Why Zero Trust Architecture is necessary in Critical Infrastructure Industries

As the cyberspace becomes more vicious with every passing day, all organizations operating in the cyberspace need to be highly cautious of cyber attacks. There are thousands of ways an attacker may disrupt an organization’s processes through a cyber attack. It therefore becomes inevitable that all organizations, specially the critical infrastructure industries leave no loopholes unaddressed.

Critical Infrastructure Industries

Critical infrastructure includes industries like medicine and health, locomotives, finance, defence and government. It is therefore crucial that the systems, networks and assets of such industries be secure and protected from cyber attacks, for the well being of a country and its citizens. Moreover, if a critical infrastructure organization is attacked, essential processes may come to a halt, resulting in potential loss of capital, and highly sensitive information may be stolen.

The Zero Trust Model

To prevent such a situation, cybersecurity experts recommend the zero trust model. Coined by the cybersecurity expert John Kindervag in 2010, the term “zero trust” means preparing the system for a breach and designing security without perimeters. It enforces that there’s no secure boundary separating the benign internal from the malign external and nothing is trusted by default. The authentication process for accessing a system is standard for both insiders and outsiders.

In other words, the zero trust architecture is meant to protect the enterprise at all costs. It’s a system in which no protocol or professional courtesy is granted to any of the distinct employees and anyone or any asset that attempts to connect to the organization’s systems must undergo a standard process of verification and authentication. 

This zero trust architecture maintains a real-time log of all events, logins and access patterns and is a necessity in order to prevent internal attacks, attacks from disgruntled employees or external attacks based on the exploitation of privileged accounts.

Insider Threats

While traditional wisdom assumes that the internal employees should be trusted and the main focus of cyber security should be on the external threats, according to the 2020 insider threat report by cybersecurity insiders, 68% of the organizations feel moderately to extremely vulnerable to insider attacks.

Moreover, the total average cost of insider threats rose from $8.76M in 2017 to $11.45M in 2019, as per the global reports of The Ponemon institute of 2018 and 2020 cost of insider threats.
Insider attacks are stealthy, hideous and the most destructive as insiders have access to the most critical and sensitive information of the organization. In fact, 85% of organizations say that they find it difficult to determine the actual damage of an insider attack. This means that they may continue to discover the damaging effects years after the incident.

Negligent Employees

It’s not just the malicious insiders that can be extremely harmful for an organization. Even the most benign, unsuspecting and negligent employees can wreak havoc in an organization by falling victim to a social engineering attack, surfing the internet irresponsibly, losing passwords, downloading malicious content or giving out sensitive information. This non-vigilance poses a threat to an enterprise’s integrity. While stats reveal that 92% malware is delivered by email, and 98% of cyber attacks rely on social engineering, Intel reports that 97% of people around the world are unable to identify a sophisticated phishing email. This is what makes humans so vulnerable to cyber attacks. The zero trust architecture makes sure that humans are not the last line of defence for an enterprise.

Privileged Users

While all traditional security stores event logs, the zero trust architecture is even more refined because it suspects a privileged user as much as an outsider, leaving no room for misconduct. This is necessary because 55% of organizations identify privileged users as their greatest insider threat risk, according to a tech jury report.

Trusted Business Partners

Apart from privileged users, the zero trust architecture does not spare even trusted business partners. The percentage of insider incidents perpetrated by trusted business partners has typically ranged between 15% and 25%. Therefore, the zero trust model treats all users as untrustworthy, regardless of their privileges, access patterns or roles in the enterprise, etc.

X-PHY AI-Embedded Cyber Secure SSD and its Zero Trust Principle

The X-PHY AI-embedded cyber secure SSD works as the last line of defense for an enterprise, eliminating the risk of human error, whether or not deliberate. This SSD works as the sole incident response system, thwarting all cyber attacks without requiring human interaction. As IBM’s Cyber Security Intelligence Index revealed back in 2014, “95 percent of all security incidents involve human error.”. X-Phy SSD leaves absolutely no room for human error with its strict Zero Trust model. It responds to all malicious threats by detecting them in a matter of seconds, meanwhile locking the system to prevent potential harm. This means that our solution can handle the ever-evolving and latest variants of all malware on their first encounter. It also prevents data cloning attempted by malicious insiders. Thus, X-PHY SSD can prevent all potential cyber attacks with its zero trust model.

Apart from firmware protection, our solution also ensures hardware protection by high functioning hardware sensors working on multiple machine learning algorithms. It can also wipe off data in case of physical attacks so that confidentiality breach is never an option even in case of theft of an asset.

The Essentials of a Zero Trust Architecture

Some of the essential steps that organizations take in their zero trust models are as follows: 

  • As most attacks both internal and external involve privileged access abuse, highly privileged accounts are dealt with extra care. 
  • Most important privileged accounts and credentials are identified and are fixed for vulnerabilities to protect sensitive information.
  • Access controls are implemented for protecting all users and applications across the enterprise, but especially the privileged accounts.
  • Multi-factor authentication is implemented for all assets, but especially for critical assets.
  • Managerial approval processes may also be implemented to enable the authentication of privileged users at the exact point of access. This can prevent credential abuse or brute force attacks. 
  • Strengthening of endpoint security by deploying EDR tools but using advanced machine-learning algorithm based products like the X-Phy cyber secure SSD, rather than relying on cyber security analysts going through event logs for potential malicious activity. 
  • Organizations may also implement restriction models that will only allow certain applications to be run in controlled circumstances like from specific accounts.
  • Continuously monitoring access patterns to reduce the attack surface.
  • Organizations should also implement the least privilege policy in which no user is granted any extra privileges other than those required by their job roles.

The zero trust architecture inhibits unnecessary flow of data by preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data and digital assets. In doing so, it provides a correct and up-to-date inventory of all resources of the organization. It lets SOC control and monitor the access patterns across the enterprise. Moreover, using tools like cyber secure SSDs thwarts all attacks in real time even if they are coming from trusted accounts. In conclusion, although it may cost capital to deploy, implement and manage a zero-trust architecture in an enterprise, it saves millions of dollars spent on incident response, followed by cyber attacks that occur in absence of zero trust architectures. 

“With Zero Trust you get a dramatically improved cybersecurity footprint at dramatically lower costs. Those are two great places to start. Of course, you have to implement it the right way, maintain and support it. But better cybersecurity and lower costs are definitely the beginnings of a winning hand.”, says Tony Scott, Ex–Federal CIO, in an interview with John Kindervag. 

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