Zero Trust: redefine network security 

At Zero Trust is a model that is regarded as a pioneering approach to network security. 

Unlike traditional security models, which are based on trust in the internal network, Zero Trust - as the term suggests - relies on mistrust as a basic principle. 

This precise strategy requires continuous monitoring, strict access control and Micro-segmentationto keep potential attacks to a minimum. 

How this works in practice and can also be combined with other digital applications, here as an example Konfuzio you can find out in this blog article.

zero trust definition

What is the Zero Trust model?

The Zero Trust model is a security approach based on the principle "Trust is good, control is better".

Unlike traditional models, which are based on trust in the internal network, Zero Trust assumes that no network environment is secure. 

In this model, every user, every device and every data traffic is considered potentially insecure. In addition, devices including endpoints and IOT devices are precisely identified. Various audit and compliance tools (e.g. Nessus or Qualys Compliance) ensure seamless monitoring and documentation of security practices.

Zero Trust is based on the idea that security should be built on micro-segmentation, least-privilege principles and continuous real-time threat detection to ensure a higher level of protection against cyber threats.

NIST conformity 

NIST Special Publication 800-207 provides guidelines and recommendations for implementing Zero Trust in organizations. 

Zero Trust must be NIST compliant because the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) establishes security guidelines and standards that are recognized as best practices in information security. 

With the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (NIST Cybersecurity Framework), NIST provides a recognized basis for the development and implementation of cybersecurity strategies. 

Conformance ensures that Zero Trust solutions comply with recognized industry standards, which strengthens the effectiveness and trustworthiness of security measures and facilitates interoperability with other systems.

If you would like to learn more about the Zero Trust model in depth, we recommend the Position paper Zero Trust 2023 from the BSI.

zero trust why

Reasons for the Zero Trust model

There are several reasons for using the Zero Trust model compared to conventional security models:

Protection against insider threats

Zero Trust assumes that not only external actors, but also internal users and devices represent potential security risks. 

The model minimizes the risk of insider threats through consistent authentication and verification.

Change in the threat landscape

In an increasingly networked and digital world, the threat landscape has changed dramatically. 

Zero Trust recognizes that traditional network perimeters are no longer sufficient to protect against sophisticated attacks.

Mobility and cloud use

With the increasing mobility of users and the increased use of cloud services, the conventional security model based on a fixed network perimeter is becoming increasingly inadequate. 

Zero Trust enables a flexible security structure that can adapt to the dynamic requirements of modern working environments.

Data protection and compliance

Zero Trust helps organizations meet data protection standards and compliance requirements by ensuring that access to sensitive data is limited to the minimum necessary and strictly monitored.

Containment of attacks

In the event of a successful attack, the zero trust model limits the Spread of threatsas all access to resources is reduced to a strict necessity basis. This makes it easier to contain and respond to security incidents.

Differentiation from conventional security models

Perimeter-oriented security:

  • Traditional security models rely heavily on securing a fixed network perimeter. 
  • Zero Trust, on the other hand, assumes that the perimeter could already be compromised and relies on granular control within the network.

Trust-based access control:

  • Conventional models often rely on trust-based access control, where once authenticated users have free access to certain network resources. 
  • Zero Trust, on the other hand, requires continuous verification and authorization, regardless of prior authentication.

Limited mobility:

  • Conventional models are often less flexible in terms of user and device mobility.
  • Zero Trust adapts better to the modern requirements of mobile working environments.

Overall, the Zero Trust model offers a Proactive and adaptive security strategywhich is better tailored to the challenges of today's complex threat landscape and changing ways of working.

How Zero Trust works

Zero Trust focuses on encryption and data protection, identity and access management and threat detection and response.

These key elements characterize the way Zero Trust works:

  1. The assumption of mistrust: 

    Every user, every device and every data traffic is considered a potential security risk. There is no implicit trust, even if a device appears to be inside the network.

  2. Continuous authentication:

    In the Zero Trust model, the identity of users and devices is continuously verified, not just at login. This often includes the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) and other authentication factors.

  3. Least privilege principle:

    Users and devices are only granted the minimum necessary access rights to perform their specific tasks. Excessive authorizations are avoided, even if a user is authenticated.

  4. Micro-segmentation:

    The network is divided into smaller segments, which severely restricts data traffic between the segments. This in turn limits the spread of attacks, as a successful intruder cannot automatically access the entire network.

  5. Transparency and monitoring:

    Continuous monitoring and analysis of network traffic, user activity and system integrity are crucial. Suspicious activities can be quickly detected and responded to.

  6. Data encryption:

    To ensure the security of data, Zero Trust often uses encryption technologies such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) as well as end-to-end encryption. This applies both to data transmission and to the storage of sensitive information.

