Why zero trust security is vital to regulatory compliance

Compliance directives like GDPR and CCPA demand that security and privacy be provided by design and default, which is why zero trust offers the perfect solution.

January 6, 2022

The modern enterprise faces a constantly evolving threat landscape, along with the regulatory measures introduced to counter it. Consequently, data security and privacy are top of mind for today’s CISOs. These changes bring both opportunities and challenges when it comes to protecting proprietary and customer data. On one hand, the increasing ubiquity of cloud computing has made digital infrastructures notoriously complex to the point they can seem ungovernable. On the other hand, legislation like Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA give organizations new opportunities to build trust with their customers and across their supply chains.

By far the biggest challenge is the fact that the enterprise now uses an average of 175 cloud apps, most of which lie outside the corporate firewall.

While there may be opportunities to trim down the number of apps used for work, the fact remains that a lot of these solutions are vital to everyday business operations. Regardless of complexity, new rules need to be applied across all systems spanning the increasingly massive amounts of regulated data that today’s enterprises hold. To make that possible, enterprises need a way to maintain complete visibility and control over their digital assets.

To give an example, GDPR and CCPA give individuals the right to request from companies which data they have pertaining to their person, and what that data is used for. They also have the right to request its deletion. However, if you do not have complete control over your data, because it resides in a third-party system, it can be difficult or even impossible to meet those demands. The zero trust approach to security seeks to change that by granting visibility and control over such assets and protecting them against theft, loss, or misuse.

Never trust, always verify

The zero trust model holds that every access attempt is potentially malicious. Therefore, trust must never be assumed, and access attempts must always be verified. Therefore, permissions alone do not equate to trust. By applying zero trust security to all enterprise communications, organizations can adopt a more rigorous and easily manageable security posture that goes above and beyond what current regulations demand. A true zero trust model comprises two key elements:

  • Asset discovery: You cannot protect what you do not know about, which is why the first step towards implementing a zero trust architecture is compiling an inventory of all data-bearing assets. This includes both in-house and cloud apps, regardless of which infrastructure they reside on. By applying zero trust security across your environment, new assets are discovered automatically, allowing security leaders to apply measures universally.
  • Principle of least privilege: The principle of least privilege holds that no individual or system should have access to data that they do not explicitly need to perform their predefined roles. For example, a healthcare company that uses Microsoft Teams to deliver remote patient consultations should never have to share access to its Teams data with anyone who has no specific need to access confidential patient communications and healthcare information.

Why do we need zero trust security now?

Zero trust security is not a new concept, having first surfaced in 2010 when a Forrester analyst redefined the front lines of cybersecurity. This was around the time when the notion of the perimeter started to break down as more and more enterprises turned to cloud computing to reduce costs and scale with demand.

Onward to the 2020s, and the original concept of the perimeter is all but gone as a growing number of organizations store all, or almost all, of their data in third-party systems delivered by a myriad of vendors in different countries and jurisdictions. The rise of remote work, especially in the wake of the pandemic, has further blurred the lines. For example, business collaboration and communication platforms like Teams now play a key role in distributed work environments by offering limitless scalability and accessibility. However, that heightened accessibility, while essential to modern business operations, also means the potential for a data breach or leak is significantly higher.

Zero trust is all about eliminating trust from an environment regardless of location. Everyone and everything is considered a potential threat until proven otherwise. Although zero trust is not explicitly required by many regulatory compliance regimes, it does go a long way towards meeting their demands. After all, having control over your data and communications is crucial to keeping it safe. By contrast, the traditional castle-and-moat approach to security follows the trust but verify model, in which everything begins with inferred trust within a particular network. 

In today’s distributed work and cloud computing environments, that perimeter no longer exists. For example, a Teams user in your organization might be joining a call from their own device in an unfamiliar location from an unknown network. Since it is not practical to apply security and compliance measures across all those variables, they must instead be applied to the data itself.

This means that, not only must the data be fully encrypted both at rest and in transit; any attempt to access it must be verified using multi-factor authentication. Furthermore, the principle of least privilege holds that access to data be granted only based on the individual’s role.

How zero trust helps scale compliance and security

Many enterprises have yet to update their legacy computing frameworks to fulfil mandates like GDPR and CCPA. Others are still struggling to overcome the complexity of having fragmented computing environments comprising public and private clouds and in-house data centers. In either case, compliance with evermore stringent regulations demands a universal approach that applies to all your data-bearing assets. Zero trust security is the approach you need to be using, since it helps you adhere to all compliance directives with the most stringent possible auditing and controls. 

Zero trust security is inherently scalable, since it can be applied to a huge number of different systems, regardless of where they reside or which third-party vendors deliver them. If, for example, a particular app or device does not meet the demands of your zero trust policies, then it will not be granted access to any other assets used by your organization.

On the other hand, some of those apps or devices might be essential to normal business operations, in which case you need a way to retain ownership and control of the data they store or process. For Teams users, our solution adds an extra layer of security to keep your most sensitive digital assets safe and better manage third-party risk.

Final words

The zero trust paradigm might sound harsh, but the truth is it is not all about not trusting your employees to do their part to uphold the demands of security and compliance. The principle of least privilege, for example, holds that employees can be accidentally negligent, especially when working from home in less secure environments. On top of that is the constantly growing risk of social engineering attacks, which are specifically intended to sneak past the traditional moat-and-castle model. These are the reasons why zero trust security is vital for managing third-party risk and adhering to the demands of a constantly advancing regulatory landscape. 

Worldr brings zero-trust security to Microsoft Teams in minutes without disrupting your current deployment. Request a demo today to see our solution in action.

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