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Zero trust: an AI-powered approach to cybersecurity

Zero trust: an AI-powered approach to cybersecurity

Automated AI solutions can boost the effectiveness of zero trust security.
October 19, 2022

There’s rarely a day when we don’t hear about a new cybersecurity vulnerability or the latest security breach. For all the sophistication brought about by the digital transformation movement, there’s an undeniable surge in cyber attacks.

With more devices, data, and network entry points, you’ve probably heard the humming noises of a phrase that everyone in cybersecurity should know by now: zero trust. In fact, it was even used by President Joe Biden in 2021 calling for zero trust for the government’s computing systems. But, what actually is zero trust? And what is zero trust in the context of Edge?

The 2021 National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) report says “zero trust is a cybersecurity strategy premised on the idea that no user or asset is to be implicitly trusted.” In short, every user, device, app, and transaction needs to be verified and validated. Zero trust, defined by a former Forrester Research analyst, is a security strategy that eliminates digital trust using off-the-shelf solutions that improve over time to prevent data breaches.

When talking about Zero Trust Edge (ZTE), we refer to the practice of authenticating, sanitizing, and monitoring network connections across the Edge surface. Zero Trust Edge is a security solution that connects internet traffic to remote sites using Zero Trust access principles, primarily by utilizing cloud-based security and networking services.

Zero Trust Edge is regarded by many in the cybersecurity sphere as the future of networking infrastructure that couples network security with zero trust principles for software, hardware, and any other component that connects users, data, and resources. What are the zero trust principles?

  • Better device visibility and segmentation
  • Robust identity-based access control
  • Secured endpoints inside and outside a corporate network

Now that we’ve taken care of the definitions, let’s analyze what it actually means to adopt a zero trust approach to cybersecurity in your edge architecture. According to the principles of zero trust, all network traffic should be untrusted, calling for users to:

  • Validate and protect all resources
  • Limit and control network access
  • Inspect and record all network traffic

There’s no one answer to implementing zero trust; instead, organizations should follow and employ a variety of techniques, principles, frameworks, and products to achieve genuine zero trust as part of a modern security strategy.

According to the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the guidelines to implement zero trust are as follows:

In a nutshell, as depicted by the example above, organizations must use security information and event management (SIEM) systems to gather information and run ongoing forensics, diagnostics, reporting, and mitigation protocols to detect and respond to insights and threats as needed.

This is of course just an example of what many call a zero trust architecture (ZTA), but you should aim to use what works best for your unique cybersecurity needs as there’s not a one-size-fits-all to zero trust. You must use what helps you create a safer zero trust environment for your unique use cases, assets, and Edge infrastructures.

As stated earlier, a Zero Trust Edge architecture couples network security and zero trust principles together, which is made possible by security technologies on-premises and in the cloud.

But, how do you begin the process of identifying what zero trust implementation will work best for you? Here are 5 key areas that have been widely identified across industries as the go-to steps to achieving an effective zero trust architecture:

  1. Define and limit the surface area you want to protect. This also includes the users you want to protect. Previously, access management advocates focused on protecting an attack surface against specific vulnerabilities, but constant attacks have proven that this is not the right way to approach cybersecurity. Instead, your surface should span systems, the cloud, and Edge.
  2. Create a map of network interactions. Monitoring the transactions that flow within your network between devices, data points, and other network elements is key to creating an effective zero trust architecture that truly protects them. Leverage AI advanced network monitoring that scours an entire organization’s network in search of any anomaly or abnormal behavior that could signal the presence of cyber threats.
  3. Determine what the zero trust architecture looks like for your organization. With a clearly defined surface area you want to protect and the plethora of interactions flowing through your network, you will be able to determine the zero trust architecture that fits your needs. For instance, for all use cases and across industries, automated AI detection and protection solutions help dispel any cyber threat or ongoing attack in real-time.
  4. Enforce network security policies, a.k.a., your zero trust policy. Ensure every single element in your protected surface area is thoroughly detected and identified thanks to improved visibility.
  5. Ensure 24/7/365 network traffic monitoring and ongoing network maintenance. Continuously monitor your network as the relentless attacks of cyber criminals will do everything they can to find that one vulnerability that can put your entire day-to-day operations at risk.

Achieving ZTE is an ongoing effort, one that goes beyond these five steps and that requires constant revision and diligence to adopt the latest technologies that can cope with even the most sophisticated cyber attacks. Automated AI solutions boost the effectiveness of zero trust security by:

  • Enabling risk-based security strategies. Security professionals are moving away from traditional cybersecurity approaches and instead, employing a risk-based approach that constantly looks at the threat landscape and takes steps to stop threats before they happen. AI evaluates user requests in real time, security context, such as the device, network, and related behavioral data, and comes up with risk determinations.
  • Applying security rules on a large scale. Regardless of the number of apps, devices, services, or users in an organization, there needs to be a way to apply consistent rules and find violations with accuracy. AI automatically changes access policies based on how people or devices act as they are being watched in real time. IT and security teams don't have to keep reviewing access requests and manually granting access. Instead, this can be done automatically based on central policies that the organization sets.
  • Getting better results for users. There used to be a trade-off between better security and a good user experience. Systems that were more secure were often frustrating and hard to use. Organizations are starting to realize that security should be clear and not bother users, making it more likely for them to use secure authentication methods. Modern authentication based on AI considers the user's security context to make the user experience smoother.

As of late, we’ve seen criminals employ AI and the dark web to maneuver unprecedented attacks that organizations on the receiving end had no way of combating. Smart cybersecurity and zero trust should always be one step ahead, and these steps provide a good blueprint of how to mature and improve over time.

In edge environments with zero trust, users have to ask for access to each protected resource individually. Most of the time, they use multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires a password on a computer and a code sent to a phone. It's a better way to protect sensitive data, apps, and user identities, and it can also stop malware and ransomware attacks.

The main benefits of zero trust edge are:

  • Lessening risks. Since security is built into the network and each connection is checked and secured, IT professionals don't have to worry about where users are connecting from, what applications are being used, or what kind of encryption (if any) is being used. Every connection and transaction is always checked to make sure it is real.
  • Cost reductions. Since ZTE is usually delivered as an automated service through the cloud, ZTE networks are built to grow. They help an organization's digital transformation because they are part of the internet. They don't care about legacy architectures.
  • Better experience for the user. Since on-ramps are available all over the world, there is less need for backhaul, which lowers latency and improves networking performance and throughput.

Undoubtedly, zero trust edge ecosystems are gaining popularity thanks to the accelerated plans to boost security after the pandemic created a dramatic spike in remote workers and as such, firewall vulnerabilities. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, at least 70% of new remote access deployments will use what it calls zero trust network access (ZTNA).

AI EdgeLabs's innovative and unique approach of enterprise-grade Zero Trust Edge security, on-premises and in the Edge, give CIOs and CISOs the tools they need to adapt to new technologies, namely automated AI, which is necessary for digital acceleration and preventative and proactive Edge cybersecurity.

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