  7. Secure application access:

    Applications are accessed in a secure manner and technologies such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) or secure web gateways are used to protect data traffic.

  8. Dynamic adaptation to changes:

    Zero Trust is designed to adapt dynamically to changes in network topology, user activity and the threat landscape. It is not a rigid security structure, but an adaptable and proactive security strategy.

By integrating these principles, Zero Trust creates a security architecture that focuses on real-time threat detection while providing an effective and flexible defense against a wide range of cyberthreats.

The importance of context

Context is of crucial importance in the Zero Trust model, as this security concept is based on the principle that the security of resources and data depends heavily on the current circumstances and the specific situation. 

Context refers to various factors and aspects that are taken into account when deciding whether to allow or restrict access to certain resources. Here are some aspects of context in the Zero Trust model:

  • User context: Information about the user, their role, their device, their location data and other relevant parameters are taken into account. For example, a user who is located outside the company network may have stricter authentication requirements.
  • Device context: The context of the device from which the network is accessed is important. This includes the security status of the device, its integrity and compliance with security policies.
  • Network context: Information about the network over which the connection is established is taken into account. This could mean, for example, that access from a public Wi-Fi network is more strictly controlled than from a company-internal network.
  • Time context: The time and duration of access are relevant. It is possible that additional security measures are required at certain times or for certain activities.
  • Behavior and activities: The context also includes the user's behavior and activities as well as possible anomalies in data traffic. Deviations from the usual behavior can indicate security incidents.
  • Data context: Information about the type of data being accessed and its sensitivity is also relevant. This can influence the decision as to whether access is permitted or not.

Integration model

The integration model for Zero Trust principles in existing environments consists of five pillars based on the "Zero Trust Maturity Model" of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). 

Each pillar contains functions that should be taken into account when integrating Zero Trust principles. 

The cross-sectional functions "Detection & Response" and "Requirements for VS" play a central role here.

The pillars of the integration model are "identity", "device", "network", "application" and "requirements for VS". 

Within each pillar, the Zero Trust principles are considered in three levels of maturity: Classic (KL)Progressive (FO) and Ideal (ID). These maturity levels describe the degree of implementation of the Zero Trust principles in existing environments:

  • Classic (KL): At this level, manual configurations and attribute assignments are made on the basis of static security policies. There is centralized identity management, but it is not used for all identities. Visibility in the infrastructure is partial and incident response processes are largely manual.
  • Progressive (FO): There is some cross-pillar coordination, central visibility and centralized identity management. Security policies are enforced across pillars and there is progress in entity identification and authentication. Incident response processes are partially automated.
  • Ideal (ID): The highest level is characterized by fully automated attribute assignment, dynamic security policies, cross-pillar compatibility and minimal rights to access assets. The identification and authentication of entities takes place at a consistently high level of security and is independent of static factors or the network. Certification and verification improve trust in the identification components.

Step-by-step integration enables resources to be planned in line with requirements. 

The five pillars can be developed independently of each other, whereby attention must be paid to overlaps and dependencies. 

The prerequisites for implementing the integration model are the identification and prioritization of central business processes, the identification of all parties and resources involved, the formulation of security guidelines and a comprehensive market survey for suitable products.

Evaluation of the Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA)

Various aspects of the Zero Trust approach are evaluated in detail below:

1. principle of the basis of mistrust

  • Advantages: The ZTA breaks with the assumption that everything in the internal network is trustworthy. This increases security, as no area or user is considered trustworthy by default.
  • Challenges: Implementation requires a thorough review and adaptation of existing architectures, which can take time and resources.
  • Example: An employee who was previously considered trustworthy moves to another department. In the traditional model, he would still have extensive network access. In the ZTA model, however, access is reassessed based on the current requirements of their new position and only the necessary authorizations are granted.

2. dynamic access decisions

  • Advantages: The approach enables finely graduated, context-specific access control that is geared towards current requirements and conditions.
  • Challenges: The dynamics require advanced technologies and resources to make real-time access decisions, which can be particularly challenging in complex environments.
  • Example: An external contractor wants to access sensitive data. In the ZTA, not only is his identity checked, but also the context, such as the location of the access and the time. Even if the contractor had previously authorized access, this could be restricted due to changed context conditions.

3. real-time information sources

  • Advantages: The integration of real-time information, as outlined in the "Shared Signal" framework, enables an immediate response to security-relevant events.
  • Challenges: Implementation requires close cooperation between different IT infrastructure components and the use of standardized formats for event exchange.
  • Example: A user account is deactivated immediately after an attack is detected due to suspicious behavior. In the ZTA model, this real-time information is used to block access immediately and not at the next regular evaluation.

