How zero-trust segmentation keeps cyberbreaches from spreading across the enterprise

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When it comes to cybersecurity, we are in the era of “containment.”

The epochs of “prevention” and “detection” — when the primary focus was keeping attackers out or finding them quickly if they did successfully breach — are over. Which isn’t to say that companies should stop their prevention and detection strategies; but it’s better to have a three-pronged approach to security that also includes containment measures.

Today’s breaches are inevitable, and they are most destructive when attackers can freely reach critical infrastructure, data and assets, said Mario Espinoza, chief product officer at cybersecurity company Illumio. 

The evolution to containment means minimizing the impact of breaches by proactively stopping them from spreading. This is the concept of zero-trust segmentation, a strategy that employs microsegmentation, or breaking data centers and cloud environments into segments down to the individual workload level. 


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“It’s not the initial breach that causes the most damage, it’s when the attacker can move, often undetected, throughout an organization that leads to operational outages and compromised data,” said Espinoza, whose company today announced the release of Illumio Endpoint. “This is the problem that zero-trust segmentation is designed to solve.”

Hybrid work, larger attack surface

Hybrid workplaces present a unique quandary: They help organizations to be more interconnected — but also more vulnerable. They expand the attack surface, and thus the window of opportunity for hackers. 

For instance, in just the past two years alone — with the rush to hybrid work amidst the pandemic — 76% of organizations have experienced a ransomware attack.

And, attacks on hybrid work environments are often more expensive: They cost roughly $600,000 more than the global average. But, while organizations report that nearly half of their remote employees must use VPNs, 66% say they have the same level of visibility for users on the VPN as for users at the office. 

“Ransomware and other cyberattacks often involve end user devices somewhere in the attack chain, moving laterally on to other higher-value assets,” said Dave Gruber, principal analyst with ESG. 

But prevention, detection and response mechanisms can fall short in stopping fast-moving attacks. Cybercriminals continue to find ways in and quickly move laterally.

Containment strategies such as zero-trust segmentation across endpoint devices “can proactively stop ransomware and other fast-moving attacks from spreading to critical infrastructure and assets, reducing risk,” said Gruber.

Zero-trust segmentation: Enhanced capabilities

Zero-trust segmentation isolates workloads and devices across clouds, data centers and endpoints. 

A series of emulated cyberattacks by Illumio and Bishop Fox found that zero-trust segmentation can stop attacks in 10 minutes — nearly 4 times faster than endpoint detection and response (EDR) alone. Organizations that leverage zero-trust segmentation are 2.7 times more likely to have highly effective attack response processes and save $20.1 million in annual cost of downtime. 

Espinoza pointed out that EDR tools must detect the breach to be effective; and, with organizations in a “cat-and-mouse game with bad actors,” they must constantly improve such detection capabilities to stay ahead. 

“That’s why it’s crucial for companies to not only try to prevent and detect breaches, but also build resilience to cyberattacks,” said Espinoza. “That way a minor breach can’t halt operations or compromise critical data.”

A minor breach, not a major disaster

There’s no doubt that organizations are innovating, but hackers are also rapidly evolving and developing more sophisticated attacks, said Espinoza. Also, he described most cyberattacks as “opportunistic.”

“While organizations have to be right 100% of the time to prevent a breach, a cyberattacker only needs to get lucky once to infiltrate a network,” said Espinoza. “With the attack surface wider than ever, it’s no surprise breaches are becoming more frequent and consequential.”

It is imperative that organizations shift their mindset; they must understand what workloads, devices and applications are in their environment and how they’re communicating to determine their greatest vulnerabilities, he said. This gives organizations the full scope of their cyber-risk and allows them to prioritize the security approaches that will have the greatest impact. 

“It is time for leaders to acknowledge that breaches will happen,” said Espinoza. “While it’s important to have strong prevention and detection and response tools in place, they often fall short of stopping attackers that are moving undetected through a network.” 

Zero-trust segmentation prioritizes vulnerable areas first

Illumio Endpoint follows a device wherever employees work, whether it be at home, in the office, or at a hotel, coffee shop, library (or elsewhere). The tool uses segmentation to prevent bad actors from moving deeper into an organization’s network after an initial breach. 

As a result, said Espinoza, security teams can “significantly increase the chances of the first compromised laptop also being the last.”

Providing visibility into how endpoints communicate with each other and the rest of the network enables security teams to see risk, prioritize securing the most vulnerable areas first, and to respond to incidents more quickly, he said.

“This means organizations can build resilience against cyberthreats during the age of hybrid work, so that a minor breach doesn’t spread into a major disaster,” said Espinoza.

But, he emphasized that security is ultimately a collaborative effort. Employees must understand their role: Being aware of social engineering attacks and phishing emails, reporting suspicious activity and installing the latest updates and patches.

Ultimately, “security needs to be more than just a side note — it has to be a C-suite priority,” said Espinoza.

Endpoint visibility

Illumio Endpoint provides:

  • Extended visibility and segmentation policy controls for macOS and Windows devices.
  • Endpoint segmentation that is not tied to the network, unlike NAC or SD-WAN.
  • User-based access: Identity-based group policies can limit user application access by Active Directory group and device identity.
  • Policy enforcement: Segmentation policies can be automatically changed when the device is used outside of the corporate environment. 
  • Ability to control application access so users can only reach the necessary applications from their device (as opposed to the entire data center and cloud). 
  • Deny-by-default capabilities that block all but necessary communication to and from laptops, VDIs and workstations.
  • Secure endpoint exposure to isolate cyberattacks to a single device without waiting for an attack to create a signature and be detected by security tools. 
Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz