Industry Trends

A Discussion on Zero-Trust Network Access

CISO on CISO Perspectives

With an ever-expanding digital infrastructure, an increasingly sophisticated threat landscape, and a growing skills gap, IT and OT leaders are facing pressure daily to establish and maintain trust in their networks. The situation has become even more challenging in recent months with the need to secure remote work around the world.  

To find out more about these challenges, we met digitally with two of Fortinet’s Field CISOs – Alain Sanchez and Courtney Radke – to discuss the need for implementing Zero-Trust Network Access in today’s evolving networks and expanding threat landscape. 

Q: Can you share some perspective on why Zero-Trust Network Access is more critical than ever? 

Alain - The sophistication of the threat landscape has extended to new classes of attacks that aim at inflicting damages while remaining silent. They are targeting IT and OT devices, and the industrial systems that manage production in segments such as manufacturing, energy, and pharmaceutical. And now, the current pandemic is accelerating the need for full automation of production.

As production relies more and more on sophisticated regulation, no sensor, application, or user should by default be allowed to influence the running of any critical infrastructure or process. Due to the precision and speed of production required, any malicious order or fake value sent into the process can have devastating effects.

Access to network resources can be compared to the physical access to a controlled building. The default state of all entry doors need to be set to “closed.” Access rules needs to be dynamically refreshed with real time authentication systems. An individual’s credentials should not just be established at the exterior door, but throughout the building. And the overall behavior of that individual while inside the building should be monitored against a machine-learning baseline profile so that actions can be taken should that individual begin behaving badly. 

This holistic vision of a trust that is continuously earned rather than granted once for all access requires a full integration of the entire security ecosystem. The moment you have a subcomponent that can’t be pinged and dynamically compared to a model of how it is supposed to behave, you’re in danger of breaking the security chain. As CISOs discover such weak links within their controlled systems, they have to make hard decisions about who is allowed to do what. The best solution is to opt for a scalable security system that can establish and monitor a Zero-Trust Network Access model.  

Q: The growth of devices is key to the need for ZTNA. Can you share some best practices for managing this exponential growth in terms of security?  

Alain - Act quickly, never hastily. Similarly, exponential growth should not be a reason for trading security for speed. Of course, the CISO must be the guardian of this principle. Even if enterprises have to catch up on months of production and backorders, security must remain a priority. 

The second ally of the security team is automation. Automation is an outgrowth of proper planning, and can save precious time in detecting and responding to threats. Once a ZTNA policy has been designed and adapted to the level of risk that your business is comfortable with, the deployment of that policy then needs to be orchestrated to reach the level of scalability required in large infrastructures.  

Q: Where are the areas or technologies that provide the most "bang for your buck" with regards to securing organizations using the Zero-Trust model?

Courtney - Maintaining a strong perimeter is a key to success, although most would have you believe the perimeter no longer matters or is too undefinable to control. Has it expanded and grown more complicated? Absolutely. But it is by no means uncontrollable, nor should it be ignored. The sharing of information and the building of context and baselines of your users, devices, and network becomes pivotal to the success of a "Zero-Trust" model. This also allows for easier implementation of MFA (multifactor authentication—another key technology) and is the basis for NBA (Network Behavior Analytics) and UEBA (User and Environment Behavior Analytics) technologies, both of which are designed to protect a network from harm and allow for quicker identification and remediation once harm has been done.

Let me give a retail example. Retail is something we all understand since we all “experience” retail on a daily basis. As a tangible example, given the nature of retail today where omni-channel is the norm, implementing a Zero-Trust model is more challenging than ever. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, omnichannel is a cross-channel content strategy that organizations use to improve user experience and drive better relationships with their customers across multiple points of contact. The purpose of providing omnichannel experiences is to unlock doors to the consumers and remove barriers wherever possible. It enables retailers to expand to new demographics and open up new revenue streams through technology, which is now required to remain competitive in today's market. Unfortunately, however, every door you open to better enable customer engagement also provides new opportunities, and new attack vectors, for threat actors to compromise your business. Protecting these solutions requires carefully controlling who and what has access to internal systems, data, and devices.

Q: Is there anything about Zero-Trust Network Access that some CISOs may not have considered? 

Alain - Zero Trust Network Access is a very strong concept, and a necessary approach as more and more business-critical and life-critical processes are becoming fully digital. However, for people not versed in cybersecurity, the word might carry negative connotations. Wrongly interpreted, it might resonate as if the network, the PC, the applications, or in fact the entire digital ecosystem will stop recognizing its users. It can be seen as a barrier to productivity. 

But nothing could be further from the truth. ZTNA is a foundational pillar of any effective security strategy. It actually enables the right person to have immediate access to the resources they need to do their job, while eliminating the risks and downtime that can result from unauthorized access. However, to advocate for the adoption of necessary security solutions such as this, especially in these times of rapid change, CISOs need to do more and more communication and education. They will find themselves not only needing to explain what needs to change and why, but more importantly, how these changes will benefit the organization, especially to those teams that have, until now, been operating their section of the network based on a legacy notion of implicit trust.

Discover how Fortinet’s Zero-Trust Network Access framework allows organizations to identify, authenticate, and monitor users and devices on and off the network.