4. central administration point (PDP)

  • Advantages: A central point for managing access conditions provides efficient control over various access scenarios.
  • Challenges: Implementing a PDP can be complex in large organizations and requires clear definitions of access policies.
  • Example: A company implements a central PDP that defines access policies for various applications. If an employee changes their position, the access rights are automatically updated without having to make individual adjustments in each application.

5 Challenges and complexity

  • Advantages: ZTA meets the growing challenges of cyber threats and data protection requirements with a proactive security strategy.
  • Challenges: The complexity of implementation, especially in large and existing IT infrastructures, can lead to challenges during integration and maintenance.
  • Example: An organization migrates to the ZTA and encounters difficulties integrating legacy systems. The adaptation requires time and resources to ensure that all systems comply with the new security standards.

6. partial introductions and standardization

  • Advantages: A gradual introduction allows organizations to gain experience without having to change their entire IT structure immediately.
  • Challenges: The risk of inconsistent implementations and a lack of standardization could lead to inefficiencies in the long term.
  • Example: A company introduces ZTA step by step, starting with critical systems. This allows experience to be gained and processes to be optimized, but carries the risk that different teams choose different implementations, which could lead to inefficiencies in the long term.

Questions about Zero Trust

There are some open, individual questions regarding the application of Zero Trust in the corporate context. We have summarized the most important ones for you here:

Why should you use Zero Trust?

Today's complex threat landscape requires a new security paradigm.
By restricting access to the "need-to-know" principle and implementing strict monitoring, Zero Trust minimizes the risk of insider threats and external attacks.

Why is Zero Trust security so important?

Zero trust security is important because traditional security models no longer meet the requirements of today's dynamic and decentralized business environments. 
With the increasing shift of resources to the cloud and the increased use of mobile devices, a new security paradigm is required. 
Zero Trust enables fine-grained access control, reduces the risk of attack and minimizes the impact of security breaches by assuming that threats can exist anywhere.

How does ZTNA differ from Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP)?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a more comprehensive approach than Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP). While SDP relies on the introduction of individual network perimeters to limit access, ZTNA offers more dynamic and contextual access control based on user identity, device status and other relevant factors.

Why is ZTNA important?

ZTNA is significant because traditional security models, especially VPNs, reveal weaknesses in securing networks. ZTNA improves security by implementing strict authentication and access control, which is particularly relevant as companies become more decentralized and protection from cyber threats is critical.

How does ZTNA work?

ZTNA works by verifying access to applications and resources based on several factors, including user identity, device type and location. It grants access only after successful authentication and compliance checks. Dynamic adaptation to the context improves security.

Further questions on the topic of Zero Trust

How does ZTNA differ from VPN?

In contrast to conventional VPNs, which often offer wide-ranging network access, ZTNA strictly limits access to the required resources. ZTNA provides fine-grained control, minimizing the risk of attack, whereas VPNs often have less granular access controls.

How is ZTNA implemented?

The implementation of ZTNA includes the integration of solutions that enable granular access control based on user identity and device information. This includes the evaluation of certificates, multi-factor authentication and dynamic risk assessment.

Will ZTNA replace the SASE solution?

TNA and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) are complementary approaches. While ZTNA focuses on secure network access, SASE integrates security functions directly into the network. They can work synergistically, but ZTNA alone will not replace SASE.

What security functions are missing from ZTNA?

ZTNA can benefit from an integrated threat defense found in SASE solutions. Traditional security features such as firewall and malware protection could be implemented in addition to ZTNA to ensure a more comprehensive security strategy.

How do Zero Trust and SASE work together?

Zero Trust and SASE can coexist effectively. Zero Trust focuses on secure access, while SASE offers additional security functions that are integrated directly into the network. The combination enables comprehensive network security.

Zero Trust Use Cases - How to put it into practice

If you implement the Zero Trust model, it could look like this, for example:

Use Case 1 - Secure application access

Problem Statement:

A company wants to ensure that internal applications are only accessed from outside the company network by authorized users, even if they are located on insecure networks.

Implementation with Zero Trust:

  • Application Proxy and VPN: Implementation of an application proxy or a secure VPN to enable secure access to internal applications from external locations. All data traffic is routed through a secure connection.
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA): Enable two-factor authentication to ensure that only authorized users who have additional authentication methods can access the applications.
  • Device Health Checks: Checking the security health of the devices that want to access the applications. The Zero Trust model takes into account the context of the device and ensures that it complies with security guidelines.
  • Least privilege access: Implementation of the least privilege principle to ensure that users can only access those applications that are required for their specific tasks.

Use case 2 - Data security in the cloud

Problem Statement:

A company stores confidential data in the cloud and wants to ensure that this data can only be accessed by authorized users and devices.

