Zero-Trust Security and Remote Access

The concept of zero-trust is centered around the idea that an organization should not trust anything or anyone by default, both inside and outside of its infrastructure. Before granting access to the organization’s infrastructure, identity, device, apps, and other specifications must be verified. 

The zero-trust model of cybersecurity replaced the old philosophy of surrounding the infrastructure with firewalls and assuming everything behind them is safe. In these old models, an attacker would only need to penetrate the infrastructure and to gain access to sensitive data. 

With the zero-trust philosophy, an organization makes a conscious decision to verify every request, regardless of where in the network that request originates. 

What Is Zero-Trust? 

Zero-trust principles apply to both employees and machines. Instead of one system having permanent rights to another, zero-trust calls for any machine-to-machine requests to be fully verified, even if both systems are internal. 

Bad actors aren’t the only factor driving the adoption of the zero-trust model. An evolving workplace means that an organization’s infrastructure is no longer neatly tucked away behind a firewall. Instead, IT services are typically provided by a mix of in-house and cloud services. Doing so creates a need for a new way of viewing trust.

Automatically trusting anything that connects to a network, as long as it has the right password, opens up any organization for a cyber attack. Once the attacker has gained access to the network, it’s too late. 

Instead, zero-trust requires that the attacker match several other attributes, such as location, device, device health, and more. Even if an attacker can verify all of this information, a difficult task, and gain access to a network or system, the zero-trust model ensures that they won’t get far. A low level of initial privileges will make it exceedingly difficult to elevate the rights of a low-level user account. 

What Is Zero-Trust Remote Access?

Zero-trust remote access applies this cybersecurity model to the specific needs of employees, partners, machines, or clients requiring a connection to the internal network. 

Remote work adds levels of complexity to securing an internal network that security specialists have dealt with for years. Gone were the days of having employees use internal machines at all times. Zero-trust remote access was created as the workplace became more spread out and more integrated with other systems.

Zero-trust remote access uses secrets management technologies to provide access to systems and applications that remote employees require, but only when they require access. The practice of providing permanently open access is completely removed with a zero-trust model as there is no “always allow” privilege given to any account. 

How Does Zero-Trust Work with IAM and PAM?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) are two key technologies that the zero-trust framework relies on.

Here is a brief breakdown of how they work in a zero-trust environment:

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

IAM is a core technology that supports zero-trust access. IAM calls for creating one unique digital identity per person. After that identity is created, it can be used to connect to remote systems along with other verifying attributes such as location. 

Identity and Access Management has helped security professionals create more robust digital identities than a simple username and password. Doing so is vital to zero-trust remote access since these identities are one of the attributes used to grant access to a remote network.

Privileged Access Management (PAM)

PAM is another model that is vital to zero-trust access. While IAM applies to everyone, PAM applies only to privileged user accounts that are often targeted by malicious actors. Privileged Access Management calls for increased security for these special accounts. 

IAM and PAM are two technologies that form the basis of zero-trust remote access. A user has an established identity within the system, and that identity must be verified before access is granted. Even once verified, zero-trust-remote access means only providing access to the systems and applications required for that specific task.

When a user has been granted access to a specific system or application, they are given the lowest level of access that will still allow them to complete their task. Some might worry this can harm productivity, but access is granted based on the task that the user is completing, and the process will not slow them down since credentials, certificates, and keys are generated instantly.

How Is Secrets Management Used with Zero-Trust Remote Access?

Secrets management is another vital technology for executing an effective zero-trust remote access policy. Instead of storing sensitive credentials on internal databases, they are handled by a specific secrets management solution. This same solution can work with the credentials that are required for machine-to-machine requests as well. 

For a zero-trust remote access policy to operate effectively, the secrets management platform involved must be able to work with any machine or human that requires access. Credentials must be retrieved or generated when requested, whether it’s by a mobile device or desktop.  

Furthermore, a zero-trust model requires that a system is in place for generating any type of credentials required, which includes being able to issue a certificate, even if it’s short-lived. While a remote user may not need one, these certificates facilitate machine-to-machine interactions. 

Adopting and enacting a zero-trust remote access policy may seem daunting. Fortunately, all of the technologies already exist to enact this new model. There are even services and solutions that have been created to assist IT professionals with adopting zero-trust remote access.

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