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A Zero Trust Architecture Model for Access Control

The principles of zero trust, as described in NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-207, have
become the guiding markers for developing secure zero trust architecture. A well-established
class of applications is the cloud-native application class. The generally accepted
characterization of a cloud-native application includes the following:

  • The application is made up of a set of loosely coupled components called microservices. Each of the microservices can be hosted on different physical or virtual machines (VMs) and even be geographically distributed (e.g., within several facilities that belong to the enterprise, such as the headquarters, branch offices, and in various cloud service provider environments).
  • Any transaction involving the application may also involve one or more inter-service (microservice) calls across the network.
  • A widespread feature (though not necessarily a requirement for cloud-native applications) is the presence of a software platform called the service mesh that provides an integrated set of all application services (e.g., services discovery, networking connections, communication resilience, and security services like authentication and authorization). The realization of a zero trust architecture for the above class of cloud-native applications requires a robust policy framework. In order to follow zero trust principles, the constituent polices in the framework should consider the following scenario:
  • There should not be implicit trust in users, services, or devices based exclusively on their network location, affiliation, or ownership. Hence, policy definitions and associated security controls based on the segmentation or isolation of networks using network parameters (e.g., IP addresses, subnets, perimeter) are insufficient. These policies fall under the classification of network-tier policies.
  • To ensure the presence of zero trust principles throughout the entire application, network-tier policies must be augmented with policies that establish trust in the identity of the various participating entities (e.g., users and services) irrespective of the location of the services or applications, whether on-premises or on multiple clouds. This document provides guidance for realizing a zero trust architecture that can enforce granular application-level policies for cloud-native applications. The guidance is anchored in the following:
  • A combination of network-tier and identity-tier policies
  • The components of cloud-native applications that enable the definition and deployment of those policies, such as edge, ingress, sidecar, and egress gateways; the creation, issuance, and maintenance of service identities; and the issuance of authentication and authorization tokens that carry user identities in the enterprise application infrastructure that encompasses multi-cloud and hybrid environments.

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