Zero Trust for Credit Unions: Best Practices

Zero trust is an astute approach to cybersecurity in which implicit trust is effectively eliminated, and continuous validation at every stage of digital interaction is mandated. This principle is rooted in a “never trust, always verify” viewpoint to protect modern environments through strong authentication methods, leveraging network segmentation, providing layered threat prevention, preventing lateral movements, and simplifying granular access control. For credit unions, zero trust is employed to protect the credit union infrastructure by following least privilege access or whitelisting for resource access strategies. This approach helps you maintain the integrity of the credit union’s corporate network without compromising system performance.

Further, this strategy helps meets the need for robust defenses, especially today, where a huge cross-section of users with access to the union’s data is not within the network’s perimeters or will often not be using devices belonging to the credit union.

This comes in the wake of the rush to digitize most credit unions following the COVID-19 pandemic, which left said firms increasingly susceptible to a new range of threats. The latter exposes credit unions to consequences, including data loss and data infiltration. These create the opportunity for significant financial impact, with research showing that direct cyber attacks have an annual financial risk ranging from $190,000 for small credit unions to more than $1.2 million for large credit unions.

Credit unions cannot afford the financial impact of the cyber vulnerabilities they are exposed to. As such, there’s a need for targeted strategies to address the most costly areas of risk. That’s where zero trust comes in. This article highlights the zero trust best practices for credit unions to help these firms address and remediate critical cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Best Practice #1: Implement Strong Identity and Access Management

A new dark web audit proves that the traditional username and password combo will no longer suffice in the face of the ever-sophisticated cyber-criminal. In the face of this unchartered ascent of cybercriminals, it is important to implement strong identity and access management practices.

The aforementioned begins with accurately identifying and authenticating users. Doing so eliminates any consumer friction that might crop up and biases and inaccuracies that might lead to false rejections or acceptances. Accurately identifying and authenticating users ensures improved user experience and greater security, making it harder for cyber criminals to gain access or for legitimate users to be locked out.

There are a few tips for implementing strong identity and access management policies and technologies. These include:

  • Enforcing a strong password policy
  • Leveraging multi-factor authentication
  • Adopting a principle of least privilege
  • Automating workflows
  • Enforcing just-in-time access where appropriate
  • Leveraging both role-based access control and attribute-based access control protocols

Best Practice #2: Segment and Microsegment Networks of Credit Unions

At present, credit unions have to grapple with advanced persistent threats and attacks that are more sophisticated. Unfortunately, perimeter-only defenses no longer suffice; thus, cybersecurity teams must consider segmenting and micro-segmenting networks. This security strategy holds several benefits, including reducing the attack surface and ultimately containing breaches. Segmenting and micro-segmenting your networks help reduce the attack surface and provide granular visibility into your workload connections. Moreover, this strategy simplifies compliance, helps with easy environment separation, aids in creating reusable security policy templates, and provides in-depth views into hybrid environments.

To secure the different zones within your networks, there are a few segmenting and micro-segmenting best practices that you ought to follow.

To begin with, you want to map your network architecture so that you can accurately identify, configure and enforce security policies. By taking inventory of your current network architecture, you obtain a blueprint that you can use to start your investigation into your traffic behavior. The latter helps you identify where traffic flows and where communication occurs. This is vital as it prevents you from having any blind spots and gaps in your security.

An insider tip is to take a phased approach toward segmenting and micro-segmenting. Keep in mind that this is not a sprint. Consider starting with a broad, zone-based network segmentation policy and then narrowing it down to application-based policies. You can then work it down into more granular policies, which make segmentation and micro-segmentation relatively manageable. Zero Trust for Credit Unions: Best Practices

Best Practice #3: Monitor and Analyze Network Traffic

An additional best practice is implementing a solution that can help you continuously monitor and analyze your network’s traffic. In doing so, you can optimize your network’s performance, minimize the attack surface, improve resource management, and enhance security. Moreover, you can better collect historical data and establish a baseline as you benefit from a comparison point. The advantage is you can automatically raise an alert as soon as performances degrade. Fortunately, monitoring network traffic isn’t as daunting as it could be perceived. You could follow a few tips to implement network traffic monitoring and analysis tools and processes.

