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Accelerating Zero Trust Maturity: Strategic Quick Wins

Accelerating Zero Trust Maturity: Strategic Quick Wins

Blog Article Published: 11/20/2023

Written by Chris Hogan, Vice President, Enterprise Security Architecture and Innovation, Mastercard.

In the evolving landscape of cybersecurity, Zero Trust has transformed from a buzzword to become a pivotal framework for modernizing security practices. It’s a structured journey that many organizations have embarked on with varying degrees of success. Initiating Zero Trust Maturity can be a monumental task; the most significant challenge being finding where to start.

Zero Trust is built on well-defined pillars and functions which guide organizations towards enhanced security maturity; however, the path to advancement can be nebulous. For example, maturity of the network pillar demands microsegmentation. While this may seem like a simple concept, it involves a complex restructuring of communication between applications and systems. Maturity in this pillar involves in-depth network traffic analysis and occasionally, a complete redesign of the network – which can span multiple years in a large enterprise. Businesses tend to respond more favorably to initiatives that are quick to implement, less disruptive and more cost-effective when modernizing technology and it’s no different when it comes to Zero Trust maturity. Here are three pathways that can be used to accelerate security enhancements for Zero Trust advancement while maintaining relatively low cost:

Securing the Gateway: Device Management and Compliance

The device management and compliance function requires a strategic balance of security and user experience but offers significant gains on the journey to Zero Trust maturity. Endpoints are the portals through which users and customers interact with an organization’s digital assets so it’s logical to start here. To begin, organizations can implement best practices like secure configuration management – which is the process of binding systems that run the business to a hardened configuration and continuously monitor for unauthorized changes or ‘drift’. This step, while relatively straightforward, offers increased security assurance and is transparent to the end user. For a more comprehensive approach, deploying an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) suite can transform endpoint security altogether. EDR solutions provide continuous monitoring and analysis of endpoint data, enabling real-time threat detection and remediation capabilities. They can autonomously isolate a compromised device and initiate the remediation process, effectively reducing the window of opportunity for an attacker. By focusing on the endpoint, organizations can ensure that regardless of where a device is or how it accesses the network, it remains secure, aligning with the Zero Trust principle that ‘trusts nothing and verifies everything.’

Redefining Access: Identity and Access Management

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is another critical area where an organization can find quick wins to advance Zero Trust maturity. Overly complex access permissions often create an administrative nightmare, making it difficult to manage who has access to what. By embracing the Zero Trust mandate of 'least privilege,' organizations can streamline access rights. This process begins with a comprehensive audit of existing permissions, followed by reduction of unnecessary access, which ensures that users have just enough access to perform their roles—nothing more, nothing less. Additionally, the integration of Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) can enhance security while simplifying the user experience. SSO reduces password fatigue, while MFA adds an additional layer of security by requiring multiple forms of verification. These technologies, when combined with continuous monitoring and adaptive authentication mechanisms, can dynamically adjust user access based on real-time risk assessments, which helps to maintain a secure and efficient access environment.

Streamlining Data Security: Data Classification and Tagging

Data is an organization's lifeblood, and proper management is an essential part of the Zero Trust framework. Data classification and tagging are pivotal first steps in gaining control over sprawling corporate data. By establishing a clear data classification policy, organizations can dictate how different types of data should be handled and protected. For instance, tagging data as 'public,' 'internal,' or 'confidential' helps in enforcing appropriate access controls automatically. The implementation of data loss prevention (DLP) tools can further enhance data security. These tools can identify, monitor, and protect data across the organization, ensuring that sensitive information is not lost, misused, or accessed by unauthorized individuals. Additionally, advanced encryption methods can be applied to classified data, adding an extra layer of security and ensuring that, even in the event of a breach, the data remains unintelligible and secure.

Zero Trust security represents a paradigm shift in asset protection, balancing security with business functionality. It's not an overnight transformation but a continuous journey. Identifying and leveraging quick wins not only helps to establish early momentum but also lays the groundwork for embedding new principles and gradually introducing enhanced security measures.