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What is zero trust security for applications and workloads?

Posted 25th Feb 2024 by Travis Swientek
What is zero trust security for applications and workloads?

Teleport not only secures access to applications, workloads, and services with zero trust, it also builds in zero trust for communication throughout the entire infrastructure stack.

Zero Trust refers to the shift from relying on traditional network security to govern access to employing the foundational principle of “never trust, always verify” to govern authentication and enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) principles for each access request. One of the prominent trends of a zero trust model is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), which focuses on authentication methods for governing access to network resources and endpoints. This marks a significant departure from past practices that implicitly trusted users and devices within a corporate network while viewing external entities with suspicion. The advent of cloud environments, SaaS applications, and the ubiquity of remote work following the pandemic have necessitated a more dynamic and adaptive security strategy over older models of network security.

Zero Trust strategies challenge conventional norms by requiring that neither user nor device should be trusted by default, irrespective of their position relative to the corporate network's traditional perimeter. This paradigm shift in cybersecurity ensures that access to resources is controlled and granted on a session-by-session basis. This control is influenced by a multitude of factors including but not limited to the user's identity, the security posture of their device, their geographical location, and observed behaviors.

ZTNA Frameworks

Elements of ZTNA frameworks include:

  • Identity-Centric Access Control: This method bases access decisions on the precise identity of users or devices, moving away from reliance on network location.
  • Least Privilege Access: This principle minimizes the attack surface by ensuring users have only the necessary permissions for their roles, combating potential vulnerabilities.
  • Dynamic, Context-Aware Access Policies: These policies adjust in real-time, reflecting changes in the security landscape or user context, thus enhancing threat protection.
  • Encryption and Microsegmentation: These techniques safeguard against lateral movement and eavesdropping by encrypting traffic and dividing the network into secure segments.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Analytics: Vital for identifying and mitigating security threats, this component of ZTNA facilitates a proactive security posture.

Zero Trust for Applications and Workloads

ZTNA, however, is just one piece of the puzzle. Most ZTNA technologies, although adept at securing zero trust access to networks, do not embed the identity and protocol-level information necessary to apply zero trust principles for application access or workload access in modern computing infrastructure. Infrastructure security leaders can solve this by evaluating vendors that focus on secure infrastructure access on a platform of zero trust, eliminating the need for firewalls or VPNs to secure data centers, clouds, and the technologies in them.

Teleport's Take

Teleport delivers on-demand least-privileged access on a foundation of cryptographic identity and zero trust. Because all users, machines, devices, and resources are enrolled with Teleport and assigned a cryptographic identity, Teleport can apply policy and the least privileged access on a fine-grained basis. Further, because Teleport employs a zero trust architecture, infrastructure can be securely accessed from anywhere without the need for firewalls, VPNs, bastion hosts, or other forms of proxy severs.

Teleport not only secures access to applications, workloads, and services with zero trust, it also builds in zero trust for communication throughout the entire infrastructure stack. This architecture significantly reduces the blast radius of attacks, making infrastructure resilient to identity-based attacks or human error, while providing engineers with the freedom to access infrastructure from any location. For organizations with large contractor groups, myriad subsidiaries, or frequent mergers or acquisitions, this solves the problem of configuring fragmented access security and reduces attack surface, supporting security initiatives related to reducing cybersecurity risk.

Zero trust architecture is not only limited to human users. DevOps automation can also embed zero-trust principles for machine or bot requests to infrastructure, whether on-premises or in cloud environments, supporting automated workflows. The ability to scale infrastructure access in this way lightens the load on security teams, reducing vulnerabilities, improving productivity for engineering organizations, and hardening cloud security.

Finally, zero trust for applications and workloads supports auditing strategies. With each access recording user and resource identity and protocol information, compliance officers have a much simpler task of generating the detailed reports they need to demonstrate compliance to regulations such as FedRAMP, SOC 2, HIPAA, and more and document security controls.

Companies have been observing the disintegration of perimeter security and taking steps to move from a implicit trust in their network model to one of zero trust. However, compute infrastructure still broadly depends on implicit trust, which present security risk in environments where identity-based attacks are on the rise. Zero trust to applications and cloud workloads addresses this issue and embeds explicit trust in infrastructure communication. Teleport Access Platform, with its focus on engineers and DevOps practices, ensures that the initiatives to harden security and security policies are coupled with improved engineer user experience, reducing the friction between security and engineering teams.

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What is zero trust security for applications and workloads?