Zero Trust Security: Growing relevance in hybrid work environments

Zero Trust Security: Growing relevance in hybrid work environments
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 22 Apr 2023

In an increasingly interconnected world with a proliferating number of digital services, enterprises are challenged to implement strong cyber-security, which is considered a core element of the digital transformation strategies of modern organizations. To this end, many enterprises turn to novel security concepts such as Zero Trust Security. The latter is a security model that assumes that any device or user can be a threat. It requires organizations to move away from traditional perimeter-based defenses and adopt a more flexible approach to access control, which is conveniently called Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA). The Zero Trust model has been gaining popularity among enterprises as they look for ways to improve their security posture by reducing risk while allowing employees access to data and applications when needed. The latter is key for supporting the mainstream hybrid work environments of the post COVID19 era i.e., environments where employees access digital resources through different channels and devices.

To apply the Zero Trust mode, organizations must rethink traditional approaches to identity management in order to better protect key assets against cyber threats like phishing attacks, malware infections, account takeovers, security breaches and insider threats. Most of these threats can result from poor authentication methods or weak passwords used across multiple systems within an organization’s network perimeter. This guides security experts to design security measures that do not rely on conventional trusted zones.  The implementation of a Zero Trust security approach is usually based on the concept of “microsegmentation”, which is about architecting security systems to meet fine-grained requirements of specific micro-segments of the network. Based on microsegmentation, security teams can isolate workloads in specific network segments towards limiting the potentially adverse effects of malicious movements of the workloads. Hence, a Zero trust environment implements fine-grained access policies over the workloads of the various segments.

In practice, Zero Trust Security provides increased flexibility with your network and applications. You can have more trust in end users, while still maintaining control over what they can do. It also helps enterprises gain visibility into all their systems, including those on-premises and in the cloud.

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Benefits of Zero Trust Security in Hybrid Work Environments

Zero Trust mitigates risk by ensuring that only approved entities are permitted inside a network perimeter. This results to the following benefits:

  • Better Control over Cyber Risks: A Zero Trust approach reduces the attack surface of an organization’s IT infrastructure. This helps organizations prevent cyberattacks that could otherwise compromise sensitive data or disrupt operations.
  • Data Breach Prevention: Traditional perimeter-based approaches (e.g., firewalls) provide room for malicious actors to bypass security controls and exploit vulnerabilities in third-party applications or other services connected through an organization’s network perimeter. On the contrary, a Zero Trust approach authenticates every user before accessing any resources, which allows organizations to know whether someone is exhibiting abnormal behavior. For instance, Zero Trust makes it much easier to understand that some party is trying something suspicious like accessing sensitive information from outside their authorized role within the organization. This can be for example the case of an employee seeking out financial records or trying to gain access to databases that should be accessed by senior managers only.
  • Cost-Effective Regulatory Compliance: Zero Trust environments offer granular control over who has access to what data or applications at any given time. This is a key for ensuring compliance with popular regulations such the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as with standards such as the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). In the case of a Zero Trust environment, regulatory compliance is achieved by-design, which reduces the overall cost of the implementation. Likewise, such an environment reduces the risks of regulatory penalties due to non-compliance.


Valuable Tools and Techniques for Zero Trust Security

When setting up a Zero Trust environment, security experts can take advantage of the following tools and techniques:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) of Users and Client Applications: Multi-factor authentication is a form of access control that requires not only something you know (e.g., a password), but also something you have. This can be in the form of an app on your phone or device, or even a physical token like an RSA SecurID key fob. When used in conjunction with other security measures such as encryption and firewalls, multi-factor authentication provides an added layer of protection against hackers who may try to gain access to your data by guessing passwords and breaking through firewalls. Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for hackers to get into your account because they need two forms of verification before they can log in successfully. However, this benefit comes without a need to remember multiple passwords or PINs. Instead, there are just two steps required before gaining access: Entering a username/password combination followed by entering the second factor code from either an app or hardware token device.
  • Least Privilege Access (LPA): LPA is the principle that users should be granted only the permissions they need to perform their job functions. It’s a simple concept, but one that can have a profound impact on an organization’s security posture and compliance efforts. Hackers are increasingly sophisticated in their attacks against organizations of all sizes, which makes it difficult for IT teams to keep up with them when they’re being asked to support multiple platforms and applications across various departments. LPA helps mitigating this challenge by limiting what users can do once they’re inside your network perimeter, thereby reducing risk exposure while still allowing employees access to critical data and applications. This approach makes it easier for IT teams to monitor activity across all systems.
  • Risk Mitigation: Organizations must always assess their potential security risks and employ the most appropriate measures to mitigate them. LPA and MFA can be among these measures, along with proper microsegmentation techniques.


In the era of the “hybrid enterprise”, modern organizations have no option but to design their digital infrastructures with strong security in mind. In this direction, they could consider a shift towards the Zero Trust security model. When realizing this shift, they must consider the costs and potential benefits of this transition. Moreover, they must bear in mind that Zero Trust is not only about implementing security techniques. Rather it requires a wider cultural shift that includes raising awareness and properly educating the entire organization.

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