By Shaun Brown

As cybercrime grows, the water and wastewater industry faces unique challenges in protecting critical infrastructure. Many cities and towns have been exploring ways to defend themselves from digital threats. While there are several best practices and security measures to consider, Zero-Trust Architecture is getting lots of attention as a powerful defense mechanism. But is this approach right for your community? There are several things you should consider before implementing this type of cybersecurity.

What is Zero-Trust Architecture?

Zero-Trust Architecture is a security framework that challenges the traditional, perimeter-based security model where anything inside your firewall (or perimeter) is considered safe within your organization’s domain. So, if you log into your domain, you can access whatever you’ve been allowed to access.

Conversely, Zero-Trust Architecture operates on the principle of “never trust, always verify,” where it doesn’t matter if you’ve been permitted to access a program or file structure—you will still have to be verified by going through a standard set of tests (like a retinal or fingerprint test followed by checks on an authorized device) before being allowed to access information or programs. If you move from one resource to another, the validation process again uses the original login. Remember that you don’t have to physically start the login process again when you move to another file or program; the credentials you provided initially validate you when you move from file to file or program to program.

Zero-Trust Architecture is becoming increasingly popular as a security framework within IT networks, and many industries require it to meet regulatory compliance standards. It has been proven effective in protecting against cyber threats, and its use is growing across many industries.

Organizations that adopt Zero-Trust Architecture can proactively mitigate risks, reduce the attack surface, and safeguard critical infrastructure while saving time.

Is Zero-Trust Architecture Right for My Organization?

Zero-Trust Architecture could enhance the resilience of your critical infrastructure, safeguard sensitive data, maintain operational continuity, and comply with industry regulations for water and wastewater plants. However, the Zero Trust model is truly a culture change, and it’s going to take an investment in time, resources, and money to set up and operate efficiently. It will also depend on the in-house resources you have and their skill sets. The difficult part will be remaining dedicated to the plan and committed to implementing the level of security your plant desires or is regulated to meet.

If you decide you’re not ready for Zero-Trust Architecture, that doesn’t mean your treatment plant can’t have a long-range plan in place. Ultimately, the most critical part of cybersecurity measures is finding a good fit for your plant. Start by asking yourself what you’re trying to accomplish in cybersecurity protection. In the meantime, many measures, such as multi-factor authentication, firewalls, and staff training, will create a much safer environment for your data and applications.

Many cybersecurity experts will tell you we would be more secure if we all had Zero-Trust Architecture in place. It’s worth the effort, but planning, executing, and maintaining will take commitment and staff time.

Additional Resources and Information

Need more information or want an evaluation of your current security measures? We’re always happy to talk more about solutions that work for you and your facility.

We recommend you consult this resource: Free Cyber Vulnerability Scanning for Water Utilities. Take a look, think about where your treatment is regarding cybersecurity, and then contact us for help interpreting this information and assistance with a plan that’s right for you!