5 Key Principles of the NIST Zero Trust Architecture

5 Key Principles of the NIST Zero Trust Architecture
The Image With NIST Trust Zero Trust Architecture Principle

The consistently growing risks and costs of cyber-criminal activities force companies and organisations to find and adapt to new and innovative strategies to combat online security risks.

Hence, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) proposes an excellent cybersecurity framework—the NIST Zero Trust Network Architecture (ZTNA) model. The NIST framework of Zero Trust has evolved with time into an architectural framework to implement and scale complex enterprise networks securely.

Thus, the NIST cybersecurity framework enables organisations to efficiently tackle modern cybersecurity attacks, data breaches, instructions, and malware threats.

This article will learn more about the ZTNA framework and understand its five key principles in detail. Let’s go!

What Is Zero Trust Network Access?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) works on the ‘Never Trust, Always Verify’ principle— restricting network and resource access to unauthorised and unauthenticated users. Thus, users can access the specific network resource — only after going through and passing the authentication and authorisation processes.

Before the ZTNA model, all the security models were based on a perimeter-based security solution — providing implicit trust to all the users within the network. Thus, once users get inside the network, they are considered trusted entities — increasing the attack surface and vulnerability points and making it easier for malicious users to exploit the network resources and perform data breaches.

On the contrary, the Zero Trust Architecture by NIST reduces the attack surface and ensures maximum data and network security. Furthermore, the Zero Trust principles of NIST don’t assume any level of implicit trust for user devices and accounts — whether the assets are personal or company-owned.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the key tenets and principles of the NIST Zero Trust Network Security Architecture.

5 Key NIST Zero Trust Security Framework Principles

To ensure a secure and successful Zero Trust Network model implementation within your company network, you must consider a few basic yet highly important NIST principles.

Here are the five major NIST Zero Trust Network Access framework principles.

Device Identification

It’s important to consider all the computing services and data sources as resources to implement Zero Trust Network Security successfully.

These services may include complete enterprise-owned devices that share data and files with the aggregators, Software as a Service (SaaS) tools and applications, and other endpoints that connect and communicate with your enterprise network.

Device identification with ZTNA will enable you to allow only authorised and authenticated devices to grant access and permission to the network resources.

User Identification and Dynamic Authorisation

The user account or profile is based on their private security credentials and the devices they use to access the network. Hence, granting user access, network scanning, and assessing security threats must be a continuous and ongoing process.

You need to implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), asset management, and continuous network monitoring to make sure re-authorisation and re-authentication are based on defined policies.

Securing Communications

It’s critical to ensure that all the access requests from different assets and devices meet security requirements. The assets can be either located on the external network or the enterprise-owned network infrastructure—it’s important to implement the same security verification and authentication.

Implicit trust in users and assets results in severe security risks and repercussions.

Policy Fine-tuning

Companies must collect as much data and information as possible about the current state of the network and user communications and use this information to improve their security posture and policies.

The insights you get from this data allow you to create new security policies—while fine-tuning the existing security policies and enforcing proactive security protection.

Attribute-based Policy Enforcement

The policy comprises a set of network and resource access rules based on attributes assigned by the organisation to a user, application, or data asset.

Examples of these attributes include device characteristics like location, software version, model, and access request time. In addition, you can also consider behavioural attributes defined by the device and user analytics based on the resource’s sensitivity.

The Core Components of NIST Zero Trust Architecture?

The Zero Trust Principles NIST considers the following as the core components of NIST Zero Trust Architecture or ZTA.

Policy Engine

The policy engine is the heart of zero-trust architecture, making access decisions for network resources. It relies on policies the security team sets and external data like SIEM or Threat Intelligence to verify context. Access is granted, denied, or revoked based on enterprise-defined parameters executed by the policy administrator component.

Policy Administrator

The policy administrator executes access decisions from the policy engine, controlling communication between subjects and resources. After the policy engine makes an access decision, the policy administrator communicates with the policy enforcement point to allow or deny sessions. This seamless process ensures secure and controlled access within the zero-trust architecture.

Policy Enforcement Point

The policy enforcement point is a vital part of zero trust architecture. It enables, monitors, and terminates connections between subjects and enterprise resources. In practice, it consists of two sides: the client side (e.g., laptop or server agent) and the resource side, acting as a gateway to control access. This dual-sided approach ensures robust security and control over connections within the zero-trust model.


The Zero Trust Network model with NIST architecture helps organisations and global enterprises meet modern security requirements and fight security challenges.

It enables continuous risk assessment, ensures data security, authorises devices and IP addresses, and facilitates scalability and management.

Check out our InstaSafe Zero Trust Network Access solution to ensure maximum network security, minimise the attack surface, and strengthen your network security framework across your enterprise network.

Book a demo for free to learn more.

Frequently Question About NIST Zero Trust

  1. What is the NIST guideline for zero trust?

There are 5 major principles of the NIST Zero Trust Network Access framework, and they include:

  • Device Identification
  • User Identification and Dynamic Authorisation
  • Securing Communications
  • Policy Fine-tuning
  • Attribute-based Policy Enforcement

2. What does NIST stand for?

NIST stands for National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST is a government agency that focuses on creating technology, metrics, and standards to encourage innovation and economic competitiveness in U.S. science and technology organisations. NIST is a non-regulatory body.

3. What is NIST architecture?

Access to network resources is subject to specified trust parameters, and failure to meet them leads to access denial or revocation. In such a scenario, NIST Zero Trust Architecture operates on the principle of "never trust, always verify."

This approach differs from previous security models that relied on implicit trust within the network perimeter. True Zero Trust security requires an architecture supporting trust establishment across all internal and external communications.

4. What is the minimum NIST score?

An assessment based on NIST 800-171 evaluates an organisation's compliance with the requirements and enhances security measures as necessary. A favourable NIST 800-171 score is close to 110, reflecting strong compliance and current security posture.

However, the definition of a "good" score may vary depending on the specific DoD contract; some may demand a perfect score, while others might accept lower scores.

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