Leveraging AT&T Cybersecurity Consulting for a robust Zero Trust Center of Excellence

August 22, 2023  |  Keith Thomas

As cybersecurity becomes increasingly complex, having a centralized team of experts driving continuous innovation and improvement in their Zero Trust journey is invaluable. A Zero Trust Center of Excellence (CoE) can serve as the hub of expertise, driving the organization's strategy in its focus area, standardizing best practices, fostering innovation, and providing training. It can also help organizations adapt to changes in the cybersecurity landscape, such as new regulations or technologies, ensuring they remain resilient and secure in the face of future challenges. The Zero Trust CoE also ensures that organization’s stay up-to-date with the latest security trends, technologies, and threats, while constantly applying and implementing the most effective security measures.

Zero Trust is a security concept that continues to evolve but is centered on the belief that organizations should not automatically trust anything inside or outside of their perimeters. Instead, organizations must verify and grant access to anything and everything trying to connect to their systems and data. This can be achieved through a unified strategy and approach by centralizing the organization's Zero Trust initiatives into a CoE. Below are some of the benefits realized through a Zero Trust CoE.

Zero Trust - advantages of using a center of excellence
A critical aspect of managing a Zero Trust CoE effectively is the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs are quantifiable measurements that reflect the performance of an organization in achieving its objectives. In the context of a Zero Trust CoE, KPIs can help measure the effectiveness of the organization's Zero Trust initiatives, providing valuable insights that can guide decision-making and strategy.

Creating a Zero Trust CoE involves identifying the key roles and responsibilities that will drive the organization's Zero Trust initiatives. This typically includes a leadership team, a Zero Trust architecture team, a engineering team, a policy and compliance team, an education and training team, and a research and development team. These teams will need to be organized to support the cross-functional collaboration necessary for enhancing productivity.

A Zero Trust CoE should be organized in a way that aligns with the organization's overall strategy and goals, while also ensuring effective collaboration and communication. AT&T Cybersecurity consultants can also provide valuable leadership and deep technical guidance for each of the teams. Below is an approach to structuring the different members of the CoE team:

teams within a zero trust COE

  • Leadership team: This team is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the CoE. It typically includes senior executives and leaders from various departments, such as IT, security, and business operations.
  • Zero Trust architects: This individual or team is responsible for designing and implementing the Zero Trust architecture within the organization. They work closely with the leadership team to ensure that the architecture aligns with the organization's strategic goals.
  • Engineering team: This team is responsible for the technical implementation of the Zero Trust strategy. This includes network engineers, security analysts, and other IT professionals.
  • Policy and compliance team: This team is responsible for developing and enforcing policies related to Zero Trust. They also ensure that the organization follows compliance with relevant regulations and standards.
  • Education and training team: This team is responsible for educating and training staff members about Zero Trust principles and practices. They develop training materials, conduct workshops, and provide ongoing support.
  • Research and lab team: This team stays abreast of the latest developments in Zero Trust and explores new technologies and approaches that could enhance the organization's Zero Trust capabilities. AT&T Cybersecurity consultants, with their finger on the pulse of the latest trends and developments, can provide valuable insights to this team.

Each of these teams should have its own set of KPIs that align with the organization's overall business goals. For example, the KPIs for the 'Engineering Team' could include the number of systems that have been migrated to the Zero Trust architecture, while the KPIs for the 'Policy and Compliance Team' could include the percentage of staff members who comply with the organization's Zero Trust policies.

Monitoring and evaluating these KPIs regularly is crucial for ensuring the effectiveness of the CoE. This should be done at least quarterly but could be done more frequently depending on the specific KPI and the dynamics of the organization and the cybersecurity landscape. The results of this monitoring and evaluation should be used to adjust the CoE's activities and strategies as needed.

There are challenges associated with monitoring and evaluating KPIs. It can be time-consuming and require specialized skills and tools. Additionally, it can be difficult to determine the cause of changes in KPIs, and there can be a lag between changes in activities and changes in KPIs. To overcome these challenges, it's important to have clear processes and responsibilities for monitoring and evaluating KPIs, to use appropriate tools and techniques, and to be patient and persistent.

While the CoE offers many benefits, it can also present challenges. Without leadership and oversight, it can become resource-intensive, create silos, slow down decision-making, and be resistant to change. To overcome these challenges, it's important to ensure that the CoE is aligned with the organization's overall strategy and goals, promotes collaboration and communication, and remains flexible and adaptable. AT&T Cybersecurity consultants, with their deep expertise and broad perspective, can provide valuable leadership in each of these areas. They can help consolidate expertise, develop and enforce standards, drive innovation, and provide education and training.

The CoE should drive Zero Trust related projects, such as developing a Zero Trust Architecture that includes components such as Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), a capability of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). The CoE can provide the expertise, resources, and guidance needed to successfully implement these types of projects. Implementing ZTNA requires a structured, multi-phased project that would have a plan similar to the following:

  • Project initiation: Develop a project plan with timelines, resources, and budget. Identify the scope, objectives, and deliverables as well as the key stakeholders and project team members.
  • Assessment and planning: Develop a detailed plan for implementing ZTNA. Conduct a thorough assessment of the current network infrastructure and security environment looking for vulnerabilities and areas of improvement.
  • Design and develop: Design the ZTNA architecture, taking into account the organization’s specific needs and constraints. Create test plans to be used in the lab, pilot sites, and during deployment.
  • Implementation: Deploy and monitor the ZTNA program in a phased manner, starting with less critical systems and gradually expanding to more critical ones.
  • Education and training: Develop and distribute user guides and other training materials. Conduct training sessions on how to use the new system.
  • Monitoring: Continuously monitor the performance of the platform, report on the assigned KPIs, and conduct regular audits to identify areas for improvement.
  • Maintenance and support: Regularly update and improve the solution based on feedback and technical innovations. Provide ongoing technical support for users of the ZTNA platform.

Throughout the ZTNA implementation, the Zero Trust CoE plays a central role in coordinating activities, providing expertise, and ensuring alignment with the organization’s overall Zero Trust strategy. The CoE is responsible for communicating with stakeholders, managing risk, and ensuring the project stays on track and achieves the stated objectives.

In conclusion, a Zero Trust Center of Excellence is a powerful tool that can help organizations enhance their cybersecurity posture, stay ahead of evolving threats, and drive continuous improvement in their Zero Trust initiatives. By centralizing expertise, standardizing practices, fostering innovation, and providing education and training, a Zero Trust CoE can provide a strategic, coordinated approach to managing Zero Trust initiatives.

As cyber threats continue to evolve, the importance and potential of a Zero Trust CoE, led by AT&T cybersecurity consultants, will only increase. Contact AT&T Cybersecurity for more information on the Zero Trust journey and how to establish a Center of Excellence.

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