Why a zero-trust approach is the future for banking

David R. McKnight, Timothy Tipton, Evan Tomilo
Why a zero-trust approach is the future for banking

To meet and mitigate cyberthreats, financial services organizations must pivot to a zero-trust approach: Never trust, always verify.

The financial services sector faces an ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats. Traditional network security models, which operate under a trust-but-verify philosophy in which trusted users automatically receive network access, increasingly fail to hold up in the face of sophisticated threats.

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What does a zero-trust approach look like for banking cybersecurity?

What does a zero-trust approach look like for banking cybersecurity?

A zero-trust approach assumes potential compromise in any part of the network. All users – even those within the organization's network – must undergo authentication, authorization, and continual validation of security configuration and posture before they can gain or maintain access to applications and data.

Zero-trust architecture (ZTA) applies zero-trust principles and translates them to infrastructure. It typically uses technologies such as multifactor authentication (MFA), identity and access management, and encryption to confirm that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive data. Zero-trust architecture can also employ analytics and machine learning to identify abnormal behavior that could indicate a security threat.

ZTA can strengthen security and provide network visibility

ZTA can strengthen security and provide network visibility

The shift from implicit trust to explicit verification can significantly bolster the security posture of financial services organizations. Some benefits of ZTA include:

  • Reduced breach impact. Even if a malicious actor gains access to the network, ZTA significantly restricts their ability to move laterally and gain access to additional resources within the network.
  • Improved visibility. ZTA gives the organization a clearer view of the users, devices, and traffic within the network. This visibility makes anomaly detection easier, which can help to decrease breach detection time.
  • Streamlined compliance reporting. The detailed record of authentication and access events provided by ZTA can streamline compliance reporting. This is particularly beneficial for financial services organizations, which often must meet stringent regulatory requirements related to privacy and data security.
  • Risk-based authentication. ZTA continually and vigorously authenticates a subject based on the risk level of the data being accessed. Under ZTA, only authorized individuals can gain access to sensitive data.
  • Support for digital transformation. As organizations integrate digital technologies and strategies into their operations, ZTA provides a framework for securing infrastructure and data. ZTA also helps mitigate ransomware threats and address the challenges of securing remote workers and hybrid cloud environments.

6 steps to implementing zero-trust principles in banking

6 steps to implementing zero-trust principles in banking

ZTA in a financial services context involves a series of strategic steps aimed at enhancing the security and resilience of banking operations. Most organizations should aim to follow a ZTA implementation framework that incorporates the following steps:

1. Executing a network analysis.

The organization should map out all data flows, digital materials, and banking services. Identifying potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals is crucial in this phase. This step is particularly important in a banking environment that involves multiple, interconnected systems and platforms.

2. Defining access control and permissions for each user role.

In a banking context, user roles could range from tellers and customer service representatives to system administrators and executives. ZTA operates on the principle of least privilege, which means that users should only receive access to the resources they need to perform their job functions.

3. Implementing multifactor authentication.

Since it requires users to provide multiple forms of identification before they can access the network, MFA is a key component of ZTA.

4. Selecting the appropriate ZTA solutions.

Financial services organizations should select ZTA solutions and features based on their organizational type, complexity, and individual needs. For instance, banks need a solution that enables micro-segmentation, which divides the network into smaller, isolated segments and limits the potential impact of a security breach by containing it within a segment. This capability is especially valuable for banks, as different operational units within the bank might face varying innate threats.

5. Performing continuous monitoring and adaptation.

ZTA implementation is not a one-off event. A successful implementation requires ongoing monitoring and adaptation to keep the system secure as the organization evolves. Consistent reporting can help identify unusual network behavior and assess the impact of the ZTA measures on banking operations.

6. Rolling out staff education and training.

ZTA implementation will likely require changes to how users access and interact with the system. Users will need education and training so they can understand these changes and comply with the new security measures. If changes result in a less convenient or more complicated user experience, then users might resist the move to a zero-trust approach.

ZTA challenges: Cost, complexity, legacy systems

ZTA challenges: Cost, complexity, legacy systems

While a zero-trust approach offers many benefits, implementing it comes with challenges. The transition from traditional network architecture toward the more modern, micro-segmented design requires time, planning, training, investment in technology solutions, and the resources needed to manage and maintain those solutions. A zero-trust approach also inherently adds complexity, and the implementation process can be a daunting task for many organizations.

In addition, many financial services organizations rely on legacy systems that can be difficult to upgrade or replace. Some of these systems might not be compatible with ZTA, which can pose a significant obstacle to implementation.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of a zero-trust approach make it a worthy investment for financial services organizations. With careful planning, stakeholder engagement, and the right resources, these challenges can be overcome – paving the way for a more secure and resilient financial services sector.

Let our experience guide your zero-trust banking journey.

Crowe specialists have helped financial services organizations like yours strengthen their cybersecurity programs and adopt zero-trust architecture. Get in touch today and let’s build a strategy for this critical and valuable transition.
Dave McKnight
David R. McKnight
Principal, Financial Services Consulting
Timothy Tipton
Timothy Tipton
Financial Services Consulting
Evan Tomilo
Financial Services Consulting