Zero Trust Maturity Model: A Definitive Guide

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Identity is a topic philosophers have struggled with for years. Identity as a concept spawns many smaller questions, such as “What makes you who you are?”. In the realm of cybersecurity, identity is just as groundbreaking and raises comparable concerns when trying to discern who is who and who should have access to what.

In 2023, the global average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million, representing a 15% increase over the last three years. Now more than ever, it is imperative that companies take a proactive approach to secure their resources and continuously monitor their security posture – starting with that age-old yet ever-changing concept of identity. 

This article will discuss what the zero trust maturity model is, its stages, and its pillars. Then, we will provide actionable steps for you to implement zero trust maturity model principles in your enterprise.

What is the Zero Trust Maturity Model?

The Zero Trust Maturity Model (ZTMM) provides a framework organizations can use to incrementally bolster their security by implementing zero trust in their environment. The fundamental principle of zero trust refrains from granting implicit trust to any user or asset within a given environment. In simpler terms, trust no one, always verify.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released the initial version of the Zero Trust Maturity Model in August 2021, and it served as a valuable resource for organizations considering adopting a zero trust security architecture.

In March 2022, the CISA released a second version (ZTMM 2.0) in response to feedback from the original and to reflect modern security practices. Because the path to zero trust is an incremental process that may take years to implement, the CISA recommends a three-stage approach to zero trust maturity.

Stages of Zero Trust Maturity Model

1. Traditional

This is where most organizations find themselves at the starting line of their zero trust journey. Here, security practices are often largely manual and may rely on conventional trust models, where access controls are based on network location rather than the individual’s identity or device posture. It’s a common starting point characterized by a sense of trust within the network perimeter.

2. Initial 

At the Initial stage, organizations are tentatively moving away from heavily manual processes. Instead, they’re starting their digital transformation journey by automating tasks like policy enforcement, attribute assignment, and incident response, plus integrating external systems into their business operations.

3. Advanced

The Advanced stage in the Zero Trust Maturity Model signifies a vital evolution from traditional security practices. You can move beyond the initial manual security measures and embrace more sophisticated strategies. At this point, security professionals recognize the limitations of perimeter-based defenses and begin to prioritize identity and context in access control decisions. For example, they have started implementing multi-factor authentication, network segmentation, and more robust monitoring.

4. Optimal

In this pinnacle stage of the Zero Trust Maturity Model, organizations ascend to an advanced state of cybersecurity readiness. The Optimal zero trust architecture stage represents the zenith of their journey, where manual processes have largely yielded to automated tools and systems.

What are the Five Pillars of the Zero Trust Maturity Model?

1. Identity

Identity is central to zero trust as it focuses on verifying all users, devices, applications, and services within the network. The purpose is to ensure that only legitimate entities gain access to resources, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

2. Devices

This pillar emphasizes securing all devices accessing the network, including endpoints like computers and mobile devices. Its purpose is to establish trust by assessing the health and compliance of devices, preventing any from compromising the network.

3. Networks

The Networks pillar advocates for network segmentation and micro-segmentation. The aim is to minimize the attack surface by enforcing strict access controls, ensuring that threats cannot easily move laterally, even if a part of the network is compromised.

4. Data

The Data pillar is dedicated to protecting sensitive information. It aims to protect data through encryption, monitoring, and access controls, ensuring that data access adheres to policies and that data remains secure even if other security measures fail.

5. Applications and Workloads

This pillar focuses on securing applications and workloads to determine access based on dynamic policies. It provides the principle of least privilege and ensures that users or systems only have access to the resources relevant to their operations.

How Can You Apply Zero Trust Maturity Model Principles to Your Enterprise?

Applying Zero Trust Maturity Model principles to your enterprise is a gradual process that requires buy-in from all stakeholders and must align with your organization’s overall security goals. To help you become a zero trust enterprise, follow the below steps.

