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The UK’s NCSC Cyber Essentials Zero Trust Update: Explained

Feb 07 2023

Late in January this year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre announced an update to its Cyber Essentials scheme in order to ensure it “continues to help UK organisations guard against the most common cyber threats”. This year’s update isn’t an overhaul on the same scale as last year’s, but it did include important new guidance about zero trust architectures. You can see more detail here, but in essence, the April 2023 updates confirm that Cyber Essentials certification requirements are completely aligned with a zero trust architecture (as understood and explained by the NCSC here.) 

Why Change?

I was particularly pleased to see this update, and the language that explains the rationale for supporting a zero trust architectural approach is notable:

“…many organisations are embracing flexible working, which means lots of different device types may connect to your systems from many locations….it’s also increasingly common for organisations to share data with their partners and guest users, which requires more granular access control policies….Zero trust architecture is designed to cope with these changing conditions by enabling an improved user experience for remote access and data sharing.”

NIST defines zero trust as: “ the term for an evolving set of cybersecurity paradigms that move defenses from static, network-based perimeters to focus on users, assets, and resources.”

Why Now?

Gartner currently estimates that just 10% of large enterprises will have a mature and measurable zero-trust programme in place by 2026—that’s only an increase of 1% compared to today. And Gartner VP John Watts explains why zero trust is important:

“Many organisations established their infrastructure with implicit rather than explicit trust models to ease access and operations for workers and workloads. Attackers abuse this implicit trust in infrastructure to establish malware and then move laterally to achieve their objectives”.

This implicit trust is prevalent, with many organisations designing exceptions within their security policy for “trusted” cloud applications such as Microsoft 365. They often do this when their legacy security architecture causes user experience problems when it relies on physical appliances and long-winded routing maps. I posted about this last year, and the Netskope Threat Lab’s annual report proved my point when it showed that in 2022, 30% of all cloud malware downloads originated from Microsoft OneDrive. We should never implicitly trust applications, users or network connections when designing security policy. 

And yet “zero trust” isn’t a panacea either—in fact Gartner makes it clear that those ever innovative cyber criminals are setting their eyes on targets that are not (or cannot be) covered by zero trust controls. However, as part of a robust security strategy, technology solutions such as zero trust network access (ZTNA) are certainly some of the most useful tools that security professionals can start to implement today. 

Why Netskope?

Netskope holds the NCSC’s advanced “Cyber Essentials Plus” certification, so we know these guidelines and know what is required to comply. On top of that, we happen to be world experts in zero trust—handy.

Netskope helps organisations deliver zero trust across all four transformation stages of networking, security, applications, and data with a unified SASE-ready security service edge (SSE) platform. We do this by enabling context-driven, correctly-privileged access to both private and public applications.

We get excellent feedback from our customers (click the link and search for “zero trust” feedback). Here are a few examples:

  • “Netskope is playing a significant role in our organisation reaching our zero-trust security goals”
  • “Netskope is an important step towards zero trust for our company”
  • “Netskope allows for the enablement of our Zero Trust strategy”

We would love to have a conversation with you about how we can support your efforts to implement zero trust, or achieve Cyber Essentials certification. Take a look at our eBook; How to Apply Zero Trust Principles the Right Way, for more thoughts on this.

author image
Neil Thacker
Neil Thacker is a veteran information security professional and a data protection and privacy expert well-versed in the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR).

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