Research Hub > 5 Considerations for Navigating the Cultural Shift to Zero-Trust Integration
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5 Considerations for Navigating the Cultural Shift to Zero-Trust Integration

Successful integration of zero-trust strategies requires a cultural shift at every level of your organization — but it may also lead to internal challenges that cause projects to stall or fail. Keep these considerations in mind during implementation.

As cyber threats have evolved, so too have guidance and strategies around the zero-trust approach to cybersecurity. However, many organizations who have implemented zero-trust strategies into their environments have found that the transition is not as simple as installing new hardware or software.

Because the concept is such a departure from previous security models that relied solely on perimeter defenses, many have discovered that starting the journey to zero trust has caused friction between internal teams, leading projects to stall or cease completely.

Successful integration of zero trust toward optimal zero-trust maturity hinges on more than just upgrades to technology; it requires a profound cultural shift at every level of the organization.

The Zero-Trust Mindset

Why do some zero-trust projects fail? According to a recent TechTarget survey, many leaders indicated that organizational issues implementing the project was the biggest reason for abandoning or pausing a zero-trust project.

This is an extremely common issue that organizations of all sizes face when starting their zero-trust journeys. This is due to the fact that zero-trust implementation touches nearly every facet of the business, from the C-level suite down to the individual users who access company data and systems every day.

Unlike traditional models that assumed trust within the network, zero-trust strategies treat every user, device and network connection as potentially hostile — and this concept itself can cause challenges across teams. In fact, according to the same TechTarget survey, organizations agreed that aligning teams across different groups is the greatest challenge they’re currently facing with zero-trust initiatives.

Integrating zero-trust policies demands a transformation in organizational culture and necessitates a shift in mindset — a move towards a security-first approach that passes through every level of the workforce. Here are a few key considerations for navigating this cultural evolution:

5 Considerations for Cultivating a Zero-Trust Culture

  1. Integration with business objectives. Most often, pushback against zero-trust initiatives comes from the lines of business, who believe that these new security policies will either hold back future planned technology innovations or hinder their ability to access data or systems at a moment’s notice.

    In order to gain traction, your organization must ensure that your zero-trust strategies are aligned with broader business objectives and tailored to fit your business’ needs. A zero-trust maturity assessment can help narrow the focus of your implementation to meet the requirements of your environment based on risk and the amount of security friction that your business is willing to accept.

    While it’s true that users may need to re-authenticate to access company data and systems in principle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that authentication will be a cumbersome or time-consuming process. After a zero-trust maturity assessment, you may find that your organization does not need a traditional zero-trust model throughout every layer of your organization — there may even be low-friction multifactor authentication (MFA) options that fit your business best. Rather than viewing security as a hindrance, it’s important to emphasize its role as an enabler of innovation and growth.

  2. Collaboration and communication. Effective communication and collaboration is essential for aligning security objectives with business goals. Departments that traditionally operate in silos — such as desktop and networking, data center teams, application teams, security and identity teams, as well as business units — must work together to achieve a common objective. Propping up tools in your network is one challenge, but integrating and managing them is another.

    If your zero-trust implementation involves something like network microsegmentation, for example, the first question on your teams’ minds will probably be, “Who has the expertise to own this function, the security team or the networking team?” The answer may lie in a collaboration between both teams. Communicating roles and responsibilities clearly through cross-functional collaboration can help ensure that security is integrated into every aspect of your operations.

  3. Leadership engagement. When it comes to new security initiatives, there are skeptics at every level, even CISOs in some cases. Executive support is crucial to the success of zero-trust initiatives. Leaders across the organization must advocate for the adoption of zero trust and convey its importance to the business — namely, reducing the “blast radius” of material breaches that could jeopardize its viability.

    Your executive team must truly understand both the risks that breaches pose to your business and how zero-trust initiatives help mitigate those risks, then effectively communicate this across the organization. By demonstrating a commitment to cybersecurity, leaders set the tone for the entire workforce and pave the way for cultural change.

  4. Change management using Agile. Resistance to change is natural, particularly when implementing potentially disruptive approaches like zero trust. Anticipating and addressing resistance through effective change management strategies is essential at this stage.

    For example, when building and supporting applications, some organizations will move from a waterfall methodology to Agile. Rather than bringing together team members with similar skills and responsibilities who work on projects independently, this methodology involves assembling teams comprised of workers from multiple disciplines with different responsibilities. Applying this same concept to zero-trust implementation, clear communication about the reasons for change while soliciting feedback from stakeholders throughout the process is a clear way to ensure all members of these teams are aligned.

  5. Education and training. Building a security-aware culture requires ongoing education and training. Employees at all levels should receive instruction on zero-trust principles and cybersecurity best practices. By empowering employees with the knowledge and skills to recognize and respond to security threats, your organization can help foster a culture of collective responsibility at all levels.

Instilling a Security-First Culture

For a zero-trust implementation to succeed, clear and effective communication throughout all levels of the organization is not just paramount — it could likely make or break your zero-trust initiative. And yet, shifting your organization’s mindset from, “Why do we need to change the way we already do this?” to one of leadership, education and a willingness to embrace change is no small feat.

Bringing together disparate parts of your organization to work toward a common goal requires careful planning, conversation and collaboration. An expert partner with deep cybersecurity expertise can not only help bring these teams together, but assess your organization’s risk posture to design a zero-trust roadmap tailored to your business’ needs.

By fostering a culture of security awareness and accountability from the C-level down, you can ensure that your organization is on the right path to optimal zero-trust maturity.


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John Candillo

CDW Expert
John Candillo is a field CISO at CDW. He is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with more than 20 years in security. John specializes in providing executive guidance around risk, governance, compliance and IT security strategies. He has designed several processes and assessments to help organizations align security initiatives and quantify risk in a way that translates cybersecurity into the lang

David Lund

Principal Consultant
David Lund is a principal consultant for CDW’s Security practice, bringing 28 years of technical expertise and leadership experience in IT infrastructure, network architecture, information security architecture, and security program design and implementation.