity – ensures that the right user has access to the right resources.

  • Secure least-privilege access

It is essential to eliminate unnecessary privileges and remove superfluous authorizations for cloud workloads. It must be ensured that all human and non-human users only have the privileges required for their tasks in accordance with the least privilege principle. With the just-in-time access method, companies can also grant users extended access rights in real time. This means that an end user can access the required resources for a certain period of time in order to carry out a specific activity. The rights are then withdrawn again.

  • Continuous monitoring

Continuous monitoring is the best way to understand what is happening and to detect any anomalies that occur. By recording sessions and key events as well as tamper-proof stored audits, companies can document adherence to compliance requirements.

  • The protection of credentials

Endpoint Privilege Management is the cornerstone of strong endpoint protection and is critical for detecting and blocking credential theft attempts, consistently enforcing the principle of least privilege (including the removal of local administrator rights) and flexible application control to defend against malware and ransomware. The intelligent, policy-based application control prevents the execution of malicious programs. In addition to classic software denylisting and allowlisting, it should also be possible to run applications in a „restricted mode“ so that the user can also access applications that are not explicitly trusted or unknown.

Identity as the core pillar of Zero Trust

In principle, zero trust is neither quick nor easy to implement, and implementation can be complex. If only because efficient zero trust strategies involve a combination of different solutions and technologies, including multi-factor authentication, Identity and Access Management (IAM), Privileged Access Management (PAM) or network segmentation.

But one thing must be clear: For a Zero Trust project to be successful, identity must play a central role from the outset. With identity security, as the basis of a zero trust approach, companies can identify and isolate threats and prevent them from compromising identities. Identity security is the means to achieve measurable risk reduction and also accelerate the implementation of zero trust frameworks. The exponentially increasing number of identities to be managed – and the threat that each individual identity can pose – increases the need for organizations to implement a zero trust security approach. An identity-based approach to zero trust is therefore becoming increasingly popular, with more and more organizations taking this route to dramatically improve their overall security posture.

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