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A Datacentric World Enabled by Zero Trust

Zero trust and the cyber protections that come with it will allow for increased data access, information sharing and decision-making.

The cybersecurity constructs of zero trust will provide protections against lateral movement by attackers in networks and systems. Its properties will facilitate the identification of humans, devices and sensors on networks, and control access in complex digital environments. This in turn, will allow for increased data access, information sharing and decision-making. Ultimately, zero trust will enable a datacentric world, experts say.

At the TechNet Indo-Pacific conference in Honolulu on November 2, AFCEA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA (Ret.), led a discussion on expected data inroads from employing zero trust with industry executives Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, USA (Ret.), senior vice president for Technology and Solutions at CACI; Imran Umar, chief engineer, Booz Allen Hamilton; Cuong Nguyen, vice president, Public Sector, Aerospike Inc.; and Patrick Perry, senior director, Federal Strategy, Zscaler U.S. Government Solutions.

Zero-trust architecture will incorporate automated, digital identity management in ways not seen before, which will verify who and what is connected to a network, Gen. Gallagher said.

“It is the ability to analyze data at scale and have the ability to have machine recommendations for human decision-making at speed, the ability to sense, understand, decide, act and assess, all at a pace faster than our adversary,” he noted. “If we can get to the point where we know who you are, and we have our data tagged and we can get to multilevel security [data exchange] ... . With the identities of individuals, the identities of sensors, the identities of endpoints, [we will] be able to ensure that we have a network with a zero-trust architecture that allows that decision-making, a datacentric ability to make decisions with speed, and that's really what it's all about.”

The components of a zero-trust architecture will free up machines and people to perform more significant tasks, Perry said. “The bottom line really when we think about data centricity is that networks themselves don't have a purpose, they're agnostic,” he explained. “Data is the only thing that really has a tagging requirement. It is the ability to just extract security, with this so-called zero-trust approach. When we get the idea that we can extract this zero-trust approach from the network itself ... that is what's really going to enable these high partner-oriented environments like in this theater, and every other theater.”

Gen. Gallagher agreed that separation of the security aspects from the network would help simplify and streamline threat monitoring. “Zero-trust architecture helps you not only enable decision-making at speed, it allows you to have that continuous monitoring,” he offered. “It allows you to assess insider threats. It allows you to maintain the visibility of your network administrators, your security administrators and all those kinds of things because you're managing it based on the attributes and the access and the identity of the individuals. I think that's going to enable the real-time analytics.”

In addition to the security benefits of zero-trust architecture, Umar is also seeing improved user experiences. “As we started implementing zero-trust network access capability, one thing we've done is a baseline of user performance before and after that,” he shared. “For example, traditionally, users would have some kind of VPN [virtual private network] concentrator sitting on their onsite facility. And because of the pandemic, everybody's working remotely, it will still keep coming into this concentrator that would sitting on-premise locations. Now the applications are mostly based in the cloud. And based on our experience, you see significant performance improvements while implementing security. So not only are we doing conditional access, verifying users’ devices, validated identity, real-time analytics, but [we are] also giving you a better user experience.”

Industry officials see zero trust as a game changer in regards to data. Photo by Tony Grillo
Experts at TechNet Indo-Pacific agree that zero trust approaches extract security responsibilities from the network, freeing it up to perform higher-level tasks in regards to data. Photo by Tony Grillo

Nguyen, meanwhile, stressed the connection of zero trust to data access and effectiveness in operations. “We are a real-time data platform that truly grounds decision-making at scale,” he shared. “I started six months ago, and we are truly taking these amazing capabilities within the commercial sector, driving so many data-intensive organizations that need real-time data in their operations. And what I see here is the real-time ability to truly drive tactical edge and autonomy, to drive data management real time, and to provide global situational awareness.

"I'm here, not as an expert on zero trust or cybersecurity, but to share the impact of that on real-time data to drive decisions," Nguyen continued.

“If we get this right, and we will get this right, it could go a long way in helping us with our cross-domain solutions,” Gen. Lawrence said. “And that is really critical, especially in a theater like this, where we fight jointly and with our allies and coalition partners as we go forward.”

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