Zero Trust Authentication: The Key to Securing Remote Access

Zero Trust Authentication: The Key to Securing Remote Access

The trend toward remote and hybrid work looks set to stay. But with a growing offsite workforce comes an expanded attack surface, and research suggests that remote work gains may have come at the expense of cybersecurity. 

Major attacks involving a mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) device increased by 22% between 2021 and 2022, according to the latest Mobile Security Index from Verizon. Attacks are also becoming more sophisticated. Malicious actors are increasingly gaining access to organizations’ networks with valid credentials, bypassing multi-factor authentication (MFA) and VPNs, and rendering the traditional security perimeter obsolete.

So while it’s vital that employees, contractors, and partners have access to network and cloud resources wherever they are, it’s no longer enough to protect remote access with passwords, first-generation MFA, and VPNs. The new gold standard in network security is Zero Trust Authentication.    

What is Zero Trust Authentication?

The zero trust security model, based on the principle that every connection and endpoint is a threat, was developed to answer the challenges of modern attacks. No source is trusted by default, and all access requests must be authorized, authenticated, and encrypted, whether they originate from inside or outside the organization’s traditional network perimeter.

The foundation of that strategy is Zero Trust Authentication. Unlike traditional security models that adopt a once-and-done approach, Zero Trust Authentication focuses on establishing high trust in user and device identity, achieving high confidence in device security, and continuously assessing risk. 

How to implement Zero Trust Authentication

To transition from a traditional authentication strategy to Zero Trust Authentication, you must address seven requirements:

  • Eliminate passwords. Using passwords allows malicious actors to gain access with valid credentials, which they can easily obtain from users, hack from databases, or buy on the dark web. Passwordless authentication removes this opportunity.
  • Use phishing-resistant MFA. First-generation MFA using codes, one-time passwords, and magic links enables phishing, adversary-in-the-middle, and other attacks. In contrast, factors like biometrics and cryptographic keys are bound to the user’s device, making them highly phishing-resistant.
  • Validate user devices. Traditional authentication measures fall short in their ability to validate devices reliably. To achieve Zero Trust Authentication, you must ensure that requesting devices are bound to a user and authorized to access information assets.
  • Verify device security posture. Rather than implicitly trusting that a device aligns with your organization’s security policies and is not infected, it’s important to verify its settings and confirm that security controls are enabled and the device is clean. 
  • Use multiple risk signals. Whereas traditional authentication doesn’t make full use of the security ecosystem, Zero Trust Authentication collects and analyzes risk signals from a myriad of sources. Using data from endpoints and security and IT management tools, a policy engine can make risk-based decisions, even for BYOD and unmanaged devices.  
  • Assess risk continuously. One-time risk assessment is no longer enough, given that user identity or device security posture can change after the initial authentication. Evaluating risk throughout a session gives you the opportunity to take appropriate action if a threat is detected.    
  • Leverage the entire security ecosystem. Rather than implementing a collection of isolated systems, you can improve risk detection and your response to suspicious behavior by integrating a variety of tools in the security infrastructure.

The benefits of Zero Trust Authentication for remote access 

The central principle of zero trust security is never trust, always verify—no user or device is trusted inherently. To protect remote access to your organization’s resources, therefore, you must continuously assess user identity and device security posture, but it’s critical to do this in a way that doesn’t harm productivity. Fortunately, when done right, Zero Trust Authentication allows you to marry robust security with an enhanced user experience.

It also provides a range of other benefits, allowing you to:

  • Push security to the forefront and prevent incidents instead of simply responding to them after the fact by continuously monitoring, evaluating, and responding to user and device security threats. 
  • Ensure that only authorized users can access critical resources by eliminating phishable factors. 
  • Shore up gaps in security with increased visibility and control over authenticating endpoints in your fleet, including BYOD and unmanaged devices.
  • Improve compliance with government requirements. In particular, NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has recommended transitioning to a zero trust architecture. Meanwhile, the US cyber defense agency CISA has strongly urged all organizations to implement phishing-resistant MFA.
  • Achieve more robust utilization of existing security tooling by adopting an integrated security approach where access control is risk-based, ingests signals from MDMs, EDRs, and XDRs, and enriches risk and fraud analytics.

Zero Trust Authentication is the gold standard for remote access

In Verizon’s 2022 Mobile Security Index, 79% of companies surveyed said that recent changes in remote working had adversely affected their organization’s cybersecurity. Yet, while the growth in offsite workers has certainly posed a challenge, Zero Trust Authentication allows you to protect remote access with unparalleled security while simultaneously driving productivity.

By working through the seven points required to implement Zero Trust Authentication, you can achieve high trust in user and device identity continuously and make intelligent authentication decisions in real time. As the leading provider of Zero Trust Authentication solutions, Beyond Identity can help you lay the foundations of your zero trust strategy. To find out more, book a demo today

Want to learn more about Zero Trust Authentication? Check out Zero Trust Authentication: Securing User and Device Access for a Distributed, Multi-Cloud World. This book is the ultimate resource for implementing the passwordless, phishing-resistant authentication that underpins zero trust.

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