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Navigating Complexity and Vulnerability: The Journey to Zero Trust Security

Why ZeroTrust? 

Zero Trust is a proactive security model that embraces the principle "never trust, always verify."  The rising importance of Zero Trust concepts is a response to the ever evolving and increasing number of cyber threats. It starts by eliminating any implicit trust in users and assuming all networks and traffic are hostile. Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) leverages dynamic network defenses where every element, node and service require verification. 

The adoption of Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) embodies a variety of strategies and technologies. Entities must shift to a cycle of constant  verification, re-verification, and ongoing re-verification, reinforced by multiple layers of cybersecurity, to establish a genuine ZTA framework. 

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Change is hard and slow. 

Sophisticated and persistent  cyber-attacks are exposing vulnerabilities and stealing data in both government and private systems at unprecedented rates.  A weakness anywhere is a threat to the entire system. It is imperative to quickly modernize cyber defenses by accelerating the adoption  of ZTA. While modernizing our cyber defenses and adopting Zero Trust is an urgent need, the process is slow and complex. The following factors contribute to the many hurdles in fully adopting a Zero Trust model. 

Complexity: Many organizations have legacy systems and complex networks that are not designed for Zero Trust principles. It can be  daunting to integrate these systems with new security protocols. 

Budgets: Implementing ZTA requires significant investment in terms of time, money, and skilled personnel. Organizations might face  budget constraints or lack the necessary expertise. 

Technical Challenges: The reconfiguration of access controls, network architecture, and security policies involves a detailed understanding  of the data flow and resources, which is a technically challenging task. 

Cloud Services: Many organizations have cloud-based services, which can be challenging to ensure such services are compatible with  Zero Trust principles. This may even require redesigning cloud architecture. 

Continuous Monitoring: Zero Trust is not a one-time implementation; it requires continuous monitoring, updating, and refining of  security policies and systems. This ongoing requirement is difficult. 

The United States Presidential Directive, Executive  Order 14028 “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity” requires all Federal agencies to plan to implement ZTA in an  effort to modernize and strengthen cyber defenses.  It states that “Incremental improvements will not give us the security we need; instead, the Federal Government needs to make bold changes and significant investments in order to defend the vital institutions  that underpin the American way of life.”  

Turning ZTA into Reality: Start with Authentication of Endpoints. 

Endpoints are now a multiple of platforms, inclusive of both traditional and non-traditional devices such as IoT (Internet of Things), SCADA  (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and OT (Operational Technology). Authentication of endpoints to the network must be consistent across systems. 

Endpoint authentication is a fundamental aspect of ZTA as it ensures that every entity attempting to access a network or system is legitimate. This is essential in preventing unauthorized access by malicious actors since endpoints often serve as the entry to the larger networks, or even an enterprise's entire network. Authenticating these endpoints helps secure the entire network from potential breaches  that can occur through compromised devices. Proper authentication mechanisms can also be crucial in tracking and monitoring access of malicious insiders, thus reducing the risk of insider threats. In the event of a breach, authenticated endpoints can help
 in isolating the attack and prevent the attack from propagating across the network. Authentication allows for more granular control over who has access to what resources, enabling organizations to enforce least privilege access principles more effectively. 

Arqit’s Symmetric Key Agreement platform is a key enabler for operationalizing ZT and can be rapidly deployed to protect legacy applications  and enable resource authorization decisions for an enhanced security posture.  This is not a rip-and-replace solution but rather takes major steps toward deploying ZTA that can run on top of existing infrastructure.