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Understanding Zero Trust Networks

Zero Trust networks are often micro-segmented networks, with firewalls at nearly every connecting point. Zero trust encapsulates information assets, the services that apply to them, and their security properties. This concept recognizes that once inside a trust-but-verify environment, a user has perhaps unlimited capabilities to roam around, identify assets and systems and potentially find exploitable vulnerabilities. Placing a greater number of firewalls or other security boundary control devices throughout the network increases the number of opportunities to detect a troublemaker before harm is done. Many enterprise architectures are pushing this to the extreme of micro-segmenting their internal networks, which enforces frequent re-authentication of a user ID, as depicted in this image.

Consider a rock music concert. By traditional perimeter controls, such as firewalls, you would show your ticket at the gate and have free access to the venue, including backstage where the real rock stars are. In a zero-trust environment, additional checkpoints are added. Your identity (ticket) is validated to access the floor level seats, and again to access the backstage area. Your credentials must be valid at all 3 levels to meet the stars of the show.

Zero trust is an evolving design approach which recognizes that even the most robust access control systems have their weaknesses. It adds defenses at the user, asset and data level, rather than relying on perimeter defense. In the extreme, it insists that every process or action a user attempts to take must be authenticated and authorized; the window of trust becomes vanishingly small.

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