Moving the U.S. Government Toward a Zero-Trust Architecture

This strategy places significant emphasis on stronger enterprise identity and access controls, including multi-factor authentication (MFA). Without secure, enterprise-managed identity systems, adversaries can take over user accounts and gain a foothold in an agency to steal data or launch attacks. This strategy sets a new baseline for access controls across the Government that prioritizes defense against sophisticated phishing, and directs agencies to consolidate identity systems so that protections and monitoring can be consistently applied. Tightening access controls will require agencies to leverage data from different sources to make intelligent decisions, such as analyzing device and user information to assess the security posture of all activity on agency systems.

A key tenet of a zero trust architecture is that no network is implicitly considered trusted—a principle that may be at odds with some agencies’ current approach to securing networks and associated systems. All traffic must be encrypted and authenticated as soon as practicable. This includes internal traffic, as made clear in EO 14028, which directs that all data must be encrypted while in transit. This strategy focuses agencies on two critical and widely used protocols in the near-term, DNS and HTTP traffic;(2) in addition, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) will evaluate options for encrypting email in transit.

Further, Federal applications cannot rely on network perimeter protections to guard against unauthorized access. Users should log into applications, rather than networks, and enterprise applications should eventually be able to be used over the public internet. In the near term, every application should be treated as internet-accessible from a security perspective. As this approach is implemented, agencies will be expected to stop requiring application access be routed through specific networks, consistent with CISA’s zero trust maturity model.(3)

In addition to robust internal testing programs, agencies should scrutinize their applications as our nation’s adversaries do. This requires welcoming external partners and independent perspectives to evaluate the real-world security of agency applications, and a process for coordinated disclosure of vulnerabilities by the general public.

This strategy also calls on Federal data and cybersecurity teams within and across agencies to jointly develop pilot initiatives and Government-wide guidance on categorizing data based on protection needs, ultimately building a foundation to automate security access rules. This collaborative effort will better allow agencies to regulate access based not only on who or what is accessing data, but also on the sensitivity of the data being requested.

Transitioning to a zero trust architecture will not be a quick or easy task for an enterprise as complex and technologically diverse as the Federal Government. The strategy set forth in this memorandum is designed to reduce uncertainty and outline a common path toward implementing EO 14028, by updating and strengthening information security norms throughout the Federal enterprise.

(1) Department of Defense (DoD) Zero Trust Reference Architecture,

(2) DNS is the internet’s Domain Name System, and in this context refers to the protocol used to look up the internet protocol (IP) address of a given hostname (e.g. HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and is the primary protocol used to serve web content, as well as other internet data.

(3) CISA, Zero Trust Maturity Model,