Remote work is on the rise—and there's no indication that it's going to slow down any time soon. But, the growing number of remote workers puts companies in a unique position of having to secure out-of-office devices on a common network. It also brings new security concerns to the forefront—such as password vulnerabilities, unsafe wifi network connections, and modern breach techniques—that challenge the effectiveness of traditional VPN protection.
That’s why many companies are turning to Zero Trust, a cybersecurity framework that challenges traditional perimeter-based security models and operates under the principle, "never trust; always verify." Networks under this framework continuously monitor activity and verify user identities throughout the lifespan of a connection session using multiple factors.
While protecting important access, Zero Trust also provides greater network visibility and accessibility—for users with the correct permissions, that is. This actually makes it easier for a remote workforce to access a company’s network and get their work done from anywhere in the world.
If your company is thinking about implementing Zero Trust for your remote workers, learn more about the benefits of this robust and effective security structure, including secure remote access with increased visibility and control, reduced risk of unauthorized access, improved data security and protection, enhanced compliance with regulatory standards, and increased remote management in the guide below.
Securing Remote Access with Zero Trust
Even though Zero Trust is becoming more prominent among SecOps teams and within highly established companies and industries, some organizations are unsure how to make the switch to a new Zero Trust cybersecurity process. However, the first benefit of implementing Zero Trust in a company with a remote workforce is that SecOps can guarantee all workers’ access is secure.
The Importance of Secure Remote Access
Remote access has the potential to introduce numerous risks into a company’s network. Unvetted user devices may contain vulnerabilities the worker isn't aware of. Their data may also traverse unsecured networks as it travels from them to the corporate network.
While a robust Zero Trust policy empowers workers to ensure the security of their connection through user-end policies and procedures, the more technical elements of security management occur behind the scenes—often without the end user’s awareness. This means users are unaware of the many security hoops they are jumping through to ensure their access is secure—which ultimately leads to a happier and more compliant workforce.
Zero Trust remote access security enables SecOps teams to:
- easily manage a fleet of remote devices from an administration console application
- reduce security risks as the team monitors device connections and addresses any risks from a convenient network-side security management dashboard
Identity Verification and Access Controls
The "never trust; always verify" principle of the Zero Trust model insists on continual confirmation of a user's identity throughout their network session. Zero Trust solutions for remote access incorporate even more robust measures that verify the user is who they say they are as employees work remotely.
Username and password credentials are the first lines of defense against unauthorized remote access. However, these credentials can become compromised in a number of different ways.
In Zero Trust, credentials are paired with multi-factor authentication (MFA) for more layers to the entry process. Incorporating a second step to verification is a highly effective measure that ensures only the intended user is able to access the system. This guarantees that remote workers can access a network from anywhere in the world once they set up the company’s preferred MFA tool to verify their identity before accessing the system.
Many systems are able to incorporate MFA tools like:
- a one-time passcode application
- biometric verification such as a fingerprint or facial recognition
Both are potent mechanisms for confirming user identity. This user identity confirmation also helps ensure that secure access controls are valid and in place using permissions set up for each user. Granular controls also restrict access to specific applications or files within an application based on user roles and permission.
Network Segmentation for Improved Security
A strong Zero Trust framework focuses on network segmentation to isolate the network’s resources and enable the security team to defend each asset individually. Opening a new application or switching subnets requires user verification with each attempt to access (even if a user goes inactive and then tries to reconnect).
This means that even if an unauthorized user gains access to one part of the network, they’re unable to move around and access other segments without reverifying themselves.
By establishing access controls to applications based on user roles, each employee is given their own privilege level that grants them access to certain segments of the network.
These roles allow everyone to perform their respective job duties while keeping unauthorized assets hidden from their network views. In the unlikely event, a user is able to somehow view resources they're not authorized to use, their user role will bar them from actually accessing them.
Enhancing Data Security for Remote Work
Another main benefit of Zero Trust cybersecurity systems is the enhancement of data protection measures that occur as soon as any authorized user accesses the system. Even after a user’s identity is verified, Zero Trust assumes a breach and restricts access to specific applications, and encrypts data to enhance the security of the remote network.
Securing Data In Transit and At Rest
When companies keep their data encrypted at all times, it ensures that data is unreadable except in the hands of authorized users. Whether your data is in a resting state (in storage) or in transit, a robust Zero Trust platform for remote work offers tools to effectively secure your information through encryption, regardless of its state.
