Zero Trust, SASE-Digital Enablers or Adding Complexity to Cyber Ecosystems

By on Apr 13, 2020

Given the title of this article I suspect you are reading this because you have been in a recent situation where you have been asked the question “What is the difference between Zero Trust and SASE?”. I further suspect that the next question you were asked of course is “Which approach is right for my organization?”.  The reality is they are built upon a similar foundation of least privilege management and both matter in the bigger picture. The real question is how do you apply ZTA and SASE to your organization.

The answer is complex. Yes, this may seem like a classic consultant’s default position on just about any complicated question. In this case, it really does depend on several factors. First let’s look at the basic definitions of ZTA and SASE and their origins.

The term Zero Trust was first originated by the industry analyst Forrester a little over a decade ago. The initial concept focused on segmenting and securing the network across locations and hosting models and promoting the idea of the Zero Trust model — the need to challenge and eliminate the inherent trust assumptions in our security strategies that made us vulnerable to external and internal attacks.

Fast forward to the present, Zero Trust has evolved to a framework and or strategy as described by some industry experts. The current definition further extends the concept for secure network connectivity where the initial security posture has no implicit trust between different entities, regardless of whether they are inside or outside of the enterprise perimeter. Least-privilege access to networked capabilities is dynamically extended only after an assessment of the identity of the entity, the system and the context.

Secure Access Services Edge [“pronounced SASSY”] is a term defined by Gartner in 2019. SASE builds on the ZTA concept however credits digital business transformation and specifically introduces the concept that the future of network security will be in the cloud. The SASE model or framework promotes the concept which inverts network and security service design patterns, shifting the focal point to the identity of the user and/or device — not the data center. SASE suggests that Security and risk management leaders will need a converged cloud-delivered secure access service edge to address this shift.

The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has also weighed in on its definition of Zero Trust with the release of NIST SP 800-207. NIST goes on to define ZTA is not a single network architecture but a set of guiding principles in network infrastructure design and operation that can be used to improve the security posture of any classification or sensitivity level.

Many organizations already have elements of a ZTA and or SASE in their enterprise infrastructure today. Organizations should seek to prioritize the identification of architecture gaps against its current state and incrementally implement zero trust principles, process changes, and technology solutions that protect its data assets and business functions towards a future desired state outcome with measurable success criteria well defined in advance.

Most enterprise infrastructures will operate in a hybrid Zero Trust-SASE/Legacy mode for the next several years while continuing to invest in ongoing IT modernization initiatives and improving organization business processes. Organizations need to implement effective information security and resiliency practices for zero trust and SASE to be effective. When complemented with existing cybersecurity policies and guidance, identity and access management, continuous monitoring, and good cybersecurity best practices, ZTA and SASE can reinforce an organization’s security posture using a managed risk approach and protect against common and advanced threats.

Final thoughts on the path forward. Crawl, walk, run towards ZTA and SASE. Engage your security vendors and have them assist you with ZTA/SASE Workshops to assist with identifying your organizations priorities. Shared experiences with implementing ZTA and SASE are key to successful adoption. When exploring ZTA and SASE, remember you need a comprehensive device to cloud strategy.

About the Author

Ned Miller

Ned Miller is the Chief Technology Officer for McAfee’s US Public Sector Business Unit where he is primarily responsible for advising government customers with strategies to provide the most secure operating environments possible from device to cloud. Serving customer interests for more than three decades, Ned is an industry veteran. Working with government and commercial ...

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