“Belonging to the essential nature of a thing; originating and included wholly within an organ or part.” That is the definition of “Intrinsic.” When we were developing the “IT Manhattan Project” framework, we were doing so in direct response to some of the most significant hacks in U.S. Federal history, which piled on to the already unprecedented push to expedite the modernizing of federal IT because of the COVID-19 response. The COVID-19 response shifted the way that the U.S. federal government operated, where our workforce worked from, the immediate need for mobile ‘available from anywhere’ workloads, and how to both secure and support that new way of doing federal business. A new, vigorous push towards rapidly modernizing federal IT environments was underway. Ultimately, it laid the groundwork for producing transformational federal memos and oversight by way of some of the following:
- Executive Order 14028: “Improving The Nation’s Cybersecurity”
- M-22-09: OMB’s Zero Trust Strategy M-22-09
- NIST 800-53rev5: Fulfilling an expedited realization of the overall intent of NIST 800-53r5 through the emphasis on things like conditional access, TIC 3.0 frameworks, Secure Orchestration/Automation/Remediation, and modernized, agile approaches to secure micro-segmentation from Hybrid Environments up to Federal Cloud instances
Overall mandates like these carry with them a consistent anthem driving at rapid IT modernization with rigorous proof of performance schedules attached. Piling on top of those Herculean efforts, the urgency was drastically increased by several of the highest profile cyber compromises in U.S. federal history. Rapid modernization had to happen right away. The time for IT transformation was here, backed by promises of significant funding and a high level of political visibility.
The Shift to Zero Trust
At their core intent, Zero Trust architectures are expected to provide a centralized policy structure that dictates how every individual flow in our IT environments are permitted to talk. No user, host, or flow is permitted without being subjected to rigorous authentication and authorization policy. This shifts our previous understanding of North-South, East-West traffic and how we police it. The foundational intent of Zero Trust architectures centers around applying unified policy to every transaction that occurs between enterprise resources, and doing so in ways that are agnostic to the IT Silo that they reside in.
As NIST 800-207 aptly describes: “Zero Trust assumes there is no implicit trust granted to assets or user accounts based solely on their physical or network location.” They go on to explain that the scope of this posture includes all assets, workflows, network accounts, and the like. In summary, police everything, abstract production traffic intent from the underlying infrastructure that supports it, and institute a unified security posture to execute the policing at every network entry point. Regardless of the domain. We all know that this is a tectonic but much-needed shift in our industry. I’d go so far as to say that the successful instantiation of this approach across Federal IT environments is critical to our national security going forward.
Enterprise IT domains contain varied mixtures of OEM solutions, home-grown tools, and utilize a wide variety of protocols to intercommunicate that aren’t necessarily standardize. Each of these domains is normally managed by separate IT teams who specialize in maintaining those environments. In the federal landscape, each of these domains aren’t just managed by separate enterprise IT teams, but are commonly managed by different contractors. Therefore, IT security organizations have a difficult time achieving and maintaining the necessary operational awareness required to enforce centralized policy. These cultural complexities exacerbated by budgeting concerns have created a fatalistic mentality when it comes to far-reaching mandates. This is where the tectonic shift in architectural and administrative approach is so necessary. This is where multidomain architectures shine.
Let’s define a common baseline of enterprise domains seen across traditional IT environments:
- Data Center
- Enterprise Networking
- Extended Enterprise (IoT, OT/ICS)
- Remote Access
But to deliver a successful Zero Trust across the enterprise, it is first necessary to understand some foundational building blocks on which to construct our architectural approach:
- We can’t have MULTIDOMAIN POLICY without first achieving fuller
- We can’t deliver macro and micro-segmentation without first having robust MULTIDOMAIN
- We can’t have multi-vendor MULTIDOMAIN Zero Trust POLICY without sensical INTEGRATIONS to stitch each enterprise domain together.
Let’s face it, enterprise IT environments don’t simply include infrastructure from a single manufacturer, or even a few key manufacturers. Rather, our Enterprise IT environments are represented by a plethora of IT manufacturers specializing in different niches of IT and the domains they are commonly found in. These environments are managed by different Federal IT organizations, different contractors who support these Federal IT organizations, and many different teams that support each common IT silo. Different teams that support oft-compartmentalized areas like Network Security Operations, Network Operations, Data Center Operations, Institutional Services, Wide Area Networking contracts, Operational Technologies, and dotted lines to different leadership oversight like CIO Programs, CTO Architecture, the Cyber Security Office, and the audit oversight bodies that they are subjected to. Each of these make up a complex support structure that isn’t necessarily streamlined for efficiency.
Summary and Overarching Goals
In articles to follow, you’ll see us referencing the IT Manhattan Project framework several times. Though many details of the framework can’t be discussed due to their sensitivity, the foundational principles are relevant across the board when pursuing intrinsic multidomain Zero Trust.
- Establish Visibility (Administration, Telemetry, Assurance)
- Define Straightforward Policy Structure and Hierarchy (Auth Chains)
- Perform Multidomain Integrations (API Integrations)
- Deploy Software-Defined Framework (Day-0, Programmable Fabrics, Multi-OEM Fabric Integrations)
- Establish Sensical Automation Runbooks (Day-2 Operations)
We will also explore some areas that deliver unexpected value to the agency business in immediate ways. All of this will help create a cohesive story that helps CIOs, CISOs, and enterprise architects alike communicate the criticality of this multidomain Zero Trust approach to agency leaders across the federal spectrum.
Jeff Fossett is a Principal Architect at CTG Federal, where he leads the Network & Cyber Practice for the company. Jeff has nearly 15 years of experience in the Federal landscape. He recently authored the IT Manhattan Project Framework for rapid Federal IT Modernization, which was developed in response to the major series of critical compromises that plagued the industry.