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Executive Tips for Zero Trust: Insights from John Kindervag

Editors - June 30, 2023
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The Zero Trust model, pioneered by John Kindervag, challenges traditional cybersecurity paradigms and offers a new approach to securing digital systems. Kindervag will speak with Mirantis’ Jason James, Director of Security, and John Jainschigg, Director of Open Source Initiatives, on August 24th, 2023 at 12pm PT / 3pm ET, in a webinar titled Building Trust in an Untrusted World: The Zero Trust Paradigm

To prepare for that conversation, here are six fundamental tenets of Kindervag’s Zero Trust model:

1. Trust is a Vulnerability - People are Not Packets

In traditional cybersecurity models, trust is a fundamental component. Internal networks are considered trustworthy, while external networks are deemed untrustworthy. Access is allocated to people deemed trustworthy, and actions permitted based on notions of human identity.

Kindervag argues that this trust model is flawed. Trust, he says, is a human emotion, positive and necessary in human relations, but one that has been unnecessarily injected into digital systems. Kindervag argues that we've confused trust in human beings with trust in packets. No person has ever been on a network; it's the data packets that move around. Therefore, the concept of trust should not be applied to these packets.

Zero Trust seeks to implement security in ways that eliminate or reduce the centrality of trust. Nothing is deemed trustworthy just because of where it exists on a network or where it came from. No action is permitted simply because ‘someone we trust seems to be performing it.’

2. Zero Trust Simplifies Security

Zero Trust is not about adding more layers of security; it's about simplifying the problem. Kindervag criticizes the "expense in depth" approach, where organizations spend money on multiple security technologies in the hope of catching the bad stuff. Instead, he advocates for a more focused approach, where every interface has the same trust level - zero.

3. Define Your Protect Surface

Conventional security often discusses the ‘attack surfaces’ of networks and entities. This way of thinking tends to be flawed for several reasons, among them that attack vectors may be novel (so hard to predict), that attack surface thinking tends to embrace a lot of entities and thus end up complicated, and that thinking in terms of attack surfaces leads to defining an inner, ‘defended’ zone that ends up being what he calls a ‘chewy center.’

Zero Trust simplifies this and considers the ‘protect surface’ of each entity: data, systems, locations. He uses the example of the Secret Service protecting the President. The protect surface is the President and his family, and all security measures are designed around protecting these individuals. Similarly, organizations should identify their protect surfaces and design their security measures accordingly.

4. Zero Trust is Not a Product

Kindervag warns that Zero Trust is not something that can be purchased from a vendor. It's not a product but a strategy and a mindset. It requires a fundamental shift in how organizations approach cybersecurity, moving away from the flawed trust model and towards a more focused and simplified approach.

5. Zero Trust Requires Granular Policies

Implementing Zero Trust requires creating granular policies about what gets access to a resource. It's not about allowing access to everything on the network once someone authenticates; it's about determining whether a packet should be allowed to access a resource on a case-by-case basis.

6. Zero Trust Reduces Complexity

Contrary to what some might think, Zero Trust doesn't increase complexity; it reduces it. Kindervag criticizes the practice of using multiple brands of firewalls in case one goes down, arguing that this just doubles management complexity. Instead, he advocates for a more straightforward approach where every interface has the same trust level (zero).

The Zero Trust model offers a fresh perspective on cybersecurity that challenges traditional paradigms and provides a more focused and simplified approach to securing digital systems. By understanding these key insights from John Kindervag, executives can better navigate the evolving cybersecurity landscape and make more informed decisions about their organization's security strategy.


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