There was a time when all it took to keep your agency protected against data breaches and cybersecurity threats was a robust perimeter that stood between everything in your enterprise and everything outside. Threats had to break through security controls at the edge of your network to gain access to your information.

As federal agencies’ missions evolved and cloud-based technology advanced, the perimeter changed—moving from protecting the LAN to deploying next-generation firewalls and designing software-defined segmentation. But the idea remained the same—keep unauthorized users and threatening devices outside of the perimeter.

Evolving security risks = the need for advanced security controls

Fast forward to today and it’s clear that perimeter security alone just doesn’t cut it anymore. Rapid innovation achieved through mobility and cloud adoption causes federal agencies to need more comprehensive security policies to keep their critical information and data safe. This hyper-connected and SaaS-based application-consumption model means the perimeter is elastic, requiring protection at the user access level.

Perimeter-based security controls are not effective alone because even the best edge security controls cannot protect your agency from insider threats. These internal risks occur through different actions—rogue employees, theft of employee personal information, and compromised passwords that grant attackers access to critical assets across a network.

Federal agencies need to shift their security approach by adopting a zero-trust model that no longer sees trust as a function of the network and assumes attackers can come from both inside and outside the network perimeter. A key tenant of this model is multi-factor authentication (MFA) complemented with additional controls.

Security at the application level for users

Zero-trust authentication for insider risk offers a security model that shifts the increased security of traditional perimeter-based solutions to the point of accessing the application, regardless of where the application is hosted. Application-based security utilizes user identity, the trustworthiness of the device, and user behavior—such as recognizing normal time-of-day usage and geographic location—to grant access to the individual application. It is a more scalable and comprehensive approach to security that protects every attack surface by validating every access point.

Zero-trust authentication begins with MFA because it does not rely on privacy-protected personal information. MFA can include biometric information unique to the user and physical tokens. Authentication can occur through applications specifically designed for that purpose, offering a higher level of secured user verification. This offers flexibility and allows for disparate policies to be used in concert with one another.

User and device authentication is one side of the coin. It is also necessary to establish user controls and application access policies. Each user can be granted access levels based on their assigned role, giving you control over the visibility and accessibility of the data in your applications.

Once you’ve established the policies for your users, you must also establish policies to protect your applications wherever they are—in the cloud or on-premises—by establishing granular and role-based rules for remote access.

An effective example of using MFA alongside other security controls is the collaboration of Yubico and Cisco Duo security solutions. Before implementing these zero-factor authentication solutions together, federal agencies were required to secure their most critical data with cumbersome, expensive personal identity verification (PIV) or common access cards (CAC) which could not be implemented across all resources. The combination of Yubico and Duo solutions allows employees and contractors to use biometric identity authentication through a Duo authentication application to verify the user and the device, and a validated hardware token to replace the PIV or CAC card.

Zero-trust authentication for today’s cloud-based world

As federal agencies continue developing and implementing plans to move their applications to the cloud to meet federal mandates, now is the perfect time to tighten security by looking beyond the perimeter. If your applications are being reviewed to ensure they are cloud-ready, this review should also include a full security analysis with an eye toward safeguarding that application against threats inside and outside of your perimeter.

Adopting a zero-trust authentication solution ensures that only the people who are authorized to access your information are doing so. Although zero trust cannot be accomplished by a single-point solution, zero-trust authentication is a foundational tenant for moving your agency towards an efficient zero-trust model.

Reach out to the security team at Sirius Federal to start strengthening your security protocols and protect your agency from today’s sophisticated cybercriminals.

About the Author: Alvin Richburg
Alvin Richburg is a technical security consultant for Sirius Federal

Related Blog Posts

See All Blogs

Achieve Zero-Trust Security With Micro-Segmentation

Learn how you can take your federal security controls to the next level with micro-segmentation and a zero-trust security model.

Network Security in a Remote World

Five Tips to Help Federal Technology Teams Keep Their Networks Secure with a Remote Workforce With the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) mandate for federal agencies to implement policies and procedures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus,…

Protecting Federal Agencies from Phishing and Ransomware Attacks

As we spend an increasingly large percentage of our time online, we’ve become aware of the malicious tactics used to trick us into downloading malware or betraying our credentials. However, when we’re not paying attention, serious trouble can take us…

Using the CDM Program to Keep Up with Compliance in the Digital Age

As the Homeland Security Department’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program enters its seventh year, its positive impact on federal agencies' cybersecurity is clear. Since implementation, Homeland Security has been able to field and navigate over 35,000 security incidents, and fiscal…

4 Security Lessons Federal IT Pros Can Teach the Private Sector

Whether in the private or federal space, there's one thing all IT security teams must deal with: making the most of limited resources to protect sensitive information. And while budgets are slow to increase, threats develop fast. Anyone with an…

NextGov: Security Doesn’t Have to Be a Sticking Point in Cloud Migration

Despite the innovations and efficiencies that come with cloud migration, only about 20 percent of federal agencies have migrated their applications and data to the cloud. Why such a low adoption rate? One reason is the challenge of securing data.…

Fifth Domain: How Agencies Can Protect Legacy IT As They Modernize

Cybersecurity threats grow more sophisticated every year. And while the federal government has pushed forward with efforts to modernize IT, some legacy systems pose unique challenges. Often, these systems remain static even as the landscape around them continues to change.…

What You Need to Know about Data Privacy

Data privacy is the crossroads of confidentiality and integrity. When data is shared, either voluntarily or involuntarily, there’s an expectation that the collected information will be kept confidential. In general, data privacy is really about identity—social security numbers, credit card…

