Why America Needs Data-Centric Zero-Trust

The concept of network-based zero-trust is a popular commodity across the cybersecurity sector, but as surprising as it may sound, most approaches to the concept are a byproduct of an outdated legacy mindset. A simple Google search for zero-trust will produce countless articles detailing the vast benefits of access control, two-factor authentication and zero-trust network access (ZTNA). While all three components do offer value to an organization’s cybersecurity posture, the methodology of network-based zero-trust still fails to address the real root of the issue plaguing companies. 

Why? Because adding layered zero-trust architecture from the perimeter doesn’t protect the most valuable assets inside of it: Sensitive unstructured data. 

In order to make meaningful progress in our fight against cybercrime, the cybersecurity community must part ways with its network-based zero-trust legacy model in favor of an innovative, data-centric approach that safeguards high-value assets coveted by threat actors. President Biden’s May executive order on cybersecurity emphasized exactly that, as did an August report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee. It’s time we put their recommendations into action. 

By shifting to data-centric zero-trust methodologies—like those employed by cyberstorage products, for example—organizations across both the public and private sectors can take proactive steps to combat the escalating prevalence of insider threats, ransomware and nation-state attacks amidst an evolving threat landscape.

Aligning Zero-Trust With Digital Transformation

Dating back to the early 1990s, traditional network architectures were designed to follow the inherent trust principle. Sure, that may have worked 30 years ago, but the rapid ascendance of cloud and hybrid-cloud migration, IT-OT integration, IoT and mobile device usage, edge computing and remote workforce structures has since rendered inherent trust ineffective and obsolete. While this total digital transformation of the way we do business is what created the vulnerabilities that exist today, our failure to adapt is what continues to leave us susceptible to threats. 

In turn, the need for data protection now extends beyond internal networks alone—cloud applications, mobile devices and individual user access all must be meticulously verified and monitored for potential anomalies, as well. Unlike network-based zero-trust which prioritizes the outside-in approach, data-centric zero-trust is better equipped to offer a deeper layer of security that enables organizations to operate safely in any environment whether that be the core, edge or cloud. Any compromise within network-based zero-trust models will create a vulnerability that translates into a risk, which then translates into an exploit and then into a loss of data assets. However, with data-centric zero-trust, the ripple effects of a compromise are minimized through real-time detection and response at the point where the data is stored and accessed. 

Tech That Protects Data at the Core 

The legacy network-centric security model suffers from one critical flaw: The assumption that there is a distinction between a good actor and a bad actor. Today’s reality is that both are simply actors and there’s no reliable way to determine on a continual basis who is good and who is bad. One cannot detect good and bad people—only good and bad behavior. 

From the perspective of data, as is prescribed in a data-centric zero-trust model, what actors do is more important than who they are. Malicious or benevolent activity is determined by the result of an action, and not the act itself. Cyberstorage solutions are designed just for this purpose. By combining unstructured data storage functionality with active security protections which continually monitor behavior, these solutions can understand when a good actor becomes a bad actor and selectively prevent data destruction events, theft or sabotage. 

Cyberstorage solutions not only provide data protection but also complete an organization’s cybersecurity ecosystem with real-time insights and data visibility that external-based network systems are incapable of producing. This empowers organizations with the agility required to formulate swift cybersecurity defense measures that mitigate damages across their entire organization. 

As the threat of cybercrime continues to rise by the day, we need to begin viewing zero-trust with a fresh perspective that can strengthen America’s cybersecurity posture for years to come. Network access control and two-factor authentication won’t get us there alone, but a data-centric approach that prioritizes the protection of our most critical assets will.  

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Eric Bednash

Eric Bednash is co-founder and CEO of RackTop Systems.

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