Five Steps For Preventing Malware With Zero Trust

Implementing zero trust in your organization is becoming the go-to methodology to prevent malware. 

In the past, traditional security protocols relied on trusting users, devices, and applications with privileged access – all of which are vulnerable vectors for cybercriminals to deploy malware. Even with some of the most advanced internal security measures and secure web gateways, a breach caused by a phishing email from an outside vendor could compromise an organization’s data and circumvent even the strictest authentication policies.

In contrast to traditional security protocols, zero trust network architecture (ZTNA) and policies are an effective way to successfully prevent cyberattacks across your networks organization-wide. If malware infects one part of the network, zero trust ensures that the damage is either detected as early as possible or substantially mitigated by preventing further access to contain the scope of attacks.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of zero trust as a solution to malware and cover five (5) steps to prevent malware by incorporating zero trust principles.

Benefits of Zero Trust

As an improvement to prior network security methodologies, zero trust architecture offers plenty of benefits for nearly every type of business and industry:

  • Zero trust doesn’t require a complete overhaul of the entire organization’s network infrastructure, including hardware, software, network migration, etc. Instead, zero trust is best-deployed iteratively to take advantage of the tools and technologies already in place. 
  • Offers comprehensive protection against internal and external threats. With internal threats coming from staff, employees, vendors, customers, and other bad actors, zero trust serves as a rubric for authenticating all users. 
  • Reduces threat surface and organizational risks. 
  • Enhances visibility for all user activity. If an active threat or previous vulnerabilities are exposed, network administrators can easily close the gap, and detect the origin to contain the malware before it spreads to mission-critical parts of the organization.
  • Maximizes the use and authority of authentication. Zero trust offers dynamic access based on current use cases (i.e., access privileges are added/subtracted during network updates vs. active threats).
  • Reduces the attacker’s ability to move laterally within your organization.
  • Limits the possibility of data exfiltration (also referred to as data extrusion, data exportation, or data theft).
  • Mitigates reliances on point solutions designed to detect and stop specific types of threat actors, such as ransomware versus phishing attacks.
  • Improves security posture for on-premises and cloud systems. Because cyber criminals deploy sophisticated malware and tactics to circumvent network security, zero trust serves as a stop-gap measure that not only mitigates known threats but also works as a base to prevent unknown threats. 

As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to building a ZTNA and zero trust policies. To take advantage of these benefits of zero trust network architecture, we will take a look at five steps to prevent malware with zero trust principles and systems.

5 Steps to Preventing Malware With Zero Trust

Step 1. Define all vulnerabilities

The first step to implementing zero trust is to consider every vulnerability of the most vital parts of your organization. 2022 is a definitive year for Zero Trust as U.S businesses are contacting their IT teams to ensure their networks are meeting new Zero Trust standards. This collaboration ensures adequate protection against phishing, ransomware, and other emerging malware threats.

The exponential growth of malware and ransomware has shaken the industry, but where does malware even come from? Key decision-makers must first start with the basics to get the full picture.

There are two surfaces to be concerned with when defining vulnerabilities to malware: the network attack surface and the network protect surface. 

  • The network attack surface is the totality of all vulnerabilities in connected hardware and software accessible to unauthenticated users.
  • The network protection surface is what’s valuable to your business. It’s also known as DAAS, an acronym for the data, applications, assets, and services you need to protect to ensure the normal operation of your organization.

Understanding what comprises DAAS is crucial for defining what’s most susceptible to attack. The most common examples of DAAS that you might evaluate in your protect surface include:

  • Data: Which types of stored data need to be protected? This includes internal data, such as employee information, and external data, like customer transaction receipts. Some of the most common types of data include intellectual property (IP), proprietary code/processes, personally identifiable information (PII), payment card information (PCI), personal health information (PHI/ePHI), and electronic health records (EHR).
  • Applications. Which applications use sensitive information? Which applications perform mission-critical functions? Applications can include off-the-shelf software or custom/bespoke software. 
  • Assets. Which hardware assets are the most sensitive? Depending on the type of business/organization, this can include POS terminals, medical equipment (including patient wearables), manufacturing equipment, and servers.
  • Services. Which services can attackers exploit to disrupt IT operations? The most common of these services include Active Directory, DNS, and DHCP.

