Zero Trust Architecture: A Replacement For Traditional Cybersecurity Defenses of SMBs and Mid-Market Enterprises?
May 1, 2024

Zero Trust Architecture: A Replacement For Traditional Cybersecurity Defenses of SMBs and Mid-Market Enterprises?

The term “Zero Trust” can be confusing, because it can be used to describe both the Zero Trust architecture of a network or cloud (which encompasses the structured layout of network elements and the virtual design of cloud environments), and the holistic approach combining a Zero Trust architecture with a cybersecurity platform designed to detect, analyze, and contain threats. This blog uses the terms “Zero Trust Architecture” and “Zero Trust Security Model” (as defined by the National Security Agency) to distinguish between these two uses of the term “Zero Trust.”

What is Zero Trust Architecture?

Zero Trust Architecture moves away from the traditional concept of a “network perimeter”— where all devices and users within a local area network (LAN) or virtual LAN (VLAN) are automatically trusted and granted extensive permissions. From a simplistic viewpoint, think of Zero Trust Architecture as minimizing a network or cloud environment’s attack surface by utilizing segmentation via VLANs, and enforcing least-privileged access controls, detailed microsegmentation, and multifactor authentication (MFA).

Zero Trust Security Model

A Zero Trust security model goes beyond Zero Trust Architecture. The Zero Trust security model is a comprehensive set of design principles and a coordinated strategy for cybersecurity and system management. Under the Zero Trust security model, it is assumed that a breach is either inevitable or has possibly already occurred. The model therefore continually restricts access to only what is essential while actively searching for unusual or malicious activity. It incorporates extensive security monitoring, granular risk-based access controls, and active detection and containment of threats across all infrastructure components. The focus is on protecting critical assets in real time within a dynamic threat landscape.

 “The National Security Agency (NSA) defines a Zero Trust security model as one that “assumes that a breach is inevitable or has likely already occurred, so it constantly limits access to only what is needed and looks for anomalous or malicious activity.”

-The National Security Agency

With many organizations (especially SMBs to mid-market enterprises) struggling to find sufficient budget to adequately address their cybersecurity defenses, the question arises whether budget-constrained organizations might adopt a Zero Trust Architecture as their principal, or even sole, cybersecurity defense. That is, can the architectural minimization of your network and cloud environments’ attack surfaces, combined with the implementation of least-privileged access controls, rigorous microsegmentation, and multifactor authentication, constitute a sufficient cybersecurity posture for SMBs and mid-sized enterprises?

Although integrating Zero Trust Architecture into your IT systems can enhance your cybersecurity posture, depending solely on Zero Trust Architecture as your primary or sole cyber defense carries considerable risks: 

    • Gartner analysts forecast that by 2026, over half of cyberattacks will target areas not protected by Zero Trust controls, rendering them ineffective. “The enterprise attack surface is expanding faster and attackers will quickly consider pivoting and targeting assets and vulnerabilities outside of the scope of zero-trust architectures.” https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2023-01-23-gartner-predicts-10-percent-of-large-enterprises-will-have-a-mature-and-measurable-zero-trust-program-in-place-by-2026
    • Weaknesses in Multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a critical component of Zero Trust security. Unfortunately, cybercriminals can use malware to bypass MFA. Here’s an  example: https://www.hipaajournal.com/mfa-bypased-cyberattack-la-county-department-mental-health/
    • Zero Trust does not Stop Zero-day attacks. Zero-day attacks are previously unknown vulnerabilities that cyber attackers exploit before a patch becomes available or is generally deployed. Hackers use these exploits to access systems, exfiltrate sensitive data, or execute malicious code. Zero Trust Architecture alone is not designed to prevent Zero-day attacks, and if the Zero-day vulnerability provides the hacker direct access to a crucial system or the confidential data they are targeting, the hacker could steal that data or install harmful software without detection or containment.
    • Supply Chain attacks against Managed Service Providers can evade Zero Trust defenses. Supply chain attacks target third-party vendors within an organization’s supply chain. These attacks exploit the trust between an organization and its vendors whose software has been breached. These attacks are particularly dangerous when they involve software networking tools or software used by managed service providers (MSPs), because attackers take advantage of the access the network tools or MSPs have to an organization’s network or cloud. 
    • Configuration Errors. Configuration errors can lead to data exposure. Even though Zero Trust focuses on verifying each access request, configuration errors that expose data directly to the internet can bypass these controls.
    • Insider Threats and API Misconfigurations. Zero Trust can significantly reduce the risk of insider threats by enforcing strict access controls and verification procedures; however, if an API is misconfigured to allow broad data access without proper authorization checks, insiders or authenticated users could still access or manipulate data they shouldn’t.
    • Other methods to circumvent Zero Trust include exploiting public-facing APIs, targeting employees through social engineering or bullying, and taking advantage of shortcuts employees might create to sidestep strict Zero Trust policies.

“The enterprise attack surface is expanding faster and attackers will quickly consider pivoting and targeting assets and vulnerabilities outside of the scope of zero-trust architectures.”

