Zero Trust Framework in Australian Cyber Security

Imagine, you’ve been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a luxurious mansion at Double Bay, Sydney for free. 

 But here’s a catch. 

The mansion has no locks, shutters, or security features. Will you still buy it? 

Absolutely, right? Because you can always install them before you move in. But what if you had to sign a contact that forced you to not install any sort of security measures- including locks. As a smart homeowner, that’s a big NO. The thought of any stranger walking in and stealing your valuables will always keep you from signing such a contract.

As a business person, you would not want the same to happen with your business and yet earlier this year, 164 Australian businesses reported cyber attacks in a single day. 

Why did that happen? Were the hackers too good or were the security measures too weak? Could be anything, but one thing is certain. Businesses lost their money and trust of their clients, while business owners lost their sleep. 

What can be done to prevent this? Zero trust framework is the answer. As for what is the ‘zero trust framework’ and why implementing zero trust framework in Australian cyber security is important, continue reading to find out.

Why Australian companies need to adopt zero trust framework

Before we understand why implementing zero trust framework in Australian cyber security is important, let’s first examine what the zero trust framework entails. 

The zero trust framework is a cybersecurity model that operates on the principle of least privilege access and explicit verification. In zero trust architecture, all users start with no access privileges by default. Access is then explicitly granted on a case-by-case basis based on identity and context.

Microsegmentation, multi-factor authentication, and granular access controls are used to limit exposure and maintain constant authentication. Now that you’ve understood the key principles of zero trust, let’s discuss why it’s becoming essential for companies in Australia.

According to the recent statistics

  • In 2022, Australia earned the title of ‘most frequently hacked nation’. 
  • On average it takes around 200 days for Australian businesses to detect a breach. 
  • Australian Cyber Security magazine states that an average data breach costs AUD 4.03 million- PER INCIDENT.

Furthermore, ever since the news of Optus data breach and the most recent one, Latitude data breach, you must’ve indirectly felt the tremors of the rise in cybercrime. These incidents demonstrate the urgent need for Australian companies to implement more rigorous controls like zero trust. By shifting from implicit trust to explicit verification, the potential blast radius of data breaches can be reduced.

How zero trust framework works

The zero trust framework in Australian cyber security operates on the principle of least privilege access, which means users are only granted the bare minimum level of access needed to perform their precisely defined duties and nothing more.

This minimises unnecessary exposure across the network and there are several techniques to achieve least privilege access:

Users should receive least-privilege access for specified period

With zero trust, access to the infrastructure is explicitly granted on a per-user basis based on the user's identity and context. For example, an employee in the marketing department would only receive access to the specific applications and data they need for their job function and for a specified period only. This just-in-time approach ensures users have the narrowest permissions possible.

Use micro-segmentation to maintain security

The network is divided into small, isolated segments called microsegments. This containment strategy helps limit the breach, as lateral movement is restricted. Granular access controls are applied at the microsegment level, enabling tight regulation of intra-segment and inter-segment user and workload access.

Access control minimises the network attack surface

Comprehensive access control lists regulate connectivity between individual users, endpoints, workloads, and network segments. This shrinks the overall surface area by reducing the number of pathways that attackers could exploit to move laterally. Access is continuously validated using multiple factors of authentication.

Access is continuously validated using multiple factors of authentication.

Multi-factor authentication verifies the user's identity beyond doubt before allowing access. In multi-factor authentication, users must authenticate using at least two factors before being granted access to applications, data, or infrastructure. This can be biometrics, security keys, or a password. .

Strong authentication requires three key elements

The 3 elements of strong authentication for zero trust framework in Australian cyber security are

  1. Something you know (like a password or PIN code)
  2. Something you have (such as a physical security token or mobile device)
  3. Something you are. (like a fingerprint or facial biometric)

By combining these three authentication elements, user identities can be securely validated at each access attempt. This prevents unauthorised lateral movement.