Take time to assess and create a list of how many processes are involved with DAAS in your organization.

Step 2. Map the flow of network activity

After you’ve defined all the vulnerabilities to your DAAS, it’s time to map how traffic moves across the network in relation to the protected surface. 

Because zero trust is a flow-based architecture, it’s important to focus on the DAAS to understand the source of security threats and how these DAAS components interact with other resources on the network. 

For example, if a physician commits changes and retrieves PHI records to the cloud, the software, networks, and devices involved in these processes are all part of the transaction flow.

With this example in mind, you can see that enterprises must design their systems to incorporate zero trust controls at each instance that information could be compromised. Understanding the flow of your network by mapping it can help give you a clear view of how to better secure your organization.

To provide a better mapping of a zero trust network architecture, you’ll need to consider three main aspects that encompass what interacts with the network: Users, Applications, and Infrastructure. 

  • Users: Zero trust network architecture must map where, when, and how users interact with the entire network. This requires authentication of all user identities, applying strict policies that maintain “least access,” and limiting user devices unless verified on an ongoing basis.
  • Applications: Every application applying zero trust must be continually monitored at runtime to remove implicit trust with various components of applications when they communicate with one another. Mapping applications requires which applications are interconnected versus isolated applications (i.e. web gateways, onsite-servers, SASE, etc.)
  • Infrastructure: The entire infrastructure should be evaluated to provide a map of where devices and processes connect. This encompasses a macro view of the organization, including routers, the cloud, servers, switches, IoT devices, and the entire supply chain.

Step 3. Designing a Zero Trust Network

Now that the transaction flows are in place, it’s time to design a custom Zero Trust network that fits your organization. 

With the protect surface clearly defined and network flows mapped, designing a Zero Trust network involves creating methodologies, policies, and infrastructure that clearly answer the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of networks. This is the “never trust, always verify” aspect of the zero trust model.

In most cases, designing a Zero Trust network requires the use of a Secure Web Gateways (SWG) to protect users from web-based threats and countermeasures against internal threats. However, because no two zero trust networks are identical, custom approaches for Zero Trust Network Access Design are necessary. 

Designing an actionable plan for ZTNA requires participation from all key IT staff members and policymakers, as well as all stakeholders (including outside vendors). A secure Zero Trust network allows outside vendors to access limited resources in order to prevent  vulnerabilities when exchanging data on shared devices. By mapping out all relevant groups, IT admins can begin to segment access to their company resources in a responsible and secure way.  

Step 4. Creating zero trust policies

The human element of zero trust is just as important as ZTNA. For this reason, clearly-defined policies, training, and requirements such as the daily use of VPNs are vital when implementing zero trust. 

Because human interaction with potentially malicious emails and attachments can undermine even the best precautions, having a greater awareness of cybersecurity creates another layer of security to prevent malware from penetrating internal systems. 

In order to set policies that understand your particular industry and needs, Perimeter 81 offers a zero trust framework that simplifies building and applying policies for the best security.

Step 5. Continually test and reevaluate network security

With all the steps mentioned above, ZTNA requires continual testing, monitoring, and maintenance, particularly when an organization incorporates new infrastructure or users.

Because zero trust is an iterative process, continually inspecting and logging all traffic provides valuable insights into how to improve the network over time with verifiable use cases. 

Priority lists should be made during pilot programs to focus on the least sensitive data elements first, as malware that could infect these targets will minimize any possible damage. Once common issues are resolved in low-stakes systems, deploying zero trust on mission-critical systems and networks will be substantially simpler.


To conclude, implementing a zero trust architecture and principles requires a holistic approach to preventing malware. And with cyberattacks on the rise, it is imperative to safeguard the modern IT environment by relying on professional IT security services. Perimeter 81 is at your service to meet today’s sophisticated cyberthreats and combat those of the future. Learn more about Perimeter 81 and streamline your organizational security in confidence today.