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Endpoint Identity: The New Center of Gravity in a Zero Trust World

We live in complicated times. Where once there was a clear binary model for network security — focused on letting the good guys in and keeping the bad guys out — today things are more complex. That change has been the result of a number of factors but none more so than the ongoing adoption of cloud services and mobile communications.

And now the events of the past few months — which have forced hundreds of millions of people around the world to work remotely — have virtually overnight made network security even more challenging. As a result, data, resources and intelligence that used to reside inside a secure network perimeter are now being pushed ever further out to the network edge.

Zero Trust security, which assumes that no device or user can be trusted without verification, was made for this new reality. And the key to making Zero Trust security work at scale is endpoint visibility.

Taking it to the edge: Where work now happens

The market for edge computing was growing even before the pandemic. But the advent of mass remote work has made the security challenges inherent in many corporate network architectures unmistakably clear.

Today, CIOs realize they need to process information closer to users and devices or risk degrading the user experience of high-bandwidth applications like video conferencing and AI tools — and with it, user productivity. Emphasizing this point, a Bain survey of organizations in four verticals found that 95 percent now have explicit edge computing plans and nearly three-quarters will start integration work by the end of the year.

It’s not all about latency, of course. Processing information at the edge can also help to reduce bandwidth costs at a time when economic uncertainty is forcing many to cut budgets.

And the advent of 5G will only further drive the growth of edge computing, ushering in a new era of always-on, high-performance connectivity and remote working.

When cyber-threats come knocking

Yet the edge is also where threats appear. Your distributed workforce might have access to highly regulated customer data via corporate and cloud-based CRM and ERP systems. And they might regularly need to access commercially sensitive intellectual property from their home PCs and devices. Organizations need an effective way to secure and authenticate these users.

Unfortunately, over the past few months, traditional VPNs have struggled to keep up with these traffic workloads. Recent Tanium research found that overtaxed VPNs was the number two security challenge for organizations transitioning to a distributed workforce.

These problems have not only imperiled the security of traffic flows but are now contributing to a growing powder keg of security dangers related to endpoints. A quarter (26 percent) of CXOs we polled said they de-prioritized patching altogether in the first few months of the crisis. This approach, while understandable, means that more and more endpoints are not up-to-date and protected against cyberattacks.

Zero Trust for endpoints

The good news is that Zero Trust is the right model for this work-from-home era. Zero Trust security requires users to prove who they say they are with multi-factor authentication (MFA). Once identified and verified, users are then only provided access to the specific resources they need. A Zero Trust model also applies micro-segmentation to break the network into smaller security zones, restricting lateral movement.

This is a great first step, but one piece of the Zero Trust puzzle is still missing: The endpoint. Identifying new personal computing devices was the number one challenge of distributed work cited by executives in our survey.

These visibility gaps can leave endpoints at the edge of the network critically exposed to threats via unpatched vulnerabilities and insecure configuration settings. That means, alongside user authentication, organizations need to check endpoint “identity” by confirming the security status of remote machines.

This extra dimension of edge device health is critical if Zero Trust is to deliver on its promises.

Making Zero Trust a reality

By adopting a Zero Trust model, organizations remove the security bottleneck of the VPN. And they eliminate the other risks associated with the traditional “castle and moat” approach for network security.

In so doing, companies are able to minimize cyber-risk while supporting user productivity in a new era of cloud and edge-powered remote working.

Thanks to Tanium and partners like Cloudflare and Google’s BeyondCorp, the dream of an effective Zero Trust strategy is a reality. Tanium provides the real-time visibility and control necessary for managing Zero Trust on your endpoints. Cloudflare provides the platform for easily screening devices for threats before granting access. And Google’s BeyondCorp provides secure remote network access without VPNs.

With all three of these capabilities in place, any organization can readily embrace the new era of Zero Trust security.

Learn more about how Tanium and our technology partners can help you bring Zero Trust security to your organization. Contact us today!

Tanium Staff

Tanium’s village of experts co-writes as Tanium Staff, sharing their lens on security, IT operations, and other relevant topics across the business and cybersphere.

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