20 Apr 2021

Zero Trust: The security architecture for a hybrid workforce

Guest blog: Ollie Sheridan, Security Principal, Gigamon as part of our #Cyber2021 week.

Zero Trust (ZT) architecture has gained a lot of traction over the last 18 months, with NIST, Forrester and the US Department of Defence providing some of the leading guidance for organisations hoping to regain control of their cybersecurity strategies. For many, the dramatic shift to working from home turned networks inside out, while implementing remote working processes in a secure fashion became a challenging priority. Not only does the workforce continue to evolve – with hybridity and flexibility taking precedence from now on – threats are rising to critical levels following vulnerabilities catalysed by COVID-19, making the ZT mindset practically indispensable for many IT teams.

Zero Trust for the evolving workforce

According to recent reports, two in five UK organisations faced cyberattacks last year and businesses are therefore being urged to take action and look for new ways to bolster their defence strategy. Fortunately, many are turning to a Zero Trust framework as a way to counter the escalating risks and monitor threat actors across their network, with 70% of IT leaders agreeing that Zero Trust would enhance their IT strategy.

This proactive approach to cybersecurity eradicates the implicit trust often given to traffic within a network and acknowledges that users should always be authenticated and authorised. With remote working now the norm, confidence that internal networks are safe from threat actors is misguided. BYOD policies have allowed personal devices to pose huge risks to company intranets, as the lateral movement of an attack from a remote, unsecured device into the ‘safe’ internal network can result in a fast-moving security breach. As workforces continue to evolve, with more individuals accessing critical data through personal devices, it is essential that trust is earned rather than given freely, and all users should be considered threats until proven otherwise.

Embracing the ‘trust no-one’ approach not only benefits IT strategy but also improves business processes. According to Gigamon research, 87% of IT teams believe productivity has increased since the start of their ZT journey, due to their systems running faster, fewer security breaches and reduced network downtime. With questions surrounding how hybrid workforces will continue to function and collaborate successfully as the reality of a combination remote and office-based team is realised, this improvement in productivity is an important consideration.

Visibility is the glue for Zero Trust

A company’s journey with Zero Trust should continue to evolve in-line with the workforce and it is essential for network visibility to be prioritised to make this evolution possible. To accurately see into a network is to properly understand the threats that are posed, enabling SecOps teams to authorise safe activity as well as detect undesirable application behaviour and analyse metadata that explains the origin and movement of an attack. Visibility ultimately acts as the glue for all the information that must be gathered in order to best understand threats. From here, decisions around security policies can be made and then adapted over time to better fit the working environment and the constantly changing threatscape.

As organisations around the world embrace the hybrid workforce, and threats continue to grow, it is more important than ever before to consider new defence strategies like a ZT framework. However, without complete network visibility, IT teams are unable to detect threat actors or leverage data to better understand specific security breaches. It is therefore essential to embrace visibility alongside Zero Trust, as without it, the hybrid workforce will struggle to run fast and stay secure.