Define the Protect Surface

The “Protect Surface” spans the entirety of your organization’s digital assets, from critical data to the devices and applications that access it. To effectively safeguard this surface, it’s essential to begin by visualizing your current cybersecurity landscape. Understanding where your security misconfigurations lie is the first step towards fortification.

In this context, IAM solutions step into the spotlight for discovering and profiling human and machine identities and proactively enforcing real-world least privileged access.

Create a Strong Identity and Access Management Framework

Verifying identity is at the core of zero trust, so you can ensure that only legitimate users and devices have access to your resources. After all, 61% of data breaches involved credentials. 

Verifying identity through robust authentication methods is the first line of defense against unauthorized access. Implementing multi-factor authentication and single sign-on (SSO) is essential for enhancing your security posture.

While MFA and SSO are vital, keep in mind that you’ll need to continuously monitor access and identity across all your services and devices to rapidly address blind spots in your identity access management policies. 

Data: Protect Your Crown Jewels

The primary target of cyberattacks is often data, and it’s no surprise there were 493.33 million ransomware attacks in 2022 alone. The importance of protecting your data cannot be overstated. Encrypting data in transit and at rest plays a significant role here. Pairing this strategy with other IAM best practices fortifies the data pillar in your zero trust journey.

Mapping the Transaction Flows

Understanding how users interact with services, what resources they access, and how data flows within your ecosystem is paramount to security. Mapping the transaction flows reveals potential security misconfigurations and empowers you to proactively enforce access controls in line with a zero trust approach. For example, with Rezonate’s simple and intuitive platform, IAM engineers can see and orchestrate the full identity and access map, giving you better visibility over access journeys and greater confidence in making administrative changes. 

Again, IAM security platforms prove their value in this case. You can choose a platform that seamlessly integrates into this landscape, offering a comprehensive view of transaction flows. The best platforms enable you to profile and stay consistent with the principles of least privilege across multiple providers.

Implementing Security Controls Across the Stack

57% of organizations found the shift to decentralized work made patch management harder. As businesses embrace decentralized work models and multiple cloud service providers, ensuring consistent security controls across the stack becomes both challenging and critical.

Performing regular security audits and assessments to identify and rectify weaknesses in your security stack is crucial for maintaining compliance. In addition, you can implement a centralized patch management system to streamline updates across all your services, reducing vulnerabilities.

Educate and Train Your Workforce

Many people think it’s true that humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. This adage underscores a fundamental truth: even the most advanced security systems can be compromised through human error or manipulation. That’s where education and training become indispensable. 

Everyone within your organization must adopt a security-conscious mindset in a zero trust environment. By fostering a zero trust culture, you create a collective defense that operates on the principle of “trust but verify.” In this instance, trust is never assumed; it’s continually validated through stringent authentication and authorization. For example, you could introduce regular incident response drills to prepare your team in case of a security incident.

Securing Your Applications and Workloads

Safeguarding your workloads in the world of zero trust goes beyond mere firewalls and access controls; it’s about active, real-time protection. 

Runtime security steps into the spotlight here. It’s akin to having vigilant sentinels patrolling your digital kingdom 24/7. These sentinels, equipped with the power of runtime security, proactively monitor workloads, ensuring they adhere to the sacred principles of least privilege.

Make Zero Trust Easy and Effective With Real Time Visibility

Zero trust is where trust is earned, not assumed, and proactive measures are paramount. To help you implement zero trust, Rezonate’s identity-centric platform offers comprehensive coverage and visibility of all access plus continuous risk reduction and protection. With Rezonate, you’re not just prepared but actively discovering and mitigating risks.

The world of security is evolving, and your security should evolve with it. Take action and use Rezonate to proactively enforce real-world least privileged access and become a zero trust enterprise.

Book a free demo of Rezonate today.


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“Rezonate combines identity threat detection and posture management to reduce exposure time and optimize our response to suspicious activities. The robust remediation workflows and the UI, make the platform an important asset in our line of defense.”

Paul Groisman

Sr. Director Cyber Security, Fubo

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