The first and most vital tip is to identify network data sources. This should help you gain better visibility into what’s happening throughout your entire network. Specifically, you want to identify your flow, packet, Wi-Fi, and device data. Additionally, uncover all the devices, interfaces, applications, VPNs, and users on your network. Consider leveraging a network topology mapper for this, as it provides you better visibility into the list of network devices and their bandwidth usage of your applications.

Further, consider implementing the proper network traffic monitoring tools. You have several options: a NetFlow Analyzer, a packet analyzer, a network performance dashboard, and a proactive alerting tool. Additional tips include:

  • Monitoring traffic based on the specific network providers
  • Optimizing network traffic
  • Utilizing a router for network traffic monitoring

Best Practice #4: Use Encryption and Data Masking

To meet your obligation of protecting the privacy of your customers, employees, and other individuals whose data you interact with at the credit union, you ought to consider using encryption and data masking.

With data masking, you’ll be transforming or obscuring said data to protect it from unauthorized access. On the other hand, encryption protects your confidential data by converting it into unreadable ciphertext without an encryption key.

Think of both as a comprehensive and layered approach to data privacy protection. They both hold several benefits, including:

  • Increased security- Encrypting or disguising your data makes it significantly more difficult for threat actors to access it. The impact is better protection of all confidential data.
  • Compliance with regulations- Seeing as you are likely dealing with sensitive personal information, you are regulated by many bodies, including the PCI Security Standards Council. Fortunately, with encryption and data masking, you should be able to meet the compliance requirements put in place by such bodies.
  • Improved efficiency- Leveraging encryption and data masking can help speed up the process of data analysis and reporting. The consequence is that you end up saving your time and money.
  • Improved accuracy- When you encrypt or mask your data, you are sure that the data you are working with is accurate. The consequence is that you can better decide as these will be based on accurate information.
  • Improved privacy- By disguising data, you can better protect your customers’ privacy. Other than giving you peace of mind, you are better able to build trust between your business and your customers.

Implementing Astute Encryption and Data Masking Technologies

  • Classifying and cataloging your data beforehand
  • Ensuring that the masked and encrypted data truly represents the original data
  • Refreshing masked and encrypted copies regularly
  • Using the right encryption and masking techniques, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach

Best Practice #5: Adopt a Risk-Based Approach to Cybersecurity

The last zero trust best practice for credit unions is to adopt a risk-based approach to cybersecurity. The latter allows you to adopt strategies tailored to the unique environment in which your credit union operates. This approach delivers value to your organization as it allows you to understand the risk of mitigation efforts and provides you with a comprehensive view of risk. The benefits of adopting a risk-based approach to cybersecurity include helping the organization adopt a robust set of security controls designed to your credit union’s specific needs. Further, this approach helps the organization justify its specific security investments. Finally, a risk-based approach to cybersecurity allows your organization to change its threat landscape to match any perceived risks. To implement a risk-based cybersecurity approach, there are a few tips you ought to abide by. These tips include:

  • Conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment
  • Establishing network access controls
  • Creating a patch management schedule
  • Continuously monitoring network approach
  • Building an incident response plan
  • Examining the physical security of your business
  • Minimizing your attack surface

Concisely, zero trust best practices for credit unions include implementing strong identity and access management, segmenting and micro-segmenting networks, monitoring and analyzing network traffic, using encryption and data masking, and adopting a risk-based approach to cybersecurity. By implementing these best practices, credit unions are assured that the systems they have in place are resilient enough even for the most sophisticated attacks. Your credit union is better able to stay protected against the emerging threats of today and tomorrow. Talk to us today, and let’s help you implement these and more zero-trust best practices for your credit union.

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