How can businesses uphold trust in a zero-trust environment?

Ian Smith, founder and CEO of Gospel Technology, explains to Information Age how businesses can be collaborative and data-driven without risk.

It’s no secret that today’s digital economy is presenting a huge number of opportunities for enterprises, with innovative technologies enabling them to streamline their operations, reach new customers and create new revenue streams.

However, it has also brought about some significant challenges. For example, as the consumption of data has become highly decentralised, the deployment of security solutions has ended up becoming a reactive process of plugging any visible security holes businesses can find.

This method is obviously not working, as the number of data breaches and leaks has continued to increase over the last few years. According to Risk Based Security, 2018 is set to be the second-worst year on record for data breaches, with approximately 3.6 billion records compromised in 3,676 publicly reported incidents during the first nine months of the year.

These breaches are generating headlines all over the world as big-name brands – including the likes of British Airways, FIFA and Facebook in recent months – continue to fall victim to damaging data breaches. These breaches can pose an even greater threat to smaller businesses, who might not have the resources to absorb and withstand the pressure of a breach. TimeHop, Ticketmaster and Dixons Carphone were all confronted with this issue, having suffered leaks or attacks in recent months.

This isn’t the only barrier that enterprises have strived to overcome. One of the thorniest challenges in the digital economy has been how to securely use and exchange data – both internally and externally – without impacting business performance, something that traditional security products cannot provide.

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Data-sharing dilemmas

Despite their best efforts, enterprises collaborating with each other still struggle to share data effectively. The main issue is that many are simply not equipped to do so. Centralised back-end data architectures were not designed to cope with today’s decentralised nature of data consumption, while the sheer amount of information that businesses now handle makes it almost impossible to keep track of every primary, secondary and subsequent copy and share of the data.

This results in a lack of control. Enterprises have no concrete way of monitoring who has access to what data (structured and unstructured), from where, which presents a serious risk following the introduction of new data privacy regulations across Europe, Asia and the US.

In response, many have put in place strict access restrictions, characteristic of the ‘zero-trust’ mindset where everything trying to connect to corporate systems must be verified before being granted access. The central problem is that many zero-trust security policies serve to hinder business operations, adding friction to the communication of information, prompting users to find workarounds to data access restrictions.

Ensuring a seamless flow of information, both internally and externally, is now essential to business success. Internally, different business units have to be able to quickly make data-driven decisions, while externally, modern enterprises have to be able to collaborate with an extensive ecosystem of global business and commercial partners.

Zero-trust environments get in the way of these processes by negatively impacting both business agility and the ability to collaborate, presenting enterprises with a difficult dilemma to solve. They need to be able to share data with partners and not be in fear of malicious, unethical or accidental exploitation, all without hampering agility and profit.

Ultimately, it all comes down to being able to trust the data. More specifically, it’s about having the assurance that the data being shared is accurate, is being used for its intended purpose and that it meets customer privacy and regulatory requirements.

So, how can enterprises hope to achieve all this? How can they combine a trusted and secure data-first strategy, that challenges the data security paradox, without slowing down the pace of business?

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Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report reveals that only five per cent believe that their organisations are very effective at implementing modern data sharing, while 67% want to move towards that approach, showing that data sharing is very much on the agenda of organisations in the year ahead

Bringing back the trust

When it comes to answering this question, one technology, in particular, is changing the game: distributed ledger (blockchain). Although still in its relative infancy, blockchain spending is growing fast. According to IDC, worldwide spending on blockchain solutions will reach $11.7 billion by 2022, up from around $1.5 billion in 2018 as organisations have changed focus from discussing the technology and are accelerating their Proof of Value engagements

Blockchain’s appeal to enterprises centres around the technology’s ability to create an immutable ledger of transactions, essentially providing a history of everything anybody’s ever done. The technology ensures that the system and the data contained within it is near impossible to tamper with or corrupt, creating a single version of the truth that simplifies the seamless flow of physical and digital assets between multiple parties.

Trusted data is crucial for any business when undergoing digital transformation, so efficiency and scalability, to security and auditability, can’t be underestimated as it plays a major role in helping businesses reach their potential.

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Blockchain should be viewed as a business enabler that provides the trust and security that businesses desperately need, allowing cross-border and intercompany collaboration, as it provides complete control over how, when, what and who can access company data. Confidential information can be made visible without risk, offering a multitude of benefits to enterprises. For example, it minimises the risk of fines for non-compliance with data protection and cyber security regulations, as well as making it easier to establish strategic partnerships.

Furthermore, blockchain technology can increase the speed of automated operational decision making and give enterprises the level of agility they so desperately need to remain competitive in today’s business landscape.

Traditional approaches to enterprise data are simply no longer viable, presenting a clear need to transform operations. Not only does data have to be more accessible than ever, it has to be kept secure wherever it is and – most importantly – it has to be trusted. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the answer to the current and growing enterprise data challenges is blockchain technology.

Written by Ian Smith, Founder and CEO Gospel Technology

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Michael Baxter

.Michael Baxter is a tech, economic and investment journalist. He has written four books, including iDisrupted and Living in the age of the jerk. He is the editor of and the host of the ESG...