Established security protocols utilized by Zero Trust frameworks effectively perform end-to-end encryption. A prime example of this type of protection of data in transit is the secure HTTP protocol (HTTPS), which relies on the accompanying Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol to keep data masked from interlopers while it's on the move.
Implementing Strong Encryption Protocols
Storage encryption ensures that data that's infiltrated during a breach or insecure network access is unreadable to anyone who doesn't possess a unique decryption key. Some operating systems contain onboard storage encryption mechanisms.
Zero Trust platforms also offer powerful storage encryption utilities that keep the encoding and recovery methods uniform across devices, simplifying remote management for the security team.
Secure File Sharing and Collaboration Tools
Collaboration is the cornerstone of many organizations, whether employees work remotely or in the office. Remote and hybrid work models frequently employ file sharing programs and collaboration tools. An effective Zero Trust model utilizes secure file-sharing programs that pass data through a central network, ensuring that the system can monitor activity and protect moving data through encryption.
As files and information pass between collaborators, a robust Zero Trust solution will register each event and generate logs called audit trails. These logs provide post-event data that enables SecOps to track down information that helps lead to a root cause in the event of a network infiltration.
Managing User Permissions and Access Rights
One vital principle of the Zero Trust method is “least privilege.” Effective identity and access management systems (IAMS) ensure that each user possesses only the minimum access privileges needed to do their work effectively.
While user roles establish permissions based on a worker's duties, most Zero Trust systems enable you to grant further privileges on an individual basis if a worker has responsibilities or projects that go beyond their intended role. Those permissions can be changed or revoked when that work is finished, as well.
Ensuring Compliance with Industry Regulation
Regulatory controls—such as HIPAA in the medical field and GDPR for personal data protection—require strict safeguards to protect sensitive digital information. A data breach that violates these regulations can cause serious issues for an organization.
Zero Trust data encryption protects sensitive information from prying eyes, while access controls ensure that only authorized users can see secured data. While this is great for a company and its clients, it also ensures compliance with a number of regulatory agencies. In the event of a breach, network segmentation obscures possible entry points, making the resident resources invisible to intruders and the company within the requirements of the law.
Zero Trust Remote Management
The biggest issue that comes with remote work is managing the many devices and users from afar. But Zero Trust has remote management covered with built-in systems and tools that help in-house IT teams manage a remote fleet.
Continuous Monitoring and Real-time Threat Detection
A strong Zero Trust system employs nonstop user and data activity monitoring. The ability to identify and address a threat as it happens greatly reduces the potential for harm from a data breach or malicious software infiltration.
Secure information and event management (SIEM) systems and user behavior analytics (UBA) are both valuable tools for making sure the user and the system are operating within acceptable parameters.
While each tool serves a different purpose within the framework, both can provide comprehensive reports, event logs, and audit trails to analyze activity and provide an informed response to any questionable situations.
- SIEM systems provide real-time detection that helps identify and analyze likely threats as they arise
- these tools empower security teams to respond with immediate action to mitigate or eliminate any potential harm to your system
- Prey is a powerful device security tracking tool that can detect and alert IT admins of questionable geolocation movements and strange device behavior.
- UBA tools help establish a baseline for the normal user activity
- when a user deviates from normal or acceptable activity while logged into the organization's network, the system flags the activity and can alert authorized personnel if a user is acting suspiciously
Secure Remote Troubleshooting and Support
One challenge that faces IT personnel who manage a remote fleet of devices is the ability to effectively troubleshoot and support users that are logged in hundreds of miles away. Secure screen-sharing tools utilized by Zero Trust frameworks as well as IT logins on all company devices are valuable mechanisms and practices for getting into a user's device and rooting out a problem, regardless of how far apart the user and the support person are from each other.
Automating Security Updates and Patch Management
Keeping up with system updates and security patches on end-user systems is a top priority for organization administrators. Up-to-date systems make it easier to protect against system vulnerabilities—and updates often contain defenses against the latest malware trends too.
Secure remote management tools enable administrators and SecOps to apply updates and configuration changes in the background, causing minimal interruptions to workers performing their job duties. Efficient automation tools also allow IT personnel to establish configuration and update security parameters all at once. Automation can then push the changes to all remote users, reducing any need to get into each worker's system one by one.
Compliance Accountability Analytics
Strong Zero Trust technologies offer robust analytics and accountability measures including activity logging, data-access reporting, and audit trails to follow events from their source to their destination. Reporting tools such as these are invaluable in conducting agency audits for industry authorities—such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—that require tight controls over sensitive data.
