Is Zero-trust strategy the answer to growing security concerns?

A recent study highlighted that business and cybersecurity leaders share common concerns over identity-related security risks. In this blog, we explore the importance of zero-trust security and how it can help mitigate the risks that worry both groups today.

Digital transformation initiatives have had a tremendous positive impact on organizations and have given an overall boost to their productivity. However, large digital transformation projects lead to complex digital ecosystems. This, in addition to integrating newer technologies with legacy systems, leads to increased cybersecurity risks.

Based on a study of cybersecurity and business leaders’ perspectives on leading cyber issues, the World Economic Forum's report Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2023 highlights common cybersecurity concerns shared by leaders across the world. It highlights a conscious shift in awareness regarding cybersecurity issues among business leaders, thus signaling a shift in how cybersecurity is approached and its growing importance as a strategic priority. 

Top cyber risks perceived by Security and Business Leaders

Over the past year, there has been a significant rise in the variety of cyberattacks that have a systemic impact and are no longer restricted to a specific sector or industry.

Some of the common cyber risks that concern both business and cybersecurity leaders stem from personal security threats that have the potential to be gateways into organizational breaches. We highlight a few below:

  1. Identity theft
    If threat actors gain personally identifiable information of an employee or a trusted partner, this information can be leveraged to gain access to confidential and sensitive business data. A common form of corporate attack resulting from identity theft is whaling, where external threat actors impersonate senior management personnel or approval authorities to gain access to sensitive data or cause financial loss.
  2. Cyber extortion (e.g. ransomware)
    Started as encryption-based attacks caused by malware execution, ransomware attacks have evolved into what is now referred to as triple extortion ransomware. Victims are forced to pay a ransom to regain access to their encrypted data or to stop sensitive data from being published online. The eventual goal of these attacks is to cause complete, or at least partial, business operation disruption.
  3. Critical infrastructure breakdown
    A cyberattack on critical infrastructure is a prime example of systemic attacks that are designed to cause significant disruption to state-wide essential services, often leading to severe aftermath and long-term economic consequences. While cybersecurity measures in the sector are strongly regulation-driven, organizations need to think beyond simple compliance to achieve cyber resilience.

The common thread among these risks is cyber-criminals gaining unlawful access by exploiting weak authentication and authorization mechanisms. Stronger measures, such as email encryption and signing can help identify a possible whaling attack. A PKI certificate-based verification of a new device in the network can stop it from injecting malware.  

How to build a resilient cybersecurity strategy

As the cyber landscape gets more complex, identity-first security strategy is gaining the recognition it deserves. The identity-based approach requires that every authorized user, device, or application must be assigned a verifiable digital identity. Before gaining access to protected corporate information, this digital identity must be validated using appropriate security mechanisms.

Simply put, all entities within the ecosystem are treated as untrustworthy until they can successfully authenticate themselves. This approach is more popularly known as the zero-trust security approach.

Zero-trust can help prevent attacks arising out of identity theft by, for example, implementing multi-factor authentication and limiting access to sensitive data based on a user's role and permissions. This simple, yet highly effective method can also be extended to external users such as contractors, suppliers, partners, and end-customers to ensure secure access across supply chains to enhance overall security posture.

Considerations for a successful Zero-trust strategy

Successfully adopting a zero-trust approach requires organizations to develop dynamic company policies that ensure secure work environments without hindering usability for employees. For example, use the same login method for all purposes instead of forcing your users to remember multiple insecure passwords.

Security mechanisms can also be applied at various levels. For example, if an authorized corporate device, connected to the domain, is authenticated to the corporate network with a certificate then for certain services and applications it does not require any additional authentication. But to access the same service from home or from the airport, multi-factor authentication is needed to confirm user identity.

Another great way to enhance usability is to leverage existing devices such as smartphones and laptops for user authentication rather than having them carry additional hardware tokens. Introducing passwordless authentication and single sign-on also go a long way in enhancing user adoption.

Remember that physical and digital security are intertwined and cannot be separated from each other. Integrating physical access control with a solid identity management system and digital access ensures full control over corporate identities. Automation and self-service bring down costs by keeping manual work and helpdesk issues to a minimum.

The often-forgotten corporate devices – IT, OT, and IoT – must also be brought under the purview of zero-trust security. It is important to cover every connected device as even one unprotected device can be an opportunity for exploitation.

Create a secure cyber landscape with Zero-trust

With the growing number of cyberattacks targeting operational disruption and reputational damage, organizations are forced to make robust cybersecurity a strategic priority.

Implementation of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, rise in digitization initiatives leading to increased cloud adoption among other things, and strong regulatory requirements are all set to influence the cyber security strategies over the coming years. Organizations need to be mindful of potential risks and integration capabilities of the systems to develop sound security strategies.

An identity-based zero-trust approach can help organizations build long-term systemic cyber resilience.

Interested in implementing Zero trust? Our checklist helps you cover the most important aspects.

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