Stages of implementing zero trust framework

Implementing a zero trust framework in Australian cyber security is a phased journey typically comprised of three distinct stages:

Stage 1: Visualise

In the visualisation stage, organisations should aim to gain visibility into all assets, users, devices, and transactions across their environment. Additionally, comprehensive asset inventories should be created and network traffic flows between entities should be mapped. These dependencies are analysed to understand normal behaviour patterns and uncover anomalies. Data is aggregated from on-premises and cloud-based systems to build a unified view of the existing architecture.

Stage 2: Mitigate

Once deep visibility is established, the mitigation stage is set into motion. This stage involves rolling out access controls, microsegmentation, multi-factor authentication, encryption and other zero trust mechanisms. In the initial steps, these controls should be prioritised for high risk users, applications, and infrastructure to maximise risk reduction. Furthermore, legacy authentication systems may be replaced with modern protocols and the network segmentation is enacted to limit lateral movement.

Stage 3: Optimise

In the optimise stage, telemetry from endpoints and systems is continuously monitored using analytics tools. Machine learning algorithms can help identify suspicious anomalies automatically and address policy gaps or coverage issues. Later on, the security workflows are refined and incident response playbooks formalised. Additionally, controls are progressively automated where possible using orchestration and robotics automation. This achieves efficient security operations. This staged approach allows for a gradual transition that is carefully tested before organisation-wide rollout. With each stage focusing on a specific goal, both IT teams and end users are given sufficient time to adapt.

The Benefits of Zero Trust Adoption

Implementing a zero trust framework in Australian cyber security provides numerous benefits that collectively strengthen an organisation’s overall security

1. Effective access control

The granular nature of zero trust access permissions enables precise least privilege and need-to-know access. This significantly reduces risk by limiting user permissions and lateral movement. 

Role-based access control and just-in-time privileges grant only validated access.

2. Borderless strategy

To make sure things stay safe and sound, “Secure by Design” needs things like strong access controls, encrypted data, secure coding practices, and network security measures such as firewalls and intrusion detection.

This enables secure workload mobility and multi-cloud flexibility, this means the security policy is unified rather than fragmented. Additionally, a borderless zero-trust strategy can save organizations a lot of money

3. Reduced risk

Zero trust  frameworks shrink the attack surface through microsegmentation, access controls, and multi-factor authentication. 

This approach makes it 300% more difficult for a hacker to successfully laterally breach an organisation. 

4. Increased network security

Zero trust mechanisms like micro-segmentation, endpoint security, and adaptive access controls not only fundamentally strengthen network defences and resiliency but they also make it 10× harder for an organisation to be hacked, thereby achieving  holistic protection. . 

5. Reduced impact from data breach

Microsegmentation prevents lateral movement of attackers and makes it (according to some studies) about 450% more difficult by applying a ring-fencing policy. This application helps in protection of any organisation’s sensitive data.

6. Improved data protection

Sensitive and high value data is much better protected and less exposed to compromise due to reduced accessibility and robust encryption.

7. Achieve continuous compliance

Since zero trust aligns well with compliance requirements around access controls, network segmentation, multi-factor authentication and data security. Maintaining compliance becomes easier 

8. Improved visibility, detection, and response

As machine learning continuously improves detection accuracy, it assists Unified visibility and behaviour analytics to detect data breaches at an unprecedented speed. 

9. Enables modernization of the workforce with a secure solution

Zero trust principles secure both legacy and modern IT environments, allowing digital transformation initiatives to progress smoothly without risk.

Final Word

Zero trust is rapidly becoming the new standard for cybersecurity in Australia. To get ahead of threats, companies should actively evaluate zero trust frameworks from vendors combined with policy and process changes. 

By incrementally reducing implicit trust and proactively verifying all connections, risk is substantially lowered. With breaches on the rise, zero trust framework in Australian cyber security provides a path to a more resilient security posture.

FAQs about Zero Trust framework

Q1: What are the principles of zero trust security?

The core principles of zero trust framework in Australian cyber security are least privilege access, strict identity verification, microsegmentation, and assuming breach. Implementing these reduces the exposure to malicious attacks. 

Q2: How can you apply zero trust?

 IT teams can take a phased approach, first mapping assets and flows, then adding access controls, MFA, encryption, and consolidating visibility and analytics.

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