Zero Trust Architecture


Reports on Computer Systems Technology
The Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) promotes the U.S. economy and public welfare by providing technical leadership for the Nation’s measurement and standards infrastructure. ITL develops tests, test methods, reference data, proof of concept implementations, and technical analyses to advance the development and productive use of information technology. ITL’s responsibilities include the development of management, administrative, technical, and physical standards and guidelines for the cost-effective security and privacy of other than national security-related information in federal information systems. The Special Publication 800-series reports on ITL’s research, guidelines, and outreach efforts in information system security, and its collaborative activities with industry, government, and academic organizations.


Zero trust (ZT) is the term for an evolving set of cybersecurity paradigms that move defenses from static, network-based perimeters to focus on users, assets, and resources. A zero trust architecture (ZTA) uses zero trust principles to plan industrial and enterprise infrastructure and workflows. Zero trust assumes there is no implicit trust granted to assets or user accounts based solely on their physical or network location (i.e., local area networks versus the internet) or based on asset ownership (enterprise or personally owned). Authentication and authorization (both subject and device) are discrete functions performed before a session to an enterprise resource is established. Zero trust is a response to enterprise network trends that include remote users, bring your own device (BYOD), and cloud-based assets that are not located within an enterprise-owned network boundary. Zero trust focuses on protecting resources (assets, services, workflows, network accounts, etc.), not network segments, as the network location is no longer seen as the prime component to the security posture of the resource. This document contains an abstract definition of zero trust architecture (ZTA) and gives general deployment models and use cases where zero trust could improve an enterprise’s overall information technology security posture.


This document is the product of a collaboration between multiple federal agencies and is overseen by the Federal CIO Council. The architecture subgroup is responsible for development of this document, but there are specific individuals who deserve recognition. These include Greg Holden, project manager of the Federal CIO Council ZTA project; Alper Kerman, project manager for the NIST/National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence ZTA effort; and Douglas Montgomery.


This document is intended to describe zero trust for enterprise security architects. It is meant to aid understanding of zero trust for civilian unclassified systems and provide a road map to migrate and deploy zero trust security concepts to an enterprise environment. Agency cybersecurity managers, network administrators, and managers may also gain insight into zero trust and ZTA from this document. It is not intended to be a single deployment plan for ZTA as an enterprise will have unique business use cases and data assets that require safeguards. Starting with a solid understanding of the organization’s business and data will result in a strong approach to zero trust.


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