Zero Trust was introduced in 2009, but it gained significant traction with the rise of cloud-first infrastructures and remote work. Now, it’s a commonly used industry term — but its frequent productization by vendors and sales teams has led to confusion and misconceptions around Zero Trust. This article will identify and clarify some of the most common of these misconceptions to help IT professionals better understand Zero Trust security.
Misconception #1: Zero Trust Is a Product.
Because Zero Trust is a new and effective security method that’s becoming necessary to protect modern environments, vendors have jumped to leverage Zero Trust’s criticality when marketing their products. The result is a market saturated with the term “Zero Trust” and solutions claiming to offer or be Zero Trust. This has led to a misconception that Zero Trust is a product or solution.
Clarified: Zero Trust Is a Framework.
Unfortunately, there is no Zero Trust “silver bullet.” While some products and solutions may help you implement or support Zero Trust, no product will allow you to immediately become fully Zero Trust compliant. Zero Trust is not a product or offering.
Zero Trust is a security approach or framework. It’s a set of principles and practices that reliably secure the modern perimeterless organization. The framework was originally introduced by Forrester, and other security leaders like NIST have published Zero Trust guidelines since. Forrester has even released a Zero Trust roadmap that walks organizations through the steps of implementation.
Misconception #2: Zero Trust Means Users Aren’t Trusted.
The name “Zero Trust” has created a common misconception among users that there is no trust within their organization, or that their organization views them as untrustworthy. This misconception can generate pushback among users, which can significantly slow or derail a Zero Trust program rollout.
Clarified: Zero Trust Requires Secure Authentication Before Trusting Users.
Zero Trust doesn’t mean no trust; it means no trust before secure authentication — e.g., passwordless or multi-factor authentication (MFA). It speaks to the transition away from the old model of implicit trust within the perimeter; instead, Zero Trust requires authentication at every access transaction. This repeated authentication both prevents breaches and blocks lateral movement (in case of a breach) to mitigate damage.
To offset the friction that comes with frequent authentication, single sign-on (SSO) and conditional access policies reduce the number of times users have to login and complete MFA without compromising on security.
SSO reduces the number of times users need to manually authenticate; once the user logs in, it connects them to their applications with secure protocols like SAML and SCIM. Conditional access can be programmed to waive some login requirements like MFA upon recognition of secure login conditions; conversely, in unprotected environments, it can increase restrictions or deny access. The result is a set of contextualized and intelligent policies that improve both the user experience and security.
Misconception #3: Zero Trust Isn’t User Friendly.
It’s a common misconception that businesses must choose between user-friendliness and security. In the past, a paradigm existed that pinned ease of use, speed, and security as mutually exclusive factors when it came to adopting new technology. And while modern security technology has moved to the cloud and better accommodates the user, this misconception persists with users, IT, and leadership alike, creating barriers to buy-in and adoption.
Clarified: Zero Trust Can Enhance User-Friendliness.
Today, modern security technology bakes usability into offerings as an essential component of security: user-friendly tools are more likely to cause errors and workarounds that drive vulnerability up. Many of these modern security solutions support a Zero Trust architecture: for example, push notification MFA reduces user error and mobile device management (MDM) allows users to work on the devices they’re more comfortable with. Both are critical components of Zero Trust.
When done right, Zero Trust security and usability actually fuel each other. Modern security tools deliver better usability, which, in turn, reduces human error and shadow IT, ultimately improving security.
Misconception #4: Zero Trust Is a Turnkey Solution.
The frequent marketing of IT products as the answer to Zero Trust has driven a misconception that Zero Trust as a turnkey solution. Unfortunately, there’s no “on” switch or one-and-done way to adopt a Zero Trust security approach.
Clarified: Zero Trust Is a Journey.
Forrester estimates a Zero Trust rollout to take about two to three years. This is because it is a sweeping, long-term initiative with a wide scope, and it requires strategic customization to every environment. While roadmaps and practical guides provide helpful guidance for developing a roadmap, no two roadmaps will be exactly alike.
Not sure where to start with your Zero Trust rollout? Check out our blog, Zero Trust: Where and How to Get Started.
Misconception #5: Zero Trust Is Too Complex to Bother With.
Because Zero Trust takes a long time to fully implement, it is often viewed as highly complex. This can make it a deterrent to IT professionals with little time on their hands to dive into new topics and to leadership unwilling to invest in something that seems overly complicated. However, Zero Trust is based on a straightforward concept.
Clarified: Zero Trust Security Doesn’t Have to Be So Complex.
At its core, Zero Trust enforces the principle of least privilege (PLP) with secure MFA everywhere, supported by strong monitoring and mitigation. Misconceptions have driven confusion around what it is, what it isn’t, and a lack of helpful guidance around how to achieve it.
To help IT professionals cut through the noise, check out Zero Trust Demystified, a whitepaper designed to offer practical Zero Trust clarification and guidance to IT professionals at small and medium enterprises (SMEs).