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A Deep Dive Into Zero Trust: Application Security’s Impact On Data Protection

You likely know by now that cybersecurity threats are on the rise, with so many incidents occupying our newsfeeds these days – like the recent second LCBO data breach of the year, the Cornwall hospital cyberattack, or the major attacks on renowned astronomical observatories.

But what you might not know is that though cybercriminals almost always seek your data, they most commonly exploit our software as the means for achieving that goal. 

That’s why it’s critical to work on securing your applications so their associated data remains safe. Luckily, the popular Zero Trust cybersecurity framework helps businesses comprehensively address the increasingly sophisticated criminal tactics that may overwhelm them. 

In this article, we explore how your software works within the framework. You’ll leave with a better understanding of application security and the best practices for steering your digital operations through calmer waters.


What is Zero Trust?

This more modern cybersecurity approach goes beyond looking at the tools you install to embracing a new philosophy that reframes your perspective on security. Until recently, we’ve treated our networks as fortresses that keep intruders outside. We must treat everyone as a possible threat, whether inside or outside our networks.

These three Zero Trust principles will form the core of your strategy:

1) Verify explicitly: Design a system that uses all available information to make authentication and authorization decisions whenever an identity or device attempts to access your network and software.

2) Least privileged access: Only grant user access to the areas and data required to complete the task – and only for the time needed. 

3) Assume breach: Act as if a threat has already infiltrated your network. Implement tactics to reduce the harm a bad actor can cause and prevent them from accessing other areas of your network.

Implementing these core principles into action requires applying them to navigate your organization’s six key pillars: data, identity, network, infrastructure, devices, and, most relevantly for this article, your applications.


Why do you need to prioritize application security?

Applications should play a central role in your cybersecurity strategy. Your business requires them to function because they are likely targets for cyber threats. 

Your users rely on your software as the primary interface between them and all your network’s digital assets. However, since our systems are an essential infrastructure component for performing critical daily tasks, they contain sensitive and proprietary data, including user credentials, financial information, software code, and more. 

As a result, unsecured systems can seriously damage your employee productivity and cause massive disruptions to your operations.

Your software tools offer many opportunities for vulnerability to exploit, whether through outdated components, design flaws, or coding errors. Attackers can use these weaknesses as an entry point to access and compromise your data.

According to one report from IBM, data breaches cost businesses $4.35 million on average, and if remote work played a role in the breach, the cost increased by $1 million.

Beyond the immediate financial losses, you may face more permanent economic damage if customers stop believing you can provide a secure environment that gives them the needed services. 

Your user experience is paramount to business success. By securing your system to minimize a bad actor’s impact, businesses can still leverage the benefits of cloud-native applications and securely work from anywhere. 


What part do your applications play within the framework?

Adopting an application-centered Zero Trust framework means your staff can continue to depend on digital tools in a more secure environment. This approach allows you to prioritize security while ensuring access to the necessary resources for optimal productivity.

However, these platforms play a pivotal role in the efficacy of your overarching strategy. Your network leverages these tools to:

  • Tailor the verification process, determining if a user or device trying to connect should be authorized based on factors like their needs, location, roles, and more.
  • Enhance access decisions. Before granting access to your entire infrastructure, consider the apps already present on a user’s device. These can offer valuable insights into their reliability.
  • Monitor network activity and detect threats. Platforms provide rich information on user behaviour and access patterns to help identify anomalies.
  • Safeguard data and counteract threats by introducing measures like ‘microsegmentation’ to diminish the potential attack surface.


Best Practices for Implementing Application-Centered Security Strategies in Your Organization

Now that you understand how applications support your digital operations, it’s time to take the necessary actions to safeguard them and your entire network by implementing expert-backed best practices.

Reign in any “Shadow IT.”

When a workplace doesn’t provide the guidance or software necessary for completing a task at work, employees may use or install their apps and software without oversight from your organization’s IT department. For example, employees working from home may use their Dropbox or Google Drive, meaning your company-owned data may exist in unsecured locations.

To address this, 

  • Dedicate time to analyzing the tools of your organization.
  • Implement policy controls to ensure that your staff uses only approved company software. Additionally, prevent them from installing personal software on the network and ensure they have the appropriate in-app permissions.
  • Create documentation of corporate-approved platforms.

Embracing a Zero Trust framework allows you to maintain control over your infrastructure and achieve a consistent security approach across the diverse applications you use.

Use real-time analytics to inform access decisions

Installing tools that provide visibility into overall activity and data within your system is essential to detect unusual behavior and threats. Additionally, these tools allow you to monitor and regulate user actions.

Microsegment your applications

Here’s where the Zero Trust principle of least privileged access comes into play. Your organization should establish a system that determines access based on user roles, ensuring that individuals only have access to the necessary files and programs within each application. For example, employees shouldn’t be able to access financial information or HR folders on your network if it’s irrelevant to their tasks.

By segmenting, you can effectively reduce the potential damage zone, or the scope of disruption a malicious actor can cause. If users are limited to a specific portion of your network, their movement to other sections is naturally curtailed.


We Can Elevate Your Application Security

With applications serving as a pathway to your data for cybercriminals, their security needs to be a top priority. Otherwise, you can face disrupted operations and productivity with severe financial repercussions.

Thankfully, keeping up with evolving security threats is possible with an organization-wide Zero Trust philosophy. This framework can help your organization use your platforms confidently to achieve business success while integrating them as an essential component in your cybersecurity arsenal.

At PC Corp, you’ll find an expert team skilled in implementing robust Zero Trust strategies. By choosing our Managed I.T. services, you’ll receive the solutions necessary to turn this framework from a concept into a reality.

Connect with us to see how our partnership can help you build a more secure digital future. 

Want to explore this topic further? Learn more about all six pillars in this recording of our recent Zero Trust webinar.

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