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Forrester Pushes 'Zero Trust' Model For Security

New security approach would view internal network traffic as untrusted, as well as closely monitor and analyze all traffic inside and outside of the organization

Trust no one, not even your end users: That's the underlying theme of a new security model proposed by Forrester Research this week called "Zero Trust," which calls for enterprises to inspect all network traffic, from the outside and on the inside.

John Kindervag, senior analyst with Forrester, says the current trust model in security is broken and the only way to fix it is to get rid of the idea of the trusted internal network and the untrusted external network. Instead consider all network traffic untrusted, he says. "Times have changed. You can't think about trusted and untrusted users" anymore, says Kindervag, who gave more details on the model at Forrester's Security Forum in Boston this week.

The wave of damaging insider-borne breaches during the past few years illustrates the importance of being able to see everything going on in the network, he says. He points to the case of a help desk employee for software firm TeleData Communications who sold credit reports from TCI customers Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian to a Nigerian organized crime ring, giving the bad guys access to client information for several years even after he had left the company.

None of the victim companies knew about the intrusions into their networks until two years after it had begun, when one firm discovered it. In the end, the employee, Philip Cummings, sold 30,000 identities, amassing a financial loss of more than $2.7 million.

"We have to know what's going on in our networks," Kindervag says. "Users can't have willy-nilly access ... they will either inadvertently do something bad and maybe get fired for it or illegally access data they actually had access to," such as the State Department employees who viewed passport information of several presidential candidates in 2008, he says.

Zero Trust means inspecting all traffic in real time, and a new category of products called network analysis and visibility, which combines several niche tools -- such as forensics, packet capture, meta data analysis, and network discovery flow analysis -- such that they provide visibility and analysis of traffic and don't disrupt business processes, according to Kindervag. These tools would work with security information management systems, he says.

Kindervag says this network architecture would deploy what he calls a network segmentation gateway. "It's like a UTM [unified threat management] tool or firewall on steroids," he says. It does firewall, IPS, data leakage protection, content filtering, and encryption with a 10-gigabit interface that separates the switching fabrics for each function, he says. "It's a new security paradigm," he says.

The gateway would be managed as a single switch, with "mini-cores of switches, each has its own perimeter security by default and protected by policy," he says. "The management software that manages all the switches becomes the backplane switch fabric."

Zero Trust basically builds security into the network fabric, he says. "You can take these concepts and do a radical [change] using existing, off-the-shelf technologies rearranged in different ways," he says. "Some of the existing UTM and firewalls are close to" a network segmentation gateway model, he says.

This will let enterprises catch illicit activity more quickly. "You're going to see all traffic as it goes through," he says. "And you're inspecting and logging all traffic, so can see things that look weird, like when Joe who doesn't normally access the SQL database is [suddenly] downloading the entire SQL database," Kindervag says.

But he admits the model won't go over well with the network side or with end users who might resent their traffic being so closely scrutinized. "A few vendors won't be agile enough to respond to this," he says.

For now, Forrester plans to continue shaping the model and provide more information so enterprises and vendors can test it out. The model is less about products and more about a new model of trust, Kindervag notes.

As a former penetration tester and engineer, Kindervag says he was getting frustrated with the state of security and that just another layer of defense-in-depth isn't the answer. "The answer is to go all the way to the lowest part of the stack and [to change] the trust model," he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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