zero trust security model

Email threats have progressed beyond the delivery of malicious links and attachments which is why companies are resorting to a Zero Trust Security Model for their emails. They now include manipulating sender identity to deceive recipients and launch social engineering attacks. The majority of these attacks don’t inject malware, and the lack of identifiable dangerous material in such emails allows them to evade even the most sophisticated email security gateways and defenses, easily.

Financial institutions faced the brunt of 24.9 percent of phishing attacks worldwide in the first quarter of 2021. Furthermore, social media accounted for 23.6 percent of attacks, making these two industries the most targeted for phishing.

As a result, businesses are feeling the need for a security architecture known as a Zero trust security model that can dynamically adjust to rapidly growing threats and hackers who always seem to be one step ahead.

What is Zero Trust Security Model?

Zero trust security is a new IT security concept that’s essentially the opposite of the “trust but verify” approach. In a Zero Trust security model, you don’t trust anyone or anything by default and instead verify everything. This means that you need to establish identity and validate each user, device, and application before granting access to your network.

Why You Need a Zero Trust Security Model in Email Security

A zero trust email security system ensures that no one can access your corporate data without first authenticating their identity through multiple factors—much stronger than just a username and password.

A solid email security system includes four important features to keep you safe:

  • Email authentication is the first step in the zero trust security model for bad emails. It provides a way to verify that an email’s sender is who they claim to be. While no single solution is 100% effective, implementing a combination of SPF, DKIM and DMARC will protect you against the most known email attacks.
  • Two-factor authentication: Enabling two-factor authentication for your emails is indispensable in recent times. This sends a text message or mobile push notification to your phone to confirm it’s you when you log into your email account. 
  • Password management: You can store all your passwords in one place and enter them with a single click. Plus, they’re encrypted so that nobody can see them. Make sure your passwords are not stored on your system or mobile device to prevent bad actors from gaining access to them if they hack into your system.
  • Email encryption: Powerful encryption scrambles your messages so that only the intended recipients can read them.   

How to Build a Zero Trust Security Model for Your Emails?

Email authentication protocols allow you to prove your identity to your recipients. 

The three major email authentication protocols forming the foundation of a Zero Trust Security Model for your emails are:

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF): SPF is one of the primitive email authentication protocols that was launched in the market. When you add an SPF record in DNS, you specify which server(s) are allowed to send emails on behalf of your domain.
  • DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM): This protocol also uses a DNS record with a public key to sign all messages sent from your domain. The public key can be validated by anyone who receives your message, and they can use it to check if the message was truly sent from your domain or not.
  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance): DMARC builds on both(or either) protocols and provides specific guidance on how receivers should handle messages that fail authentication checks to prevent phishing.

Along with email authentication, for a fool-proof zero trust security model you need to incorporate the following:  

1. Establish a Baseline of Security Measures

The first step in building a Zero Trust email security model is establishing a baseline of security measures. That includes implementing technologies such as encryption, malware detection, data loss prevention (DLP), and secure email gateways (SEGs). 

2. Map the Transaction Flows

The next step is to map all the transaction flows between internal and external users. Then, determine what types of access users need and which ones they don’t. 

3. Architect a Zero Trust Network

Finally, architect a Zero Trust network that assumes the worst: that an attacker has gained access to the network. In this type of network, all requests must be verified before being granted access to resources or services. 

4. Create the Zero Trust Policy

Creating a Zero Trust environment is building a Zero Trust policy. This begins with identifying your assets and creating an asset inventory, including all hosts, devices, and services. 

5. Monitor and Maintain the Network.

Your network is always vulnerable when someone malicious gains access, so make sure you monitor it constantly and maintain its security with either an onsite or cloud-based solution that will alert you if something goes wrong.

Organizations Suffer Risks If They Don’t implement Zero Trust Security Model.

It may sound like a cliché, but unfortunately, it’s true: corporate email is still the number one vector for cyberattacks. As long as this is the case, organizations that don’t have a zero-trust approach to email security will face numerous risks. Here are just a few of them:

Zero-day Phishing Attacks

If an employee opens a link or attachment in the message, malware could be downloaded onto their device, and your organization’s IT infrastructure could be compromised.

Brand Reputation Risks

It can also damage your brand’s reputation if clients see that you’ve been hacked. You may lose clients if they think their data isn’t safe with you or assume that your company isn’t professional enough to maintain its security protocols!

Domain spoofing attacks

Domain spoofing attacks refer to domain name forgery, where an attacker impersonates a trusted organization’s domain to send out malicious information on their behalf. In this scheme, attackers may send emails impersonating executive leaders within an organization, requesting sensitive information or wire transfers.

Business Email Compromise

BEC is a global problem that is becoming more sophisticated and complex each year. The FBI estimates that BEC attacks have cost businesses more than $12 billion since October 2013. Hackers constantly invent new ways to bypass security measures and fool people into sending money to the wrong accounts, sending out valuable information for free, or simply deleting necessary data.

Final Words

There’s no way to avoid the truth: your company’s email infrastructure must be protected. The old defensive strategy of defending from the outside is no longer effective. A key reason why the Zero trust security model is imperative is that your organization must be protected from the inside out. 

On all domains and subdomains, we advocate implementing an effective DMARC policy with supporting SPF and DKIM implementations. Outbound filtering, including DLP and even Malware Analysis, is also recommended.

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