February 23, 2023

File security is often considered a subset of data security as it focuses on the security of each file within a database. With file security measures such as Digital Rights Management (DRM), files that contain business-critical information can be protected from unauthorized access in dynamic business settings that rely on collaboration.

As the concept of zero-trust continues to evolve, organizations will see the need to extend zero-trust protection to the file-level to strengthen file security.

What is Zero-Trust on the File-Level?

Zero-trust is a security framework that eliminates the concept of ‘trust’ present in traditional security models. Regardless of the origination of the access request to the data or network, it takes on a “never trust, always verify” approach, and verifies the legitimacy of the request before granting access. 

Zero trust architecture (ZTA) was built on the foundational idea of eliminating perimeter-based security to protect resources over the network perimeter. Since the network perimeter is no longer the key component to safeguarding data, a zero-trust strategy evolves toward identifying and authenticating users and devices. 

The zero-trust concept can be applied on the file-level whereby the protection is extended directly to the unstructured data to enable file security. This ensures that even when the file is being accessed, shared, or misused, it still remains secure. In other words, the data in the file is protected regardless of where the file goes.  

Why is it necessary to extend zero-trust protection to the file-level? 

In today’s environment, most organizations have sensitive information stored in various file types such as corporate documents, intellectual property in CAD drawings, etc. This will require zero-trust to be extended to the file to provide integration across different applications and platforms, and to protect the files continuously regardless of where the information is stored. Organizations will then be able to avoid access delays and the need to manage controls manually at every point of access.

In addition, the risk of data loss can be reduced when collaborating with external partners. When access equates to ownership, the ownership of data will be passed on once the user is granted access to the data. In this situation, organizations may lose data when it is shared with partners, or when it is misused. This is because an authorized user with validated credentials at the time of access is still able to extract data once they gain ownership. With zero-trust on the file-level, the access control of the files can be extended transparently to the ecosystem of the partners too.

How can zero-trust on the file-level strengthen file security? 

Zero-trust extended to the file would integrate security in a way such that the data can protect itself. This means that the data has its own security boundary which is within the secured file. So, the protection and access control will follow the file. Wherever the file travels to, the data within the file will continuously be protected. 

Additionally, it becomes a seamless process for collaboration to take place since there is no need to impose any change in the applications used, or the way the data is stored or shared. Once a file is protected, the protection is universal across all applications, networks, cloud, and IOT platforms. So, a data breach would only occur on a single file that is independent of the applications or platform, preventing the situation where all files are being exfiltrated.  

To understand more on Zero-Trust on the File-Level, watch this episode of NextLabs Cybersecurity Expert Series.

Emre Koksal, shares his insights on the concept of zero trust down to a file. Emre covers what it means to have zero trust on the file-level, why we need it, how zero trust on the file-level strengthens data security, and more. 

Emre Koksal is the CEO and founder of Anchor. He is also a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The Ohio State University. Emre received S.M. and Ph.D. degrees from MIT in 1998 and 2003, respectively, in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. His areas of expertise include wireless communication, information security, communication networks, and information theory.  

For more information on NextLabs and Zero-Trust, check out the following resources: