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How PKI as a Service sits in the Zero Trust network.

The exponential growth in IT has made it imperative for every business to keep up with cybersecurity requirements to ensure all devices, machines, systems and applications are being managed and authorised appropriately.

For many organisations, that’s thousands of individual entities all requiring authorisation, privacy and confidentiality - a nightmare for the IT administration team! There are infinite ways that devices, platforms and networks can become compromised and online vulnerabilities are plentiful, making way for easy access from unauthorised users. 

The ‘Zero Trust’ approach

Many progressive organisations are adopting the Zero Trust approach, which, in simple terms, makes the rule-based assumption that everything is untrustworthy. Essentially, Zero Trust puts boundaries on every internal network element and the external network periphery. 

Implementing Zero Trust can be made easier with a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), and we’ll explain why in this blog.

How it works

The Zero Trust philosophy is a network security process that makes all users, devices and systems untrustworthy, making one-time validation unacceptable in its methodology. It requires that organisations must always validate that a user or device has the required access permission before gaining access. This method questions that firewall security has acceptable security and challenges if what is inside your network, should or can be trusted.

The growth of cloud computing has prioritised the uptake of methods like Zero Trust, and has made legacy, on-premise systems protected by a firewall perimeter, even more undesirable. 

Systems now require ‘micro-perimeters’ where smaller sections of technology can be isolated, removing the reliance on the larger network perimeter. This keeps individual entities and applications safe from public accessibility and also from the remaining network.

This isn’t to say that firewalls are no longer secure or required, it suggests that Zero Trust is adding a further layer of protection by requiring concentrated perimeter protection for limited users. What this means is that micro-perimeters can be managed by the thousands, segmenting off small pools of entities across users, devices, workstations etc. This can become a significant project and heavy weight for IT admins, however there are ways to automate and streamline the process with PKI as a Service platforms (PKIaaS) that we’ll explain further.

The traditional approach to Zero Trust was to base identification on the IP address, nowadays identity becomes the perimeter, meaning, verification of the users identity is required via secure measures like IAM, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), Biometrics, and Public Key Cryptography. The authentication process only works when it is dynamically verifying the user’s identity on a continual basis in order to ensure the Zero Trust model is working effectively.

Implementing PKI and Zero Trust

Implementing a private PKI is essential for Zero Trust integration in order to ensure a machine's identity can be trusted, it encrypts messages throughout the network and requires certificates to be utilised. The challenge is that certificates have an expiration date and need continuous management, this can be difficult to keep up to date if an organisation has thousands of certificates within its networks. 

The core of the Zero Trust method is about Identity, making TLS encryption crucial to the implementation process of Zero Trust. TLS encryption uses digital certificates to identify servers and clients, and the certificates are composed of two mathematically connected cryptographic keys. These keys are transferred between the server and the client as part of the authentication process, and this establishes trusted identities.

Certificates can be distributed to all types of network entities, across network devices, web servers, applications, workstations, VM’s etc. Administrators can set up a Certificate Authority (CA), this allows for digital signatures of certificates and verification of their validity. 

Single-Sign-On (SSO) and MFA are often utilised to implement Zero Trust effectively as they can verify end users with accuracy. However recent and public attacks have shown that MFS can also be bypassed, making it even more imperative for organisations to leverage certificates as an authentication measure. Certificates improve the strength of verifying digital identities as they are attached to encrypted devices.

Managed PKI services, or PKIaaS, absorb the load from IT admins and makes the entire process more efficient. Loop Secure works with the Entrust PKI as a Service Platform to enable effective operation through cloud-based API interfaces. This supports IT administrators to deploy and manage their certificates without the burden of managing the elements of the data center, hardware security module (HSM), and certificate authority (CA) components of your PKI.

Entrust supports several pre-defined use cases – such as Active Directory PKI Service and mobile device management (MDM) – through turnkey approaches, making it straightforward and simple to deploy.

As a strategic services partner, Loop Secure provides continuous protection across a wide range of security areas that will reduce your security costs, keep you ahead of threats, improve your productivity and simplify your compliance.