Software Development

The US government is moving toward zero trust architecture. So, what is it?

Following a White House memo, this senior cybersecurity specialist explains the benefits of the zero trust model for agencies and small businesses alike.

The White House.

(Technical.ly photo)

This is a guest post by Chuck Lewis, a senior cybersecurity specialist for technology solutions provider Sentient Digital Inc. The company works with both commercial and government clients out of offices in Lexington Park, Maryland; New Orleans, Louisiana; Doylestown, Pennsylvania; and Warrenton and Norfolk, Virginia.
Ever since the White House released a memo requiring zero trust architecture in the federal government and outlining the best implementation practices, organizations and businesses have been eager to learn about the model’s benefits.

This federal directive makes it more important than ever for agencies to meet these cybersecurity requirements and objectives before 2025.

But first: What is zero trust architecture?

Zero trust is an evolving set of cybersecurity requirements that help to boost cyberdefense. Instead of relying on fixed and network-based models for protection, zero trust relies on individually targeting users, assets and resources. Consequently, zero trust is able to reduce uncertainty when it comes to privilege access decisions. This architecture neither  assumes implicit trust nor grants users access based on network, location or ownership. Instead, it authorizes both the subject and the device before granting access, protecting sensitive information from cyber attackers. Because zero trust architecture protects the network structure, rather than just the network location, it helps organizations better secure their resources.

Zero trust architecture benefits the government and military, especially in the wake of ransomware attacks like the Colonial Pipeline and Solar Winds attacks. These hacks drew attention to weak points in the government’s software supply chain, impacting both private-sector and federal computer systems. The US government thus introduced zero trust architecture to secure its sensitive information and repair the breached authority between the government and the private sector. As an integral part of the federal tech infrastructure, the system protects against threats to privacy and public safety. Zero trust architecture helps both governments and businesses move away from siloed IT services, and to collaborative and interrelated frameworks.

Transitional flexibility

The system’s transitional framework is also beneficial for governments agencies and small businesses. While identity, device, networks, applications and data constitute the five pillars of zero trust, organizations do not have to optimize for all five at the same time. The model allows businesses to work up to full integration across pillars, moving at their own pace. As implementers integrate across the pillars, their cybersecurity architecture will gradually automate and thus reduce the margin for human error. By gradually evolving from a rudimentary model to zero trust, the Zero Trust Maturity Model helps to disperse costs evenly while still achieving compatibility.

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Ultimately, zero trust architecture is beneficial both for its efficacy and flexibility. The zero trust model allows organizations, including government entities and small businesses, to optimize through incremental advancements. By allowing for a gradual progression, the model makes effective cybersecurity more accessible and digestible. The cybersecurity solutions of transitioning organizations will increasingly rely on automation, thus promoting total integration and generating opportunities for more effective and flexible policy enforcement decisions.

This is true, too, for small businesses. Zero trust’s flexibility can help small businesses prevent data breaches while also continuing to expand. Zero trust’s scalability works just as well for individual cybersecurity as it does for government operations. In the long run, zero trust architecture can save small businesses money because they won’t have to worry about high breach repair costs.

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Ultimately, whether you’re a government agency or a small business owner, zero trust architecture can help you put your security first by allowing you to both verify who is accessing your information and monitor how these entities use that data in real time.

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