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Blog Post

In a Zero-Trust World, Is Identity the New Perimeter?

By Tobias Naegele

April 5, 2018

As the network perimeter morphs from physical to virtual, the old Tootsie Pop security model – hard shell on the outside with a soft and chewy center – no longer works. The new mantra, as Mittal Desai, chief information security officer (CISO) at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at the ATARC CISO Summit: “Never trust, double verify.”

The zero-trust model modernizes conventional network-based security for a hybrid cloud environment. As agencies move systems and storage into the cloud, networks are virtualized and security naturally shifts to users and data. That’s easy enough to do in small organizations, but rapidly grows harder with the scale and complexity of an enterprise.

Zero-trust security first surfaced five years ago in a Forrester Research report prepared for the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). “The zero-trust model is simple,” Forrester posited then. “Cybersecurity professionals must stop trusting packets as if they were people. Instead, they must eliminate the idea of a trusted network (usually the internal network) and an untrusted network (external networks). In zero-trust, all network traffic is untrusted.”

Cloud adoption by its nature is forcing the issue, said Department of Homeland Security Chief Technology Officer Mike Hermus, speaking at a recent Tech + Tequila event: “It extends the data center,” he explained. “The traditional perimeter security model is not working well for us anymore. We have to work toward a model where we don’t trust something just because it’s within our boundary. We have to have strong authentication, strong access control – and strong encryption of data across the entire application life cycle.”

Indeed, as other network security features mature, identity – and the access that goes with it – is now the most common cybersecurity attack vector. Hackers favor phishing and spear-phishing attacks because they’re inexpensive and effective – and the passwords they yield are like the digital keys to an enterprise. And while about 65 percent of data breaches are due to stolen credentials, less than 5 percent of cybersecurity investment is applied to identity and access management, according to Gartner’s market analysis.

“The future state of commercial cloud computing makes identity and role-based access paramount,” said Rob Carey, vice president for cybersecurity and cloud solutions within the Global Solutions division at General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT). Carey recommends creating both a framework for better understanding the value of identity management tools, and metrics to measure that impact. “Knowing who is on the network with a high degree of certainty has tremendous value.”