Implementation with Zero Trust:

  • Strong identity management: Implement strong identity management for cloud access to ensure that only authenticated users can access cloud resources.
  • Encryption of the data: End-to-end encryption of stored and transmitted data to ensure the confidentiality of information, even if the cloud infrastructure is compromised.
  • Continuous monitoring: Set up a system for continuous monitoring of user activity and data access in the cloud to quickly detect suspicious activity.
  • Policy-based access control: Implementation of a policy-based access control that ensures that users can only access the data for which they are authorized. These policies can change dynamically based on user roles and context.

Use Case 3 - Network security and micro-segmentation

Problem Statement:

A company wants to increase the security of its internal network and ensure that even if part of the network is compromised, the spread of attacks is limited.

Implementation with Zero Trust:

  • Micro-segmentation: Implementation of micro-segmentation in the internal network to divide it into isolated segments. This severely restricts data traffic between different network segments.
  • Context-dependent access control: Introduction of contextual access control that decides which traffic is allowed between network segments based on user identity, device status and other contextual factors.
  • Introduction of network firewalls: Implementation of network firewalls between the segments to monitor data traffic and block unwanted communication. These firewalls can react dynamically to threats.
  • Behavior analytics and anomaly detection: Integration of behavior analytics and anomaly detection to identify unusual activities in the network. This allows potential attacks to be detected and responded to at an early stage.
  • Enforcement of the least privilege principle: Application of the least privilege principle at network level to ensure that users and devices can only access the resources required for their specific tasks.
  • Encryption of network traffic: Encryption of internal network traffic to ensure the confidentiality of transmitted data, even if an attacker gains access to parts of the network.

These use cases show how you can apply Zero Trust principles in practice to increase security in different scenarios. It is important to note that the exact implementation may vary depending on an organization's specific requirements and technologies.

green box with konfuzio logo

Zero Trust in combination with Konfuzio

Companies that collect, process or use personal data independently or on behalf of others must take the necessary technical and organizational measures to ensure compliance with EU GDPR regulations. These measures should be proportionate to the intended purpose of protection and their implementation is only necessary if the effort involved is reasonable.

If you want an application like Konfuzio to handle intelligent document management, this requires a comprehensive security strategy to protect access to critical applications and data, especially those that process sensitive information. 

Various steps and considerations are crucial here, which are necessary on the basis of the technical and organizational measures in accordance with Art. 32 GDPR.

Identification of critical applications

First you identify critical applications such as Konfuziothat process sensitive data automatically. 

This step corresponds to the necessity of technical and organizational measures in accordance with Art. 32 GDPR in order to ensure the protective purpose of the EU GDPR.

Micro-segmentation for access control

By implementing micro-segmentation, networks are divided into isolated segments in order to grant access to Konfuzio only to authorized users. 

Strict access controls and multi-factor authentication 

Strict access controls and multi-factor authentication ensure that only authorized users are granted access. This includes not only the network level, but also the application level.

Logging and monitoring

A detailed logging and monitoring function enables real-time monitoring of user activities and the identification of anomalies.

Encryption of data

The encryption of data during transmission and at rest ensures the confidentiality of the information processed, which is a protective measure for personal data in accordance with Art. 32 GDPR.

Identity and access management (IAM) and endpoint security

Integrate Identity and Access Management (IAM) so that users only receive the minimum required authorizations. Implement endpoint security measures on the endpoints from which Konfuzio is accessed to comply with access control principles.

Regular safety assessments

It is critical to perform regular safety assessments for Konfuzio to ensure that the application meets current safety standards.

User training and awareness

Training users on Zero Trust principles and safe use of Konfuzio also takes into account the human element in the security strategy.

Updating and customization

Updating and adapting both Konfuzio and the Zero Trust implementation are essential in order to be able to react flexibly to changing threats and requirements, which is in line with the principles of continuous improvement and adaptation to Art. 32 GDPR.

The specified technical and organizational measures, including the reference to hosting companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Telekom Deutschland GmbH, supplement and support the security strategy in the context of Zero Trust and the EU GDPR requirements.

More articles on the subject of security:

In summary, combining Zero Trust with Konfuzio requires a holistic approach to security that takes into account the specific requirements and contexts of the organization.

Conclusion - Zero Trust as an effective security measure

Overall, the zero trust model represents a decisive development in cyber security. 

Through the consistent application of least-privilege, micro-segmentation and contextual access control, it offers an adaptive and proactive approach to network and data protection. Implementation requires careful planning, including the integration of identity management, encryption and continuous monitoring. 

Zero Trust provides you with an effective defense against a wide range of threats, regardless of network perimeter. 

Organizations that embrace Zero Trust are better positioned to successfully meet the ever-changing challenges of today's complex threat landscape.

Do you have questions about how you can combine Zero Trust with Konfuzio and take document processing security in your company to a higher level while increasing efficiency at the same time? Get in touch with us and our experts will help you in a free initial consultation.

    Janina Horn Avatar

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