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Tuesday, 26 October 2021 10:46

Why Zero Trust architecture will disrupt the cybersecurity industry, the same way Netflix disrupted Blockbuster

By Dave Shephard, APAC vice president, Illumio

GUEST OPINION: The cybersecurity industry suffers from a lack of disruption. Not at the hands of adversaries—sadly we suffer from plenty of that—but positive disruption by design from technology vendors. I’m sure some cybersecurity professionals will dispute this claim, but I believe their objections will point to smaller scale, piecemeal disruptions, and we need to open up the aperture and allow some more light in.

Let’s consider some of the “big” modern IT disruption examples. SaaS has redefined software delivery and turned IT organisations into consumers. Cloud definitely disrupted the role of the data centre, yet the data centre is still there. Secure access service edge (SASE) promised to redefine the notion of a corporate network with a defined perimeter, but how many enterprises have really done away with edge firewalls? And the password is dead... long live the (complex) password!

But none of these were true gamechangers, not in the way Netflix was to Blockbuster, iTunes was to high street record stores, or the mobile phone was to the compact digital camera business. The cybersecurity industry has essentially been delivering incremental adaptations of existing tech for more than a decade.

This won’t be the case for much longer. The adoption of a Zero Trust architecture will lead to major disruption, not only to our tech stack, but to how we think about security and reframe the challenge. Zero Trust affords us the opportunity to reset and to pursue a new security model—a fresher approach that presents a credible challenge to the increasing sophistication of attackers.

Disruption doesn’t happen overnight (it took until 2010 for Blockbuster to finally close the last store). They also don’t just happen with a sudden change; true disruptions in cyber requires customers to change how they view things and be open to doing them differently in order to realise how much better things could be.

For cybersecurity professionals, a Zero Trust strategy requires a similar mindset shift: accepting trust is the biggest vulnerability in the current system and “assume breach” as the starting point for what you do next. Few will argue with the logic or the basis, but most are early on their journey. It can be hard to concede that despite all of the work and technology investment we (rightfully) put into creating a formidable perimeter, the adversary will ultimately break through—or is already inside. The almost constant reporting of high-profile ransomware attacks is the proof of that pudding.

A strategic shift in mindset means implementing Zero Trust security controls is going to be different from other strategies before it. And with the constant pace of IT change, we’re unlikely to ever achieve the perfect Zero Trust network, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start the journey. Perfect should not become the enemy of doing much better.

Segmentation for example, which creates compartments within your network like water-tight compartments in a submarine, is an important pillar of any Zero Trust strategy and ensures that a single foothold in your network does not mean an attacker can access other higher-value areas and data. Zero Trust segmentation won’t stop intrusions from happening, but when prevention fails (and it will) this approach will contain the spread of a breach and minimise the impact and consequence for a business.

It’s not hard to understand why some remain reluctant to recommend a Zero Trust strategy to clients and senior management. It’s a concession or an admission of defeat that the “old goal” of cybersecurity teams—to make sure attackers couldn’t possibly breach the perimeter—is yesterday’s strategy and past its freshness date.

The new strategy must accept and account for one simple fact: breaches can and will happen.

Zero Trust cyber strategies are common sense, and shouldn’t be viewed as complex or for large enterprises only. That myth needs dispelling. Customers don’t need to abandon their past and convert all in one go. In fact, an easy way to start your Zero Trust strategy is by getting a clear view of your IT estate and understanding how your networked assets communicate. Without first achieving visibility of your critical workloads and applications, you cannot begin to protect them with policies to allow what you know to be good, and rules to restrict what you know to be bad. This simple start will have a massive impact on reducing your attack surface. And if you identify critical high-value workloads or vulnerable assets (unpatchable) that need to be ring-fenced, of course you have the ability to do that too.

Modern IT environments are constantly changing, adapting, and increasing in complexity and this is showing us that the traditional security controls we’ve relied upon for too long are brittle and ineffective.

Only by changing how we approach cybersecurity, can we tip the odds back in the favour of the defenders and build cyber resilient organisations—for as long as we keep relying on yesterday’s technology, today’s adversary will continue to easily bypass them and the headlines won’t stop.

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