Should Your Business Adopt a Zero Trust Architecture?

By Sanjay Bhakta, VP & Head of Solutions and Nitanshu Upadhyay, Business Solutions Consultant
Rows of humanoid robots in a neon-lit server room.

Malicious bots are costing businesses money: an estimated 3.6 percent of their online revenue. And, bad bots have a far-reaching impact including higher operational costs and damage to the customer experience. But, how should businesses stop them? Increasingly, they’re considering stringent information technology measures such as adopting a zero trust architecture (ZTA). But a ZTA might not be for everyone, as we explore in our new blog post about bad bots.

What Are Bad Bots?

Bad bots are designed to engage in harmful activities such as distributing spam content or gaining access to a user’s personal data by systematically inputting stolen usernames and passwords. For example, web-scraping bots are programmed to extract content or data from websites without the owner's permission, which can be used for various malicious purposes. They are frequently used by data aggregators, scrapers, and content thieves.

What Is a Zero Trust Architecture?

To understand ZTA and its role in fighting bad bots, let’s take a moment to review the concept of a security posture: the overall security strength of your organization’s information systems based on the resources, capabilities, and management strategies in place to protect against and respond to potential threats. A security posture includes, among other things, technological controls (e.g., firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, encryption technologies, and other security hardware and software solutions) and access controls (ensuring that only authorized individuals and devices can access certain information).

Once you assess your security posture, your organization will be faced with a crucial question: just how far are you willing to go in order to safeguard your company’s systems? This is where ZTA comes into play. Traditional security models often operate on the assumption that everything inside the organization’s network is trusted, creating a strong perimeter to keep threats out. But ZTA assumes that threats can exist both outside and inside the traditional network perimeter, thus necessitating rigorous verification and control measures.

A Greater Level of Rigor

As a result, a company employing ZTA protects its systems with a far greater level of rigor. For instance:

  • Access control: traditional models may use simple credential-based access controls. ZTA employs strict access controls with least-privilege access and continuous verification.
  • Network segmentation: traditional models may have flat network architectures with few internal barriers. ZTA employs micro-segmentation to create isolated zones within the network.
  • Monitoring and analytics: traditional models might have less emphasis on continuous monitoring and real-time analytics. ZTA emphasizes continuous monitoring and employs advanced analytics to identify and respond to threats in real-time.
  • Identity and device verification: traditional models may have basic identity and device verification mechanisms. ZTA mandates rigorous verification of both user identities and devices.
  • Encryption: traditional models might only employ encryption in specific, deemed necessary cases. ZTA usually recommends encrypting data at rest and in transit as a standard practice.

For example, a business employing ZTA might create strict firewall controls that block employees from different departments having access to each other’s customer data. With ZTZ, a retailer might stipulate that employees who manage customer data for the Men’s clothing department are blocked from customer data used by the Women’s clothing department, and so on. This is a very simplistic example, but it gives you the idea of how restrictive ZTA can be. 

Zero Trust and Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC)

A strong ZTA should align with the business’s governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) approach because they have a natural affinity. For example, both Zero Trust and GRC operate on the principle of least privilege. Zero Trust enforces strict access controls, requiring authentication and authorization for every interaction, while GRC promotes role-based access and segregation of duties. In addition, ZTA assumes that networks are always potentially compromised. This aligns with GRC’s goal of proactively identifying and mitigating risks, including the significant risks of the financial services sector like data breaches and fraud. Zero Trust’s detailed access logging and monitoring also support compliance efforts. It provides the visibility to demonstrate adherence to regulations like GLBA, PCI DSS, and data privacy laws by tracking who has accessed what data and when. Here are a few other ways that ZTA aligns with a company’s GRC program:

  • Improving data security: Zero Trust segmentation and micro-perimeters help protect sensitive financial data. This dovetails with GRC’s emphasis on data classification, secure storage, and breach prevention.
  • Third-party risk management: Zero Trust extends its scrutiny to third-party vendors and partners. This aligns with GRC efforts to manage vendor risk and ensure those external parties also meet stringent security standards.
  • Incident response: In the event of a breach, Zero Trust’s micro-segmentation can help contain the incident, while its extensive logging aids in forensic investigation. This supports GRC’s goals of minimizing damage and demonstrating a well-managed response.

In fact, ZTA can improve GRC by making audit trails and reporting more robust; streamlining compliance processes by providing technical safeguards that enforce policy; and demonstrating operational resilience due to enhanced cybersecurity posture.

Why a Zero Trust Architecture Is Not for Everyone

ZTA can definitely bolster a company’s cybersecurity. But its appropriateness and effectiveness can vary depending on the organization’s size, industry, and existing security posture. To be sure, ZTA’s rigorous verification processes and least-privilege access reduces a company’s vulnerability to bot attacks. But there are downsides to ZTA, including:

  • Cost: the initial investment in the necessary technologies and expertise to implement ZTA can be substantial. Continuous monitoring and strict access controls can add to operational overhead.
  • Complexity: implementing ZTA can be complex and requires a thorough understanding of the architecture as well as meticulous planning and execution.
  • Potential disruptions: transitioning to ZTA can cause disruptions as it may require changes in existing workflows and systems.
  • User experience: the additional security measures such as multi-factor authentication and strict access controls can sometimes impede the user experience or slow down processes.

So, how do you know if ZTA is right for your business?

Is a Zero Trust Architecture Right for You?

We recommend a clear-headed analysis to decide whether ZTA is appropriate for your business. Your analysis should include these steps:

  • Understand your security posture (as noted above). Everything begins with a thorough assessment of your existing security measures to understand the strengths and weaknesses. You should do this, anyway – but in context of ZTA, an assessment of your security posture will help you understand just how vulnerable you are and how severe your protection measures need to be.
  • Align with GRC needs. As noted earlier in this blog post, ZTA and GRC are closely aligned. So, I recommend that you assess the GRC standards your organization must follow. Evaluate how ZTA can strengthen those standards. Highly regulated industries with especially sensitive data such as healthcare and financial services are more ideal for ZTA.
  • Analyze the cost versus risk: Evaluate the financial implications including the investment in technology, training, and potentially additional personnel. What are the consequences of a worst-case scenario (a breach) against the costs of taking the most extreme measures to protect yourself?
  • Evaluate scalability. Assess whether your organization has the technical infrastructure and expertise to scale up the ZTA implementation as needed.
  • Assess your customer experience. For example, weigh the upsides of ZTA against the friction you will introduce with ZTA.

An effective cybersecurity expert can give you a professional assessment of whether ZTA is suitable for your organization. Centific can help you. We take a proactive approach to detect, classify, protect, and monitor a client’s digital estate in order to continuously outsmart bad bots. Our team constantly applies evolving AI tools in context of our process at speed to support your revenue growth, optimize costs, and protect your customer experience.

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