Network Security

Promoting zero trust awareness and implementing culture

Empower your workforce and fortify your company's security posture with some tips on how to implement and educate users about Zero Trust.

June 8, 2023

Zero Trust is a growing cybersecurity architecture that's overtaking traditional perimeter protection in popularity. The growing remote and hybrid workforce and an ever-changing corporate network landscape have reduced the effectiveness of a single perimeter cybersecurity approach. Zero trust is favored for its effectiveness in reducing modern cyber attacks—even by the US government and Department of Defense.

Rather than providing a barrier around an entire network—which has long been the convention—Zero Trust individually isolates resources, applications, and information within the greater network system. By segmenting the network and placing assets into silos, a Zero Trust approach limits access to each application and service based on user credentials—regardless of who has access to the environment at large. Applying a "never trust; always verify" mindset to every segment of an organization's cyberstructure enables the company to minimize or eliminate opportunities for infiltration and attack.

Moving from the classic castle-and-moat approach to the Zero Trust method can be overwhelming to employees who are used to easy network access. And educating your workforce about the new security systems and verification methods needed for a Zero Trust system may seem impossible to implement. But, with clear resources, guidelines, and an outline of benefits that Zero Trust can provide, it will be easier to get your workforce on board with a more secure system that adequately protects important data and information from modern hackers who know how to break through perimeter security measures. 

If your company is considering Zero Trust implementation, read on to learn tips to build Zero Trust awareness within your workforce, resources to help educate them on the principles and practices that come with Zero Trust, and ways to better prepare your employees for working in a new type of cybersecurity.

The Importance of Zero Trust User Awareness and Education

Even if your security operations team utilizes every technical measure available, the responsibility of company security goes beyond engineers and admins. Employees are the frontline of defense for your IT environment. That’s why an overall awareness of the risks and thorough education on how to avoid them contributes tremendously to the overall resilience of a company’s cyber ecosystem.

The success of Zero Trust relies on your company culture, communications, and awareness of the philosophies behind the security measures.

That’s what also creates a challenge in implementing a Zero Trust cybersecurity system. Users don’t understand why they have to perform more security measures to access the same information. Highlighting common risks that they can introduce is the first step in helping employees become informed about the necessity of using a more advanced Zero Trust system.

Password Vulnerabilities

Password vulnerabilities are common. Most employees follow the same patterns that make it easy for hackers to break through password-protected networks. Zero Trust helps employees remember to reduce these risks by requiring users to change their passwords periodically and by requiring strong passwords. 

Explain to your workforce that a Zero Trust system will push regular password changes and won't allow users to select weak passwords. Zero Trust tools like multi-factor authentication (MFA) expand security measures outside of a password and help ensure the proper user is attempting to access company assets, even if the password is compromised. 

Even though continuous authentication, authorization, and password updates may annoy workers at first, it’s also the thing that will frustrate and deter potential hackers from accessing sensitive information.

Clicking Unsafe Links

Questionable email links can introduce Trojan horses and other malware into any computer network. Spam blockers and email server permissions implemented through Zero Trust can go a long way in preventing these types of emails from getting through. But security software isn’t perfect.

If an email with unsafe links does reach an employee’s inbox, it can create a challenge to established security measures. Employees may believe that the software technology should catch all phishing attacks, but it’s important they know that’s not always the case due to evolving hacks. Building a security-conscious workforce who that alerts IT team members of the breach adds to the protection of a Zero Trust security software system. This initial awareness will help them avoid clicking potentially hazardous links and ensure you will have strong overall cyber resilience using your employees’ critical thinking. 

Using Public Wifi

Public wifi networks are not secure. Some might even be dummy networks set up by bad actors to lure unsuspecting users into their domain. Accessing company files via public wifi networks could give an infiltrator an access point into the company network. 

Employees who have a limited understanding of network use may not understand why security measures like Zero Trust are put in place to validate user permissions. Help them understand that it’s important to secure files and applications for those who need them, no matter if they already have access to the main network. 

Overcoming the Challenges: Strategies for Zero Trust Training Programs

Once employees know more about the risks and errors that a Zero Trust cybersecurity system protects against, they can start diving into the philosophy behind the framework and learn more about the technology they’ll use to access their resources and applications. A complete understanding of Zero Trust will take time, but continuous education can build an employee culture that works together to ensure the safest cyber-environment possible for the company. 

To start fully educating your workforce on Zero Trust, follow the tips below.

Establish a Culture of Zero Trust

Zero Trust isn't just a technology. The framework is built on a core set of philosophies that fosters a security-conscious way of thinking among users. Nurturing a Zero Trust mindset starts with practical strategies for educating an organization's workforce about why the Zero Trust philosophies are important for their specific work. 