Cyberattacks and the DHS Directive – It’s Time for your Agency to Improve Your Authentication Protocols

By now CIOs across the federal government have seen Emergency Directive 19-1 issued by the Department of Homeland Security, which was issued in response to cyberattacks on DNS infrastructure for several executive branch agency domains. In these attacks, outsiders compromised…

NextGov: The Boldest Predictions for Federal Technology in 2019

Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence right now—it’s the buzz of the industry. But not many people fully understand what AI and machine learning can do. Jason Parry, our VP of Client Solutions, shares his prediction on the impact artificial…

Covering Your Blind Spots

Visibility and security are paramount to a network because you can’t have one without the other. As technology develops, and our reliance on internet connectivity grows, new road blocks appear that make visibility harder to achieve. How can CSOs adapt…

Keeping Your Agency Secure in the Cloud

Like it or not, no government is permanently safe from cyberthreats. The agencies that protect their citizen data the longest are the ones that best assess the risks facing them daily. It’s a situation that doesn’t change after organizations adopt…

GCN: Securing Data in the Cloud Requires Planning, Constant Vigilance

Government agencies know -- and have largely accepted the fact -- that moving to the cloud is inevitable. Where many start struggling is with the “how.”  How do they move legacy systems to the cloud? How do they choose the…

NextGov: It’s Time to Tackle the Problem of Unapproved Cloud Apps to Keep your Agency Secure

It’s a problem seen across all federal agencies: Employees are using cloud-based applications that aren’t approved or protected by IT teams. These apps range from sharing tools, such as cloud storage platforms, to social media sites or personal email accounts…

GCN: Why Blockchain Belongs in Government

Anyone with a finger on the pulse of the latest cybersecurity trends has probably noticed an increasing number of contributions to the blockchain conversation. The dialogue around blockchain, while loud, clear and growing, has been largely undirected for the past…

Federal Times: Can Industry Bridge the Government Cyber Skills Gap?

Federal agencies have until April 2019 to identify critical work roles and skill shortages in IT and cybersecurity as part of the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act. While this is a first step in determining a holistic approach to address…

CSO: Getting the Most out of Your Security Budget

There may be no more pressing need in today’s online world than quality cybersecurity, making it a top-line item for just about everyone. But even as the need builds, the salaries rise, and the expectations heighten, resources remain scarce. Security…

NextGov: The Time to Automate Security is Now

Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving. Unfortunately, federal IT teams often find themselves low on resources, which means being proactive to combat them is a pipe dream. So how can leadership focus on strengthening their agency’s security posture when they spend…

CSO: Ways to Improve Your Security Team’s Response Time

When it comes to incident response, every second counts. The severity of breaches varies, but since damage done directly correlates to the time a malicious actor has access to your systems, it’s paramount that all threats are discovered and remediated…

3 Ways to Unleash the Power of Your Next-Generation Firewall

We more or less abandoned pagers more than 15 years ago. Fax machines have gone from ubiquity to near obsolescence. And floppy disks? Many of the most recent generation of tech users have never even held—let alone inserted—one. And yet,…

Cisco Live 2018: Vendor Opens Management Console to Partners

In this article for TechTarget, Sirius Federal's VP of Client Solutions Jason Parry weighs in on the new opportunities arising from Cisco DNA Center. In Cisco's latest nod to software, the company has opened its Cisco DNA Center to developers,…

NextGov: How to Integrate TIC Security with the Federal Cloud-First Mandate

When the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative was first introduced more than a decade ago, the goal was to improve security in government IT systems by limiting the number of individual external network connections to the internet. Before implementing TIC security…

CSO: Security Metrics You Need for the Board

No one wants to show up to an important meeting empty-handed. But with so many analytics right at their fingertips, how can CSOs pick the right numbers to reflect their work? Here are three imperative security metrics to have in…

Preventing Ransomware Attacks the Right Way

Ransomware attacks continue to be a major threat with no sign of slowing down. Here are some lessons organizations can learn from federal agencies to better prevent them. While ransomware is hardly a new threat, it’s far from being obsolete.…

Anomaly Detection: Stop Threats Before They Hit Your Network

In today’s IT environment, endpoint monitoring is fairly standard procedure. Most organizations have at least some sort of system in place allowing them to collect network monitor firewalls and collect network usage data to for network anomaly detection. But, by…

5 Reasons Why Vulnerability Management Is No Longer Optional

For agencies determined to create the most effective network security strategy possible, vulnerability management is no longer optional—it’s a necessity.  If there’s anything we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that cyber threats just keep coming. Thwart one and a new…

Best Practices for Thwarting Insider Threats

Testing the excerpt override field.

Dark Reading: 3 Tips to Keep Cybersecurity Front & Center

In today’s environment, a focus on cybersecurity isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity, and making sure that focus is achieved starts with the company’s culture. For IT departments — especially in large organizations — daily operations are complex, multifaceted, and…

IoT & The Intelligent Edge: Defending Outside The Firewall

The Internet of Things, though still evolving, has pushed its way into the workplace. The result? CSOs are working overtime to keep up. What’s the protocol for these connected devices, and how do they fit into the existing security infrastructure?…

GCN: The Hidden Challenges of Federal IT Modernization

In the next three years, an estimated $3 billion worth of federal IT equipment will reach end-of-life status, according to former U.S. Federal CIO Tony Scott. It’s an intimidating number, and one that indicates just how far-reaching the need is…