Protect Data With Pillars of Zero Trust

Your security team has plenty of challenges, but securing and protecting your data with consistent, granular, and automated enforcement across your hybrid cloud data estate shouldn’t be one of them.

Security teams need to modernize to successfully secure and protect data with consistent, granular, and automated enforcement across hybrid cloud data estates. The traditional scope of cybersecurity was once considered to be perimeter protection of the enterprise network and associated data and applications.

A perimeter-based approach creates a castle-and-moat security model that extends trust to all users and devices within the perimeter. Historically, this allowed extensive or even unlimited access to all systems within the castle. However, despite massive investments in perimeter security defenses (as well as endpoint security and application-layer security), cyber attackers can still access sensitive data.

Zero trust is an evolution of security that no longer relies on castle-and-moat security to protect data environments. It moves enterprise cybersecurity away from over-reliance on perimeter-based security. This method uses firewalls and other gating technologies to create a barrier around an organization’s IT environment. Zero trust is an approach to enterprise cybersecurity that presumes no connections to corporate IT assets should be trusted. Instead, zero trust begins with a “default deny” security posture: Trust no one and grant the least privilege.

This calls for users and devices to be authenticated before first connecting. They must then be verified at multiple points before accessing networks, systems, and data. Once a user’s identity is verified, they only get access according to the role they’re assigned— nothing more. It’s the opposite of the legacy “trust but verify” model. Instead, zero trust takes a “verify, then trust” approach. By default, the zero trust method denies access until user identity is confirmed, and then grants only those access privileges required to complete the assigned task.

Zero Trust Mitigates Breach Costs

The 2022 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report, conducted by the Ponemon Institute and published by IBM, found the average total cost of a data breach reached an all-time high of $4.35 million. Implementing zero trust has a direct impact on the cost of a breach by limiting the risk of unauthorized access, insider threats, and malicious attacks. Just 41 percent of organizations in the study said they deployed a zero trust security framework. The 59 percent that didn’t deploy zero trust incurred an average of $1 million in greater breach costs compared to those that did deploy. 

The initial goal of zero trust is to prevent data breaches. The core goal, however, is data protection. Zero Trust Data Protection (ZTDP) is a new and evolving term for an approach to Data Protection based on the popular zero trust security model. While zero trust was initially applied as a network access security model (ZTNA), the same model and principles can also be applied to data security and security architecture in general.

How to Achieve Zero Trust Data Protection

Achieving ZTDP requires an effective data security and governance solution that can implement the zero trust model within the data environment. Privacera’s approach to ZTDP is built on three pillars:

  1. Least privilege access control
  2. Strong user authentication and authorization
  3. Data obfuscation, using encryption and/or masking

Least Privilege Access Control

There are many benefits associated with deploying least privilege access control, sometimes referred to as the principle of least privilege (POLP). A top benefit is POLP’s ability to prevent the spread of malware. By imposing least privilege restrictions on software and systems access, attackers cannot use higher-privilege or administrator accounts to install malware or damage the system. Other POLP benefits include:

  • Decreased chance of a cyber-attack: Most cyber-attacks occur when an attacker exploits privileged credentials. Least privilege access protects systems by limiting the potential damage that can be caused by an unauthorized user gaining access to a system.
  • Helps demonstrate compliance: In the event of an audit, an organization can prove its compliance with regulatory requirements by presenting logs of the access controls it has implemented.
  • Supports data classification: POLP concepts enable companies to keep track of who has access to what data in the event of unauthorized access.
  • Improves user productivity: Only giving users the access required to complete their necessary tasks reduces access sprawl and keeps users on-task.

Authentication and Authorization

Authentication— verifying the identity of a user as human or machine— is the foundation of any successful data governance program. While authentication is the process of verifying identity, authorization involves granting access to data and services based on that identity, associated roles, and attributes. Most organizations have some mechanism in place to handle authentication. Many have role-based access controls (RBACs) that group users by role, and grant or deny access based on those roles. In a zero trust system, however, both authentication and authorization are much more granular.

Providing a granular level of data access control across systems for different users— by the client, partner, business unit, sub-contractor, customer, franchise, department, or by contractual terms— is not possible without unified authentication and authorization controls.

Data Encryption and Masking

A key pillar of any zero-trust approach to data protection is encryption. This highly granular level of encryption enables data science and data analytics teams to use more data to build models and extract insights. Drive new business opportunities, garner increased customer satisfaction, and optimize business efficiency.

In addition to Encryption, software must provide comprehensive, end-to-end cloud data protection, consisting of automated sensitive data discovery and data classification, centralized data access control with distributed native enforcement, and dynamic data masking. 

Benefits of Security Automation and Zero Trust

The IBM / Ponemon Institute Cost of a Breach Report also noted security automation made the single biggest difference in the total cost of a data breach. Data security automation makes it more likely security best practices will be followed without fail. It makes responses to anomalies much faster than if a human had to intervene. Zero trust should inform both what is protected and how access is controlled, while security automation can more efficiently put those zero trust principles into practice. Zero trust, security and governance automation helps your security team remediate security incidents as quickly as possible, ensuring you maintain a stronger and more resilient security posture, while reducing your cyber risk.

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John Armstrong

John Armstrong

John Armstrong drives Privacera's cybersecurity product marketing efforts. Prior to Privacera, he led product marketing for container/Kubernetes security and observability vendor Tigera. John also has cybersecurity domain experience working at Zettaset, Securent (Cisco), PacketMotion (VMware), Virsec and Visionael. He began his product marketing career in the networking world and spent several years at Gartner as VP and chief networking analyst.

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