Best Practices To Implement Zero Trust for Remote Workers
The benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to choosing a Zero Trust cybersecurity system for a company that has a remote workforce. But how do you actually implement it? Below are some best practices to follow when starting to set up Zero Trust in any industry.
Assess Your Cybersecurity Needs and Risk Profile
Every technology differs in the ways they implement Zero Trust philosophies and principles. It’s up to the organizational requirements that vary from company to company to determine which technology system is best for addressing their specific security needs.
Before deciding on the Zero Trust system that will work best for your organization, conduct a thorough evaluation of your company's risk profile and get a clear picture of your unique security requirements.
- Undergo a comprehensive inventory of users, devices, and data
- Audit your current security controls
- Perform a complete assessment of your existing technology stack
- Prioritize all assets in order of sensitivity and importance to your organization
The better you understand your system's needs, the more equipped you are to determine which Zero Trust technology implementation is most appropriate for your organization.
Develop a Comprehensive Zero Trust Strategy
If your company has even one employee that works remotely, you’re at risk of greater opportunities from digital intruders. Understanding the attack surface and vectors of your remote work environment informs your security teams of the steps to take in tailoring a Zero Trust strategy that will best protect your digital assets.
It's imperative that stakeholders work together in developing a company’s Zero Trust strategy. Awareness and buy-in of your security needs enable IT, SecOps, and other relevant teams to collaborate in creating a security outline that aligns with your organization's unique objectives. It also helps each stakeholder know their role in the security plan.
Create a Team Dedicated To Zero Trust
Zero Trust is an important implementation for any organization and requires whole-hearted commitment from crucial staff. A dedicated group spearheading Zero Trust implementation and maintaining both principles and technical details of the cybersecurity system can help the whole initiative run more smoothly.
When forming a Zero Trust team, consider specialists in the following areas to oversee critical aspects of the operation:
- A Zero Trust practices coordinator: ensures a consistent security-minded environment and educates staff and leadership on the most up-to-date Zero Trust practices
- A Security operations (SecOps) specialist: assesses current system risks and performs ongoing monitoring for cyber threats
- An IT or network admin: maintains secure network infrastructure and ensures systems are correctly employing SecOps initiatives
- A security development engineer: keeps on top of application and data security
Educate and Train Employees on Zero Trust Principles
A well-informed worker is far more likely to be conscientious of their activity and aware of potential unsecured openings they may be giving intruders.
To build a remote employee base that understands their part in ensuring a secure network and company, create training sessions that familiarize them with Zero Trust principles and common threats. Review best practices that equip them with the knowledge to recognize potential risks as they arise and ways to inform the right teams about potential alerts.
Information resources—such as reference guides and flowcharts—are handy tools for keeping instructions and reminders at the ready. When in doubt, having something concrete to refer back to helps remove employee uncertainty and encourages a safety-first defensive mindset.
Conduct Regular Security Audits and Vulnerability Assessments
Zero Trust principles require monitoring and security analytic tools to operate on all levels of infrastructure at all times. Not only can these tools alert SecOps when a suspicious event presents itself, but the information that monitoring analytics provide is invaluable to assess a potential threat in real-time.
Schedule regular audits to review security logs and audit trails. Finding suspicious patterns and questionable events provide opportunities to update the efficacy of your Zero Trust security measures, improve staff practices, and tighten up overall system protection.
Build Partnerships with Vendors and Service Providers
Seek out trusted vendors with a proven track record of producing reliable products and services. Established Zero Trust service providers have already smoothed out many rough spots in their systems and tend to put out a more stable product which leads to easier integration in your company systems.
A strong professional relationship between your company and your service provider helps them understand your organizational needs more deeply. Awareness of your individual requirements may give them reasons to improve system tools and develop new ones to better benefit your company and other organizations in the long run.
As most industries have realized, a remote workforce provides unique security challenges. However, adopting a proactive Zero Trust approach can address these issues by enhancing your device security as well as protecting your network points of entry.
Segmenting your network and erecting strong defenses around every application shrinks your attack surface—greatly reducing the risk of unauthorized access to network assets. Additional benefits of Zero Trust ensure that your company stays compliant while protecting your data from a breach at the same time. If your employees also buy into a security-first culture, then your company’s security posture will only continue improving and adapting to more advanced hacker methods under a Zero Trust framework.
As your organization grows, so will your network. Adopt Zero Trust for your company to effectively manage your remote fleet, keep your data secure, and ensure your organization is in compliance every step of the way.