To introduce an education strategy that lays the foundation for a Zero Trust workforce culture:

  • ask leadership to explain the reasons for adopting a Zero Trust policy for your company, specifically 
  • keep your workforce informed of any new reasons or changes to the Zero Trust system
  • emphasize collective responsibility, accountability, and vigilance in all interactions with company IT resources

Even though Zero Trust cybersecurity creates silos in the network, leadership should work to eliminate silos in the communication of information with employees about its implementation. Thorough education and communication help build trust, understanding, and acceptance of the changes. Maintaining a security-first mindset throughout the company keeps everyone engaged in the process.

Raise Zero Trust Awareness

Attackers don't just go after system vulnerabilities. Some of their favorite tactics involve taking advantage of uninformed users. Informing employees about common attack vectors and social engineering methods that intruders use equips them to help the Zero Trust software keep out unwelcome visitors.

Here are some points of attack to make employees aware of: 

  • a poor system configuration that can leave a gap in system security
  • a missing or stolen computer or device
  • questionable websites or mobile apps that contain malware that can pass to a visitor's system 
  • users can then unknowingly pass the malware onto their work network
  • a phishing email that looks like it came from the user's company or financial institution 
  • if an employee enters their username and password at the phishing site, then the company network become more vulnerable if MFA is not set up
  • if an outsider gets a hold of an employee's username and password, the attacker can more easily attempt entry into the company system

Zero Trust implementations help close those security gaps. Some advanced measures within a Zero Trust system include:

  • multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • this is a highly effective tool in combating compromised passwords
  • MFA creates a second entry requirement—such as a one-time password generator or fingerprint scan—which are extremely difficult for attackers to exploit
  • regular system updates for both the workers and administrators
  • includes defenses against the latest malware 
  • integrates enhanced onboard security improvements

If employees are aware of common attack vectors or weak points that cyber attackers can exploit and social engineering tactics that involve elaborate scams that can trick users into revealing their authentication information, they will automatically develop an understanding of the need for new enhanced security measures.

Design a Zero Trust Security Training Program

After leadership and IT teams explain the reasons for implementing Zero Trust measures into a company’s existing cybersecurity setup, it’s important to train employees on how to actually use the Zero Trust technology. If employees fully understand their responsibilities within the new security framework, they’ll feel more empowered to continue using it and proactively monitor any potential risks.

A Zero Trust training program is ideal for communicating policy updates and employee roles in your company's IT security going forward.

By designing engaging and interactive awareness courses that accompany your training programs, organizations can educate employees about potential threats and provide guidance on best practices for preventing and responding to security incidents.

Below are some suggestions to help you craft a Zero Trust awareness course and training program. Alter it so it’s specific to your company's needs and the technology your organization uses for Zero Trust.

  • explain that Zero Trust has a "never trust, always verify" philosophy 
  • this lays the framework for the cybersecurity structures and technologies employees will use
  • this mindset should guide end users whenever they access the company's network and other IT resources
  • tailor different levels of training to different employee roles 
  • this ensures that the information is relevant and engaging for your entire workforce 
  • explore real-life scenarios in which applying the Zero Trust method will benefit employees when performing their job duties
  • review the commonly introduced employee errors 
  • explain that new hacking techniques are developed daily
  • use interactive elements to help engage employees in learning how to navigate your company's specific Zero Trust framework
  • computer simulation exercises and instructional videos are good options to accompany written guidance

Establishing a safety-first culture, implementing training about the roles of employees in detecting and reporting suspicious activities, and raising awareness about new and changing hacker attacks are all essential parts of a holistic Zero Trust workforce where technology and people work together to protect a network.

Learning How To Embrace Zero Trust: Best Practices

The effectiveness of Zero Trust doesn't begin and end with implementation. In order to have an effective security infrastructure, SecOps, IT admins, leadership, and employees must all do their part to maintain an ongoing Zero Trust culture. Leaders need to continue reinforcing the core principles and immerse new employees into the mindset from their first day on the job.

Some common best practices used to instill a Zero Trust mindset into any company include:

  • giving employees the knowledge they need to stay ahead of potential risks as they arise
  • IT departments stay on top of emerging technologies and new threats
  • leaders add this information to continuing training programs
  • keeping your workforce apprised of new developments by following industry forums that focus on Zero Trust
  • attend webinars and online courses about security in your industry or as a whole to stay updated on the latest practices
  • making sure your employees know how to report any suspicious activity immediately
  • a workforce that's well trained in Zero Trust principles and practices is more likely to engage in safer working habits
  • employees will be better able to recognize attempted incursions from their end and will sound the alarm the moment something doesn't seem right

Cybersecurity is a group effort. Each person in your organization plays a critical role in making sure attackers face difficulties when attempting to infiltrate company resources. Well-informed employees will understand their roles within the Zero Trust structure and will know their responsibilities if a threat presents itself. Employee buy-in ensures that Zero Trust technology can do its job to protect the network with the aid of the workforce using it. 

Strong guidance and prescribed action in your cybersecurity protocols will reduce uncertainty and encourage everyone in the company to work toward a safer cyber environment. Using the steps and best practices above, you can continuously incorporate Zero Trust awareness and education into your organization and empower your employees to help keep your cybersystem secure.

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