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How to implement a Zero Trust strategy

Discover common pitfalls to avoid when implementing a Zero Trust security strategy and ten essential steps

2023.08.29Dheeraj Rawal

Zero Trust-based security

Our previous blog covered what Zero Trust security is, its fundamentals, and why businesses are adopting it. Here, we explore the process of implementing a Zero Trust security strategy. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to a Zero Trust strategy. Vendors and businesses have realized that a universal solution cannot work for all types of companies under the sun.

Zero Trust challenges

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In our experience advising and supporting hundreds of organizations with their security, two challenges in implementing Zero Trust are typical:  

Choosing an off-the-shelf solution: Organizations have different environments and IT landscapes, including hybrid environments, unmanaged devices, cloud and on-premises infrastructure, legacy platforms, non-standard policies, and users at various locations. Adapting an off-the-shelf Zero Trust solution might not provide value and could be complex and costly.

Starting without a comprehensive view of costs and resources: Implementing Zero Trust holistically is resource-intensive and requires skilled personnel. Organizations with limited resources may find this overwhelming. Hiring talent is also challenging and expensive. Additionally, replacing too many legacy systems solely for the sake of Zero Trust can become a financial burden if not well-planned.

Zero Trust security: potential failures

Sometimes, Zero Trust does not yield optimal results due to poor implementation. When vulnerabilities remain unaddressed, and controls are misconfigured, it will not be 100% effective due to security gaps. The scope of implementation is not always fully defined, leaving some areas outside the scope. For example, application security may not be covered, focusing solely on network security. Leaving third-party vendors out of the scope can also impact the program’s effectiveness.

Tackling these challenges requires meticulous planning and a phased approach to implementing Zero Trust. In simple terms, each business needs to develop a strategy based on factors such as current architecture, requirements, budget, and timeline.

Ten steps towards Zero Trust implementation

However, there are common aspects that all organizations should consider as a starting point and foundation for a Zero Trust security model:

Define clear scope and micro-segmentation

Determine the organization's requirements and goals for a Zero Trust strategy. Asset discovery; identify applications, data, and resources, and segment your network accordingly. Determine the level of access controls for each segment based on their criticality. Define logical network segments and access policies based on the principle of least privilege to limit the lateral movement of attackers.

Assess the architecture for risks

Evaluate the current IT architecture for vulnerabilities before full implementation. Address any identified gaps.

User and device identity management

Categorize users (employees, third-party users, service accounts, bots, system admins, and developers). Evaluate device usage, identity and access management controls, existing user authentication methods, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and access permissions. Integrate user and device identity verification seamlessly into the Zero Trust model. Set access permissions based on the principle of least privilege.

Identify data based on sensitivity, create policies

Classify and label data based on sensitivity. Determine encryption and data protection mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access or data leakage during transit and at rest.

Evaluate endpoint posture and application security

Ensure that all endpoints for different devices within the network are secured. Apply the latest security updates and required software patches. Evaluate and address vulnerabilities in application security.

Monitoring and incident response

Implement continuous monitoring of network activities and user behavior. Set up alerts for unusual or suspicious activities and establish a robust incident response plan to address potential breaches.

Check compatibility with existing solutions

Understand how the Zero Trust security solution fits within the current landscape. Determine if it replaces or augments existing solutions. Ensure compatibility with firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other tools.

Vendor and third-party considerations

Evaluate the security practices of third-party vendors and partners interacting with your network. Ensure vendor adherence to Zero Trust principles defined by your organization to prevent vulnerabilities from external sources.

Plan implementation in phases

Implement Zero Trust in phases, starting with a pilot project. Assess value and impact, adjust, and proceed to the next step. 

Resources and budget

Determine the budget considering necessary resources, consultations, solutions, platform upgrades, staff training, administration, and maintenance. A well-structured budget supports successful implementation.

Wrapping up

A successful Zero Trust implementation creates a secure ecosystem where trust is never assumed, and every access request is thoroughly verified. A Zero Trust  approach reduces vulnerabilities, minimizes the attack surface, and significantly enhances an organization's ability to prevent cyber threats while remaining adaptable to changing security landscapes.

You can read our previous blog.

Considering how to create a security strategy and Zero Trust security roadmap? We can assist you in developing security policies, improving your organization’s security posture, and initiating security assessments. Contact us at cyber.security@t-systems.com.

About the author
Dheeraj Rawal

Dheeraj Rawal

Content Marketer, T-Systems International GmbH

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