Why Risk-Based Authentication Is Essential to a Zero Trust Strategy

Risk-Based Authentication for Zero Trust

Today’s evolving and expanding threat landscape has rendered traditional security measures inadequate for safeguarding sensitive data and systems. Organizations grapple with elevated risks as malicious actors continuously devise new ways to circumvent standard security protocols and exploit vulnerabilities. Additionally, the shift towards remote and hybrid work models has brought new avenues of attack. Recent breaches show just how easy it is for hackers to use social engineering tactics to call an IT service desk, impersonate an end user to gain access, and then elevate privileges, install malware, or even shut down entire systems. 

In response to these challenges, government agencies, cybersecurity experts and industry bodies unanimously advocate for the adoption of a Zero Trust security approach. Zero Trust challenges the outdated notion that traditional network security perimeters are sufficient for defense, instead taking a "Never trust, always verify" stance. This involves the constant authentication and validation of users' identities, their devices, and their security configurations before granting or maintaining access to applications and data. Risk-based authentication is a pivotal component of a Zero Trust strategy, and is essential for mitigating these threats and attacks.

What Is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a comprehensive security framework designed to counteract modern cyberthreats. It operates on the foundational premise that secure perimeters and network edges are obsolete. With resources dispersed across various locations, encompassing on-premises, cloud, and hybrid environments, and with personnel accessing them from anywhere, conventional security models no longer suffice.

Zero Trust endeavors to eradicate trust assumptions at every layer of the network architecture. All users, whether internal or external to the organization's network, are treated as potential threats until they conclusively prove otherwise through rigorous authentication and authorization processes. The principal components of Zero Trust encompass perpetual monitoring, stringent access controls, and continuous validation that the user is who they say they are at all times.

What Is Risk-Based Authentication?

Risk-based authentication, also referred to as adaptive authentication, constitutes an essential  element of a Zero Trust strategy. It assesses the probability of an account being compromised and adjusts authentication requirements and actions based on risk level. A risk-based authentication system continuously evaluates various factors, including:

  • Trust Level: Is the user logging in from a recognized and trusted device, or is it an unfamiliar device?
  • Location: Is the user accessing resources from an expected location or a remote, potentially suspicious location?
  • Network: Is the user connecting from a known and secure network, or is the network connection unverified?
  • Other user behavior and device and browser risk signals: For example, what is device health status (is it rooted or jailbroken, is the OS up to date), time of day the user is logging in, does the user behavior match behavior history?
  • Sensitivity: Is the requested resource highly sensitive, necessitating additional security measures?
  • Threat Landscape Risks: Are there emerging security threats that create an additional level of risk?

Based on analysis of these factors, the risk-based authentication system determines a risk score. The user may either proceed with a standard login method or be prompted to provide additional proof of identity and authorization. Some more sophisticated systems may even prompt users to re-verify their identity altogether according to defined policies.

Why Is Risk-Based Authentication Imperative for Zero Trust?

Zero Trust hinges on context-driven security policies and rigorous user authentication, eschewing reliance on trust assumptions. Risk-based authentication plays a central role by continuously monitoring risk indicators and adapting authentication criteria accordingly.

Risk-based authentication empowers organizations to:

  • Identify High-Risk Scenarios: By assessing real-time risk factors, organizations can promptly discern potentially high-risk activities or access attempts. Subsequently, they can prompt users for additional authentication or re-authentication.
  • Safeguard Sensitive Resources: Zero Trust authentication grants organizations the ability to restrict access to sensitive resources based on risk assessments. For instance, they can block access to critical data when unusual or risky behavior, such as an attempt to access from an unmanaged device, is detected.
  • Enhance User Experience: While elevating security, risk-based authentication also streamlines the user experience. Users are prompted for additional authentication only when deemed necessary, thus reducing friction during routine access attempts.

Continuous Risk-Based Authentication vs. Point-in-Time

In the contemporary threat landscape, point-in-time authentication, limited to initial login or upon access of specific resources, is no longer adequate. To attain genuine Zero Trust authentication, organizations must continually validate a user's identity and authorization constantly and consistently. This ongoing verification is indispensable for preempting unauthorized access and promptly identifying suspicious activities.

In a Zero Trust environment, access to diverse resources is subject to control and monitoring through enforcement points aligned with policies. For instance, instead of solely relying on users “claimed” identity, a risk-based policy takes into account the user's complete behavior and risk profile, empowering organizations to take immediate action upon detecting abnormal or high-risk behavior or situations.

HYPR Risk-Based Authentication Accelerates Your Zero Trust Strategy

Risk-based authentication serves as a cornerstone of a Zero Trust approach, allowing organizations to outpace cyber adversaries and offer a more secure and user-friendly authentication experience.

HYPR provides continuous, rigorous Zero Trust authentication while removing user friction. HYPR Adapt continuous authentication continuously assesses risk signals and telemetry from a broad and diverse set of sources. Results can be used to dynamically enforce step-up authentication or re-verification, as well as shared with SIEM, SOAR and other enterprise systems for additional enforcement or reporting actions.  HYPR Authenticate replaces passwords and traditional MFA with phishing-resistant passkeys that remain in the most secured areas of the user device at all times. It combines two strong factors into a single user action; users log in only once to safely access organizational resources, desktop to cloud. For the most complete Zero Trust solution, which addresses the entire identity lifecycle, including establishing and maintaining secure, verified identities, HYPR also offers integrated identity verification with HYPR Affirm.

To learn how HYPR’s passwordless, risk-based authentication and comprehensive identity assurance solution can help you meet Zero Trust objectives, speak to an identity security expert or sign up for a demo.

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