-Gartner

The Role of Zero Trust

For reasons described above, adopting a Zero Trust Architecture as your principal cyberdefense is risky; it is more prudent to adopt it as part of a broader strategic approach to cybersecurity – that is, by adopting a Zero Trust security model. When implemented alongside a comprehensive cybersecurity framework, Zero Trust Architecture can enhance an organization’s security posture by reducing the attack surface. Used alone or as the principal line of cyber defense, however, Zero Trust Architecture leaves open significant opportunities for cyber criminals to compromise your IT systems. 

If adopting a Zero Trust Architecture alone is insufficient, what approach should you take to secure your IT infrastructure? 

Let’s examine a highly successful cybersecurity use case: large financial institutions. Large financial institutions are known for effectively thwarting cyberattacks. Their cyber strategies encompass continuous monitoring, collection and analysis of vast amounts of data from both on-premise networks and cloud environments, often analyzing billions of logs daily (requiring enhanced collection techniques and a robust analysis engine). This analysis is integrated with threat intelligence platforms that facilitate ongoing vulnerability assessments and real-time responses. Supported by 24/7 security operations centers (SOCs) staffed by skilled analysts and engineers, these measures have proven extremely effective for major financial entities. 

Emulating these security practices of large financial institutions combined with a Zero Trust Architecture would appear to be a route to successful cybersecurity. Unfortunately, the advanced cybersecurity measures of large financial institutions are typically too costly for mid-market enterprises, presenting a significant challenge in balancing budget constraints with the need for effective cyber defense to protect assets and client data. 

Our innovative approach to solving this problem

At SECNAP, we understand the need for a comprehensive cybersecurity solution that emulates the holistic approach being applied successfully at major financial institutions, but affordable for everyone. That’s why we created CloudJacketXi™, a complete security platform that matches the robust defenses used by large enterprises. 

Zero Trust Architecture can be a powerful cybersecurity component, but it’s not foolproof. Even with strong access controls, sophisticated threats can find ways in. This is where CloudJacketXi steps in, acting as a powerful complement to your Zero Trust Architecture. It provides continuous, real-time visibility across your entire network and cloud environment, analyzing and understanding your organization’s dynamic digital environment, identifying both normal and unusual patterns across networks, cloud services, platforms, and remote endpoints, thus solidifying your Zero Trust strategy and informing future security decisions:

    • Unparalleled Visibility: CloudJacketXi goes beyond traditional EDR, providing Extended Detection and Response (XDR) capabilities. This grants organizations a unified view of activity across all endpoints, networks, cloud environments, and user behavior. This comprehensive visibility allows for early detection of suspicious activity and potential breaches.
    • Data collection techniques: Using both software agents (lightweight and multi-purpose, installed on endpoints such as laptops, desktops, servers, cloud instances, and virtual machines) and agentless monitoring (for firewalls, switches, routers, etc.), CloudJacketXi collects data from all key sources in network and cloud environments.
    • Advanced Threat Detection: CloudJacketXi leverages its cutting-edge threat intelligence engine and machine learning to identify and neutralize even the most sophisticated cyberattacks. CloudJacket’s eXtended intelligence engine analyzes network traffic, user behavior, and endpoint activity to detect anomalies and identify potential threats before they can compromise data or disrupt critical systems. It uses our proprietary software to analyze and correlate the data to accurately parse through the 100’s of millions of potential threats and behavioral anomalies that occur daily in a network or cloud, identifying those that are real threats, and presenting these threats to our U.S.-based SOC analysts for final analysis via our proprietary security operations centers’ dashboard.
    • Proactive Threat Hunting: CloudJacketXi goes beyond passive detection. Our team of cybersecurity experts actively hunts for threats within your network, proactively identifying vulnerabilities and potential attack vectors before they can be exploited. This proactive approach significantly reduces the risk of successful cyberattacks.
    • Compliance Reporting: Many industries are subject to a myriad of complex compliance regulations, including Payment Card Industry (PCI DSS), National Institute of Standards and Technology 800-53 (NIST 800-53), Trust Services Criteria (TSC), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA). CloudJacketXi provides robust compliance reporting capabilities that help organizations adhere to regulatory standards such as PCI DSS, NIST 800-53, TSC, GDPR, HIPAA, and more.
    • Eliminate Alert Fatigue — 24/7/365 Security Operations Center (SOC): Our dedicated team of highly-trained security professionals based in the USA monitors your network around the clock, providing real-time threat detection, investigation, and response. This eliminates the hundreds (or even thousands) of daily alerts your IT staff would otherwise need to handle from traditional cybersecurity solutions, and ensures your organization has access to the expertise needed to effectively respond to any security incident.

With us, you get an unparalleled blend of protection, detection, and response capabilities, all bundled into one powerful package. CloudJacketXi provides state-of-the-art protection against malware, ransomware, data breaches, unauthorized access, and other sophisticated attack vectors. Our value lies not just in our defense system, but in the peace of mind we provide, allowing you to focus solely on driving your business to new heights. Explore CloudJacketXi, go to https://www.secnap.com/cloudjacket-xi/.

 Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

Cyberattacks are a constant threat for businesses and governmental entities of all sizes. Don’t wait for a breach to expose the vulnerabilities in your IT environment. Discover how CloudJacketXi can transform your cybersecurity posture. Contact us to learn more and take the first step towards ensuring your organization has the comprehensive security solution needed to protect your employees, your customers, your data. Complete the contact form or call 954-350-0712.

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