Implementing Zero Trust Security

Some old-school admins are still philosophizing about secure internal networks, but the experts have already moved on: Zero trust architectures use a reliable but complex strategy to protect the network from all threats – inside and outside.

In the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, it has now long been clear that many companies are likely to remember the virus as beneficial to their own business. VPN solution vendors definitely fall into this category: When home office and teleworking mutated from the exception to the rule in many companies, existing VPN solutions became substantially more in-demand. Hardly anyone expected the load on the VPN gateways to explode overnight. The large network manufacturers were happy to help out their customers as many admins purchased more powerful systems for OpenVPN (Figure 1).

But do VPNs really solve the problem of network security? Many experts are not so sure. Implicitly, all parties involved with VPNs start from the following premise: There is a difference between the internal and the external network, and it is safe to treat internal clients differently from external clients. VPNs are regularly used specifically because admins do not want certain services to be accessible from the Internet at all. In many companies, VPNs form part of a security architecture that has grown organically over many years. Because security requirements have increased continuously over the past two decades, companies have invested more and more money in private networks and cut off more and more services from the outside world.

But cutting off external users only solves part of the problem. The classic division into an insecure external and a secure internal network implicitly assumes several things. First of all, it assumes that you can reasonably make assumptions about expected usage behavior based on location. This misguided narrative invites the belief that the company’s own employees couldn’t possibly mean any harm, unlike sinister hackers who hack into other people’s environments from the Internet. Another faulty assumption is that you can safely make inferences about who the client is and what permissions they should have based on location. Anyone who makes it onto the internal network is automatically considered trustworthy and enjoys expanded privileges, including access to infrastructure components that remain closed to external clients.

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