October 19, 2022
Guide , Zero Trust

Zero Trust Checklist: Multifactor Encryption is at the Heart of Zero Trust Security

There is almost zero chance that you haven’t heard the term “Zero Trust” recently. The term, coined in 2010 by John Kindervag, one of the world's foremost cybersecurity experts, recognizes that trust applies only to people, not digital environments. It also implies a hard-line stance on cyber security which has become critical in today’s increasingly mobile and hybrid world. 

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Zero Trust is a security model based on an acknowledgement that threats exist both inside and outside traditional network boundaries. A Zero Trust security strategy eliminates implicit trust in any one element, component, node, or service and instead requires continuous verification of the operational picture via real-time information from multiple sources to determine access and other system responses.

When adopting this new mindset, it’s vital to understand that Zero Trust is constantly evolving and not something to set and forget. As such, the core principles of Zero Trust can be applied to all parts of your security strategy at any time. 

Decentralized, multifactor encryption is essential to removing implicit trust in data protection.  Any Zero Trust security model is incomplete without it.

Principles of Zero Trust

  1. Never Trust, Always Verify. Unfortunately, many cyberattacks happen because of the default trust given to traffic, users, and devices once they’re inside a network. For example, simply obtaining login credentials for a valid user allows malicious actors to log in and eventually exfiltrate sensitive data or install ransomware. With Zero Trust, the “never trust, always verify” principle can mitigate these risks because all network traffic is treated as untrusted. 

  2. Data Security at the Core. Rethinking data security is necessary for the Zero Trust model. Data moves between users, devices, and applications across on-premise and cloud infrastructure. By knowing where all your data is and authenticating every access attempt, you shift to core data-centric security and eliminate the effects of data exfiltration.

  3. Robust Authentication. Always verifying is one of the basic principles of Zero Trust. However, using IP addresses, usernames, and passwords to authenticate is no longer enough. More robust, user-friendly methods of authentication are needed. Multi-factor authentication and similar solutions are most effective for authentication in a Zero Trust network. 

  4. Least Privilege Enforcement. The principle of least privilege restricts user and device access permissions to only what’s deemed necessary. Zero Trust enforces least privilege access by accounting for who makes an access request, the context, and the risk level. As a result, enforcing least privilege access reduces the chances of malicious actors getting to sensitive data assets. 

  5. Monitoring and Logging. Recording everything on the network helps detect and remediate threats earlier, which can mean the difference between a data breach and a mere account compromise. Monitoring and logging also provide visibility and intelligence that drive better cybersecurity policy decision-making at the user, device, and application level.  

Data Protection & Zero Trust

Data protection is a common thread across all fundamental principles, making it a crucial focus point for a Zero Trust approach. Whether your organization is rolling out a complete Zero Trust architecture or focusing only on your most significant areas of weakness, file encryption plays an important role. The following checklist guides success when applying Zero Trust initiatives to some or all areas of your program. 

Zero Trust Checklist 

  • Understand your data and where it resides. The first step is to take stock of your data. Not all data is of equal importance. You must identify your most valuable assets, including trade secrets, intellectual priority, PHI, PII, and other sensitive files. Identifying this data and its location may be challenging. It has been reported that more than half of all companies do not know where their sensitive information is stored. 
  • Encrypt Sensitive Data. Step two is encryption. When you have located, classified, and created policies for your sensitive data, it is time to protect it with multifactor encryption. When implementing Zero Trust, file encryption is a natural starting point as it provides a practical way to protect sensitive data assets regardless of where they reside.

  • Limit User Access. Finally, review and classify your roster of authorized users once files are encrypted. Grant access to encrypted files to only authorized individuals who strictly need them. Multifactor encryption, a progressive technology that does not rely on user credentials but instead leverages the power of distributed encryption key management, will help ensure user access is appropriately enforced, and overall security posture is strengthened. 

According to Kindervg, “Zero Trust is a journey best taken one step at a time.” Wherever you are along the path, remember that multifactor encryption is at the heart of a true Zero Trust security approach.

Atakama is a multifactor encryption solution that delivers unrivaled data protection by redefining the encryption landscape. Atakama’s decentralized, multifactor approach to cryptographic key management protects unstructured data in the cloud and on-premise from breach and exfiltration events. Atakama’s multifactor encryption generates a unique key for each data asset, then automatically fragments the key into shards that are distributed across a cluster of physical devices.  Decryption occurs seamlessly for the user through the multifactor reconstitution of the key. For example, a user clicks on a file and then approves a notification prompt on a mobile device or through a secure, automated workflow facilitated by a decentralized key shard server. 

In conjunction with a Zero Trust approach, a decentralized approach to cryptographic key management protects organizations from data exfiltration, especially when identity and rules-based access controls fail. As a result, multifactor encryption allows for the highest levels of data security without sacrificing business performance and productivity. The concept is simple, but the approach completely changes how data is protected.

For more information about ensuring your Zero Trust initiatives benefit from multifactor encryption, contact Atakama today. 

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