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akka zero-trust

Building Zero Trust security into your Akka Applications

Jonas Bonér Founder, CTO and Chairman of the Board, Lightbend, Inc.

In the past, the standard approach to cybersecurity involved fortifying the perimeter—enveloping networks with firewalls as though wrapping them in a digital moat. This setup assumed everything within this moat was safe and trustworthy: service-to-service requests went unquestioned, credentials remained static yet secure, and internal services accessed only the data necessary for their functions.

However, as technology evolved into a labyrinth of cloud-based infrastructures and sprawling service ecosystems, these traditional defenses began to show their limitations. Modern networks are complex and dynamic, making it exceedingly difficult to maintain a comprehensive view of potential vulnerabilities. Relying solely on perimeter defenses in such environments exposes organizations to many risks, from misconfigurations to sophisticated system breaches.

Enter Zero Trust security, a paradigm shift in cybersecurity strategy. Unlike traditional perimeter-based models that distinguish insider and outsider threats, Zero Trust treats all users, assets, and resources as potential threats. It enforces strict access controls, requiring continuous verification of identities, devices, and security postures no matter where users are located or which resources they're attempting to access.

The core principles of Zero Trust are embodied in five key pillars:

  1. Identity: Verifying user and device identities through strong authentication mechanisms like multi-factor authentication, biometrics, and device health attestation.
  2. Device: Continuously monitor and validate the integrity of devices before granting access to resources.
  3. Network: Microsegmenting networks and enforcing granular perimeter controls for each individual workload and asset.
  4. Application and Workload: Deploying application control policies, containerization, and micro-segmentation at the workload level.
  5. Data: Implementing data protection measures like encryption, masking, tokenization, and controlling data access granularly.

Unlike the traditional "trust but verify" approach, Zero Trust operates under the principle of "never trust, always verify." It embodies the belief that breaches are not just possible but likely, including within the secured perimeter. Zero Trust doesn't eliminate perimeter defenses completely but supplements them with robust, multi-layered security measures designed to detect, isolate, and neutralize threats throughout the network. This ensures that any breach does not lead to a systemic crisis by containing its impact.

In the modern threat landscape, where attacks are growing in volume and sophistication, Zero Trust represents a much-needed evolution in cybersecurity thinking. It acknowledges that trust is a vulnerability that modern organizations can no longer afford in the security realm.

In a nutshell, Zero Trust means verifying all communication rather than trusting it and only granting the least privilege necessary when any data or other resource is accessed. This is a broad-reaching principle that plays out in many different ways in a Zero Trust architecture, but the most common applications of this approach include:

  • Mutual TLS (mTLS) authentication is used for all network communication.
  • Validating the identity of connections.
  • Rotating credentials often, and where possible, use credentials that expire when no longer needed.
  • Applying the principle of least privilege to all data and API access, rather than blanket allowing access to data and APIs.
  • Verifying access to resources at a fine-grained level, rather than just blanket trusting all requests from an internal system.

We have spent the last six months researching Zero Trust best practices and architecting a blueprint to help our customers build bulletproof Zero Trust systems based on Akka, and it is now available in the 24.05 release. Our comprehensive solution includes thorough documentation, new security features, and expert guidance—enabling organizations to easily navigate the complexities of deploying Zero Trust security at scale. Among other things, this includes how to use mTLS in Akka Remoting in Akka Cluster, Akka HTTP, Akka gRPC, and when working with databases, as well as identity based assertions, rotating credentials, and verifying resource access (using JWT) in Akka HTTP.

As cyberattacks continue to escalate, embracing the Zero Trust paradigm is no longer an option but an imperative for any organization seeking to safeguard its critical assets in today's ever-changing digital landscape. Dive into the Akka documentation for more details on how to build bulletproof Zero Trust systems with Akka.

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