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Top six reasons governments should implement Zero Trust principles

Discover how adopting Zero Trust principles can bolster cybersecurity and better protect sensitive data from modern threats.
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The rapid onset and continuation of digital transformation across governments has widened the landscape for technological threats. The Zero Trust (ZT) security model offers a comprehensive and secure foundation for modern government cybersecurity. While cybersecurity principles are already in practice, adopting ZT enhances network protection, reduces breach impacts, and improves data integrity, compliance, and visibility. It also provides robust support for remote work environments. 

What is a security model?

A security model is a set of policies, rules, and assumptions that define how to secure information and resources. Traditional models focus on securing a defined network boundary, operating under an implicit trust model for those within the network. This approach views threats as external, concentrating on fortifying the network’s perimeter.

Why is the Zero Trust (ZT) model better?

ZT eliminates implicit trust, treating all entities within the network as untrusted. Its key principles provide better security and protection for sensitive digital data and assets, including users, applications, and devices. By assuming breaches are inevitable, ZT ensures resources and data are better protected.

Principles of Zero Trust

Governments who use the principles of ZT can focus on securing resources over network perimeters and maintain rigorous access controls. The foundational principles are:

Never Trust, Always Verify: Every entity, inside or outside the network, requires verification. This is the core principle of ZT.

Least Privilege Access: Users, systems, or devices are granted the minimum level of access needed to perform their function. This principle limits exposure and potential damage in the event of a compromise.

Assume Breach: By assuming the network is already compromised, ZT allows for rapid response and damage minimization.

Best practices for adopting Zero Trust

While ZT principles enhance security and protect digital data and assets, governments should follow these best practices when adopting ZT:

Define the area of protection: Identify and understand the assets needing protection, including data, applications, and services.

Understand identity access management (IAM): Tailor identity access management (IAM) to your government's needs, prioritizing controls like multi-factor authentication (MFA), least privilege access, and continuous access rights monitoring.

Segment networks: It is recommended to segment your network in a way to limit lateral movement of intruders. This confines potential breaches to isolated segments of the network, reducing overall exposure.

Encrypt sensitive data: Encrypting data at rest and in transit is required to ensure data confidentiality and integrity. This helps to make data useless to attackers even if they have access to it.

Monitor and maintain security: Continuous monitoring and real-time analytics are key to detecting and responding to threats. Tools such as security information and event management (SIEM) systems are critical to anomaly detection and automated responses.

Automate security policies: Enforcing security policies and conducting security operations using automation is an important part of Zero Trust. This helps in maintaining a consistent security configuration and reducing human error.

Ensure security across all layers: ZT requires that there are security measures across all layers of an organization, including application security and asset management. Each layer should enforce security policies independently.

Assess governance and risk management regularly: Integrate ZT into a broader risk management framework by performing regular reviews and updates to security policies based on emerging threats.

Continue education and training: Employees will need ongoing training on the principles and practices of ZT, including: recognizing phishing attempts, managing credentials, and following security policies.

Benefits of zero trust supporting asset that shows a traditional security diagram on the left and a Zero Trust diagram on the right

Top six benefits of adopting Zero Trust

By following the best practices to implement Zero Trust, governments and organizations gain these benefits:

  1. Better network protection
    ZT requires all applications and services within the network to be authenticated before they can communicate. This reduces any lateral movement threats (the ability for an attacker to move through a network from one system to another after) that traditional perimeter security models struggle with.
  2. Reduced impact from breaches
    ZT systems operate under the assumption that breaches are imminent, thus preparing for and mitigating the effects. This enables government organizations to deploy defensive measures and respond to incidents faster and precisely.
  3. Improved data integrity
    ZT ensures accurate and secure data collection and storage through proper access and encryption.
  4. Achieved continuous compliance
    Governments are bound by various regulatory requirements to ensure data protection and privacy. ZT enforces strict data access controls and audit capabilities, supporting regulatory compliance.
  5. Enhanced visibility and monitoring of users
    ZT mandates stringent authentication for government network access, ensuring visibility and continuous monitoring of user activities. This ensures visibility into which users access what information, and for what purpose. 
  6. More support for remote workforces
    With many governments remotely working and sharing data, traditional perimeter-focused approaches to security are insufficient. ZT's network segmentation and strict validation policies reduce the attack surface, securing remote work environments.

Zero Trust as the optimal security foundation

Zero Trust has many benefits and provides a solid foundation for government cybersecurity. The Government of Canada, for example, is developing its own Zero Trust framework based on trusted organizations like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The threat of a security breach is imminent. Governments without their own framework in place should get started with one of the industry-accepted options.

The threat to your cyber security is real, and here to stay.

The increasing frequency and sophistication of cyber threats makes adopting Zero Trust principles a critical priority for governments. We can help you build a more secure and resilient digital environment with our expert-driven strategies and robust solutions.