In some ways, being alive during the Covid-19 pandemic is rather fascinating. No rational person would say that they enjoy it, yet there are some positives that have come about during this era, along with a whole slew of negatives. Even during a time when the coronavirus has brought about many serious problems, it has also precipitated significant progress in some niches.
The zero-trust security model would be one example of that. It existed before the pandemic, but many more companies and industries have embraced it as a result of more working from home. In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into what the zero-trust model means, why it works so well right now, and what it might allow to happen in the future.
What Exactly Does “Zero-Trust” Mean?
Zero trust is a particular security model. Some companies had adapted it or were thinking of doing so before the pandemic began, but Covid-19 certainly accelerated its acceptance in many more industries. As the JumpCloud company notes, throughout the pandemic, “small to medium-sized enterprise teams have been challenged” to securely enable remote work.
Essentially, zero trust is a model that works well when you have many more individuals working from their homes than used to be the case. Specifically, you might have a company that’s running what most people call the hybrid business model. This simply means you have some people working for a company from a centralized location while others work from home.
The ratio might be 50-50, or it could even be something like 90-10, with 90% of workers sitting at home in their bedrooms, working on their computers. The remaining 10% might still come into a central location if the company heads determine that’s the right move.
The zero-trust model means that the old perimeter security network is obsolete. Instead, there are technological safeguards in place that allow the companies in question to manage and secure user identities like never before. This is something that needs to happen if many different companies in a variety of niches are going to remain active during this unprecedented global crisis.
Why This Model Works So Well Now
If you look at what’s happening with the hybrid model and remote work right now, it makes total sense why the zero-trust model should come on so strong at this particular moment. Think of it this way. Even before the pandemic, many companies relied on IT teams to set up and maintain their network security.
Each company had its network that its workers could use when they needed to communicate with each other, work on projects together, and so forth.
These small or medium-sized IT teams faced a challenge when the pandemic began. It quickly became apparent that lockdowns would happen, and many workers would have to shelter in place. Companies could either close their doors entirely because of this, or they could set up a remote work system and continue bringing in some money during this transitional time.
The zero-trust security model meant coming up with new network security features or relying more on proven ones. IT teams were able to discount older, obsolete protocols once and for all. As for the rest of a company’s workers, they would simply follow along with what the IT team told them to do.
This made two things very clear. The first is how valuable an IT team is to a company. Most businesses knew this intuitively, but the pandemic drove this point home forcefully in a way that had never happened before.
The other point that Covid-19 made abundantly clear is that hybrid work and working from home can indeed happen on a wide scale. Businesses or bosses who had felt otherwise at one point could no longer make those claims. This forced experiment revealed that the hybrid work model and working from home were things that could realistically happen across many companies and niches.
How Well IT Workers Are Handling This New Era
It would definitely be a mistake to think that just because the zero-trust security model exists, that IT workers are breezing right through this era. That could not be further from the truth. Instead, if you were to say that some IT teams are barely holding their companies together, that would be a more accurate statement.
Many IT professionals feel tremendous pressure to allow their company to keep functioning, regardless of how many employees work from home and how many still commute to a central office. One stat stands out in particular.
IT professionals responded to the statement, “I am overwhelmed trying to manage remote work.” Of the number queried, 43% agreed with that assessment, while another 23% strongly agreed. That means that only 25% disagreed, while only 9% strongly disagreed.
Those are not the most encouraging numbers. It means that while the hybrid model and new zero-trust security features are helping bring on this new era, it’s far from a comfortable time for the IT crews that are working so hard to keep businesses functioning.
Zero Trust Security Basics
In the present time, zero trust models are popping up that companies feel make the most sense for them. Some of them are bespoke systems, while others are out-of-the-box varieties that you could refer to as SaaS, or software as a service. Most IT professionals will know all about SaaS since many companies rent software suites instead of buying them.
This makes sense to do because if you rent software instead of buying it, you leave it up to the software’s creator to update it, installing plugins and taking care of other system maintenance. This way, your own IT crew does not have to do that, and they can focus on other areas within your company.
Whether a company has their own bespoke zero trust model or they rent one from an outside creator, these systems typically have a few features in common. For instance, they usually start with a trusted identity element. This means the system has a feature that confirms the user.
Next up is a trusted device element. This means the system verifies the device should be able to use it, and it also protects that device while it’s connected.
A trusted network is the next requirement. This means the system has to secure the network path so there is no chance that a hacker is getting through via this potentially vulnerable area.
Authorization policies are the final element. The IT team or individual sets up the network so that the least privileged authorization can access the appropriate resources, but nothing beyond that.
The Zero Trust Model in Totality
In summation, a user who’s accessing a system through the zero-trust model has to demonstrate that they are who they say they are. They must show that their device is an appropriate one to access the company’s network. They must also show that the connection is trustworthy, or the system will rightly block them out.
This is what happens when you set up the zero-trust model. There are multiple checkpoints that make it nearly impossible for any unauthorized access to take place. Hackers are quite ingenious sometimes, and there might still be some way to get through, but this system model makes it so much more of a challenge for them.
Frankly, a hacker is more likely to look elsewhere if they’re trying a ransomware attack or something along those lines. The few companies that fail to employ this model will make much easier targets.
The zero-trust model works very well right now, but you have to wonder about the future. Technology will always move forward, and the hybrid work model seems to be here to stay, even if we manage to eradicate Covid-19 one of these days.
Workers have seen that they can do their daily tasks for companies, and there is no valid reason for them to continue commuting now that most of the lockdowns are a thing of the past. Some workers quit if their bosses tried to make them come back in to the office.
The zero-trust model is a double-edged sword for companies that don’t like the idea of most of their employees working from home. There is little these bosses or company heads can do, though.
Technology like the zero-trust model has certain features, but none of them are really immutable. While we’ve explained what the basic elements are, nothing says any of them can’t change as new technological developments occur in the months and years to come.
Zero-trust is a model that we’re only starting to use to its full abilities. You could argue, as many IT professionals do, that we’re only scratching the surface.
This is tech that the IT profession continues to develop by necessity. The reality is, though, that’s often how the greatest of human innovations come about. This is one of the only ways you can see something as awful as the pandemic as a positive.