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How does a Zero Trust Architecture Work?

As the end of 2021 approaches, most organisations are looking into their IT security operations to ensure they are meeting the needs of an ever changing digital landscape. The ‘workplace of the future’ is here and remote working has become the norm, presenting major challenges when it comes to the security and protection of the users, devices, systems and networks of any enterprise business.

It’s essential that organisations remain adaptable and dynamic as the digital world continues to evolve. Zero Trust Architecture, or ZTA, offers businesses an identity and access management security framework that can support the continual evolution of IT security requirements.

Thanks to Forrester, the ‘Zero Trust’ terminology came to fruition over ten years ago, however there was healthy debate as to whether this security framework made sense. The concept of ‘never trusting’ is something that has taken time for the digital world to see as viable. 

IAM (identity and access management) is a key component of Zero Trust, and has also been evolving over the last ten years. IAM solutions assist organisations in deploying the ZT approach, ensuring security is effective, whilst also assisting with improving compliance and productivity.

Traditionally, IT security has been about the perimeter, making an assumption that any users attempting to access the network externally, were not to be trusted. However this approach has become outdated as the explosion of users and devices across enterprise networks calls for a deeper understanding of security from outside the perimeter.

Evolution of security measures now requires that identity be deemed as the perimeter as users come from a multitude of locations and they’re using a number of different devices to complete work tasks. Now, access points are infinite, which means that the IT security threat has exponentially grown.

This has made a ZT security framework not just a nice-to-have, but a necessity to enable a consistent framework that can assure internal and external access points can be trusted.

There are a number of benefits of IAM built on ZT architecture, these include:

  • Secure Access, Always

Single sign-on (SSO) assists users in being productive by enabling them to access the applications they need to complete their work tasks. IAM and ZT security supports users in accessing exactly what apps they require through an assignment process, without providing them access to anything they do not need. This simplifies the process by ensuring access and authorisation only when it’s absolutely necessary. These automated processes happen via specific workflows, which is a foundational component of the ZT framework.

  • Privileged Access Management 

With more and more users required to work remotely there is a requirement to ensure productivity remains high. This can lead to organisations granting access to those that don’t require it, increasing the likelihood of shadow IT. IAM mitigates this with ZT through policies of least privilege. A policy of least privilege will ensure security of apps and data without granting higher levels of privilege to those that are not equipped to have it. 

  • Easy Authentication

ZT makes redundant the traditional methods of authentication, for instance login IDs and passwords, which slow down the process of implementing ZT effectively. IAM built on ZT offers the highest level of authentication through multifactor authentication (MFA), which is essentially passwordless, where authentication is based on the sensitivity of the specific application, simplifying the authentication process significantly.

  • Processes and Data Can Be Segregated Efficiently

ZT has the capability to segregate vast amounts of organisational data in an efficient way, all while ensuring control of access across employee, customer and product data. IAM supports the efficiency of this process as implementation requires a deep understanding of all sources of data and applications across the organisation. 

One of the most significant challenges when it comes to implementing ZT and IAM solutions is the concept of “never trust, always verify”. This is an essential element of ZT as it ensures that there are always rules in place to guarantee there is a continuous assessment of the users and devices that are accessing applications. 

This requires a mindset shift to ensure users can experience the technology in a useful way, without creating any bottlenecks in performance or productivity. 

Implementing ZT can be a significant challenge for many organisations, as it requires knowledge in creating a strategy that’s comprehensive and rooted in the foundational principles of IAM.

Download this practical guide to Zero Trust for a simple pathway to begin your journey in implementing a Zero Trust framework with IAM factored in.