Zero Trust is Not a One-Time Project
Deepa Kuppuswamy, the Director of Security at Zoho, says the technologies supporting Zero Trust are very much in mainstream adoption
How has the Zero Trust Network Architecture evolved since it was first coined in 2010?
In the cybersecurity domain, Zero Trust is no more a buzzword, it is a decade-old concept that has been evolving for a while. It started as a concept introduced in 2010 in a Forrester research, by 2014 we had Google’s Beyondcorp initiative which reimagined the security architecture and was one of the earliest enterprise deployments of the Zero trust. In 2019 we saw the expansion of Zero Trust to SASE and ZTNA.
The pandemic period was when Zero Trust gained major traction fueled by the aspects of fast-paced digital transformation, and shift to cloud, and remote work. We also saw the evolution of standards and regulations related to Zero Trust – NIST published SP 800-207 as a unified framework for establishing Zero Trust architecture and last year we have the US government executive order mandating the adoption of Zero Trust principles for federal agencies.
Do you believe that technologies that support zero trust are moving into the mainstream?
The basic building blocks for implementing Zero Trust revolve around user identity management and device trust and identity. The technology solutions in these domains like SSO, MFA, Cloud-based directory services, PAM, Unified endpoint management, MDM, EDR, and XDR are already well mature and are an existing part of the security stack of many organizations.
The other crucial component of the Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is the policy decision engine and policy enforcement engine. We have many existing security vendors extending their existing stack to provide agent-based or gateway-based ZTNA architecture solutions. The technologies supporting Zero Trust are very much in mainstream adoption.
Do you believe that enterprise IT departments today require a new way of thinking because the castle itself no longer exists in isolation as it once did?
Today’s digital-first enterprises are no longer operating within the confines of a traditional network perimeter. Apps are
everywhere and users are everywhere. With more than 80% of organisations adopting a cloud strategy, the business apps are hosted outside the organization network boundary.
The hybrid model of work is here to stay, and employees want seamless access to the business apps without any difference in experience based on the location from which they connect. BYOD is becoming a norm, with business data being accessed from personal devices that have lower security postures.
The traditional method of using network location, ownership, and control of physical assets as parameters for implicit trust is a flawed security paradigm. “Never Trust, Always Verify” should be the philosophy the IT department should internalise, implement and practice. Traditional tools like VPN are not designed to support remote access of this scale and do not offer flexible options for adaptive access control. It is imperative that the IT and Security departments work together to reinvent the security architecture in line with the current evolving business models.
How can companies get started with zero trust?
Moving from theory to practice has been challenging with Zero trust. To many organizations, zero-trust implementation is seen as a huge, expensive, and complex project. As it touches everything from user to device to network it involves various stakeholders within the organization. What works out practically is to start small, start from where you are, and start with what you have as the current technology stack.
To initiate zero-trust implementation, organizations can start by defining a strategy and baseline prior to embarking on a wider zero-trust technology implementation. There should be an overall phased approach – Assess, focus on the top critical use cases, break into smaller achievable milestones, implement, and optimize over time.
We followed what we call the “Crawl, Walk, and Run” approach in our organization. The initial crawl phase involved strengthening the identity and device pillar focusing on the below activities
c.Enrol corporate devices in UEM and MDM
d.Conditional access based on device certificates
This served as a good starting point and helped us to show the value early on to the users and the various stakeholders.
Industry experts have warned that cyber-attacks will be focused on techniques that zero trust controls can’t mitigate. What according to you can be done to address this?
Zero trust is not a single silver bullet solution to all your security risks. There are other areas outside the scope of Zero trust like API security, hardware and software vulnerabilities, insider threats, and supply chain attacks. Multi-layered approach and defence in-depth controls are very much needed besides implementing Zero Trust. Security awareness training, incident response planning, regular monitoring and patching of systems and applications, comprehensive SOC capabilities, and threat intelligence are required to tackle the current cybersecurity challenges faced by organizations.
What according to you are the limitations of zero trust?
Zero Trust as a cybersecurity paradigm is a great evolution, but where we see limitations are in the practical implementation and deployment. With any new security model we experience challenges as the scope is expanded we try to increase the granularity of controls. Zero trust is not immune to this.
Zero trust is not a one-time project, it is a continuous journey toward better security. It is also not a one size fits all approach. Not every organization can follow the exact Beyondcorp approach, the strategy, and roadmap need to be evolved according to the business need. Organizations should build a solid strategy and plan and invest in resources and people to succeed with Zero Trust.
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Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
I joined ManageEngine, the enterprise IT management division of Zoho Corporation, in 2013. Being a computer science engineer, I was intrigued by the technicalities of this domain. Having initially focused on log management, I extended my interest and delved deep into the SIEM and CASB fields of cybersecurity. Today, I manage the research and product marketing team for ManageEngine’s SIEM solution.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
In the early days of my career, when I used to represent the company at trade shows or industry events, I sensed that those who came to our booth or attended a presentation either took me lightly or had some reservations regarding my technical knowledge. At the very least, they were surprised to hear me talk about cybersecurity. Now, we see a lot of women in cybersecurity, specifically in leadership roles. There is no substitute for hard work and talent, and the results definitely prove it.
What advice would you give to women considering a career in the industry you represent?
I believe that cybersecurity is a field that challenges you constantly. It is rapidly evolving and requires continuous learning and adaptation to stay ahead of new threats, techniques, and technologies. My advice for aspirants would be to gain practical experience and learn the fundamentals thoroughly while in their initial job and keep up with the latest industry developments through networking and professional development opportunities. It’s also important to have a passion for the field as well as strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
Why do you love your job?
I love the dynamic nature of the job and the limitless learning opportunities it provides. I get to learn something new every day. I’ve received my bachelor’s in computer science engineering and it fascinates me to read about the intricacies of different attack techniques and how adversaries manipulate and exploit vulnerabilities. The best part is, I get to translate this knowledge into a workable security strategy that guides enterprises to step up their defenses and build a proactive and secure environment.