Zero Trust vs Traditional Security Models: How Do They Compare?

24 May 2023

In the world of cybersecurity, traditional security models have long been the norm. These models assume that everything within the network is trusted and that once a user is authenticated, they have free rein to access any resource they desire. However, with the rise of cyber attacks and the increasing sophistication of the methods malicious actors are using, this approach is no longer sufficient to protect organisations from the constantly evolving threat landscape. In recent years, a new approach to cybersecurity has emerged, known as Zero Trust.

Zero Trust is an approach to security that challenges the traditional assumption that everything within the network is trusted. It requires all users, devices, and applications to be verified and authenticated before access is granted. This approach offers numerous benefits over traditional security models, including enhanced security, better protection of sensitive data, greater visibility and control, increased flexibility, and easier compliance and governance.

In this blog, we will provide an overview of traditional security models and how they work, as well as an introduction to Zero Trust and its core principles. We will then provide a detailed comparison of Zero Trust and traditional security models, highlighting key differences in areas such as access control, network segmentation, data protection, threat detection and response, and identity and access management. We will also outline the benefits of Zero Trust over traditional security models, as well as some of the challenges associated with implementing it.

By the end of this blog, you will have a comprehensive understanding of the differences between Zero Trust and traditional security models. You will also be able to make informed decisions about your organisation's approach to cybersecurity and consider adopting Zero Trust as a more effective and secure approach.

What is Traditional Security?

Traditional security models have been in place for decades and are based on the assumption that everything within a network is trusted. These models were initially developed to protect against external threats in the early days of networking when most networks were closed and only accessible to a small number of people. As the internet grew, traditional security models expanded to include protection against more advanced threats such as malware infections.

The main idea behind traditional security models is to create a perimeter around the network and control access to it. This perimeter-based approach is often referred to as the "castle and moat" model. The goal is to keep the bad guys out, so everything inside the network is safe. To achieve this, traditional security models rely on perimeter-based security technologies and processes such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and antivirus software. to protect against cyber attacks. These technologies work together to monitor and filter network traffic, identify potential threats, and prevent unauthorised access to the network.

While traditional security models have been effective at protecting against many types of cyber attacks, they have limitations. For example, they are not well-suited to protecting against advanced persistent threats (APTs), which are highly sophisticated attacks that can bypass perimeter-based defences.

As cyber threats become more advanced and persistent, it's important for organisations to consider adopting new approaches to security such as Zero Trust. 

How Traditional Security is Failing in a Cloud-First, Mobile-First World

As businesses increasingly adopt cloud services and prioritise mobility, traditional security models face significant challenges in adapting to the evolving threat landscape. These models, built on the assumption of a trusted internal network and perimeter-based defenses, struggle to meet the demands of a cloud-centric and mobile environment.

The shift towards the cloud as the new data center and the Internet as the corporate network has transformed the way organisations operate. Businesses now rely on cloud platforms and services for data storage, processing, and access, blurring the traditional boundaries. This dynamic shift creates new complexities as data and applications reside outside the organisation's perimeter.

Traditional security models, centered around fortified perimeters, struggle to effectively secure this cloud-centric environment. The fluid nature of cloud services, where data and workloads can span various locations and providers, poses challenges for network-centric security measures like firewalls or VPNs.

Additionally, the rise of mobile devices and remote work blurs the corporate network boundaries. Employees access corporate resources from diverse devices and locations, making it difficult for traditional security models to establish and enforce consistent security policies across endpoints.

In this rapidly changing landscape, a new approach is crucial to address the limitations of traditional security. Enter Zero Trust—an alternative strategy that recognises trust cannot be assumed for users or devices, regardless of their location or network connection. Zero Trust mandates continuous verification and authentication before granting access to resources. In the next section, we'll provide an overview of what Zero Trust is and how it works.

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a security model that operates on the assumption that no user or device should be automatically trusted, even if they are inside the network perimeter. This approach requires that every user, device, and application is authenticated and authorised before being granted access to network resources. 

How Zero Trust Works

Zero Trust works by implementing a variety of security controls and processes that authenticates every user, device, and application before authorising access requests for resources or a wider network. These controls include things like multi-factor authentication, network segmentation, and continuous monitoring and analysis of network traffic.

In a Zero Trust model, access is granted on a least-privilege basis, meaning that users and devices are only given access to the resources that they need to do their jobs. This helps to limit the impact of any security incidents that could occur. Read our dedicated explanation of Zero Trust to find out more.

Key Differences between Zero Trust & Traditional Security Models

Zero Trust and traditional security models are two distinct security paradigms that differ in several key aspects. Zero Trust is a security model that assumes nothing inside or outside the network can be trusted by default, and all users, devices, and applications must be verified and authenticated before accessing any resources. On the other hand, traditional security models assume everything within the network is trusted and rely on perimeter-based security measures to protect against cyber attacks. The core principles of Zero Trust include explicit verification, least privilege access, micro-segmentation, and continuous monitoring, while traditional security models rely on perimeter-based defences such as firewalls and antivirus software. In this section, we will explore the differences between Zero Trust and traditional security models in terms of access control, network segmentation, data protection, threat detection and response, identity and access management, compliance and governance.

Access Control

Traditional security models rely on a single layer of access control at the perimeter of the network, which can be bypassed by attackers who have gained access to the network. In contrast, Zero Trust uses a multi-layered approach to access control, with access granted on a need-to-know basis and continually verified.

Network Segmentation

Traditional security models typically rely on flat networks with few internal controls, making it easier for attackers to move laterally within the network. In contrast, Zero Trust uses micro-segmentation to create small, isolated segments within the network and tightly controls access between them.

Data Protection

Traditional security models focus on protecting data at the perimeter of the network, while Zero Trust uses end-to-end encryption and data loss prevention techniques to protect data at all stages of its lifecycle.

Threat Detection & Response

Traditional security models rely on signature-based detection methods to identify known threats, while Zero Trust uses behaviour-based detection methods to identify suspicious activity and potential threats.

Identity & Access Management

Traditional security models often have a fragmented approach to identity and access management, with multiple systems and processes for managing users and access. In contrast, Zero Trust uses a unified approach to identity and access management, with a single system for managing all users, devices, and applications.

Compliance & Governance

Traditional security models often struggle with compliance and governance requirements, as they may not have a complete view of all network activity. In contrast, Zero Trust provides a holistic view of network activity, making it easier to demonstrate compliance with regulations and governance requirements.

To summarise, Zero Trust represents a significant shift from traditional security models. While traditional security relies on perimeter-based defences and assumes that everything within the network is trusted, Zero Trust takes a more holistic approach, focusing on continuous monitoring and verification of all network activity. While it can be challenging to implement, Zero Trust offers a more robust and effective approach to protecting against cyber threats in today's increasingly complex and dynamic threat landscape.

5 Benefits of Zero Trust over Traditional Security Models:

In today's business landscape, the cloud has become the new data centre and the Internet serves as the corporate network. This shift presents unique challenges for businesses, but Zero Trust offers a solution:

  • Enhanced security: Zero Trust's continuous monitoring and verification align perfectly with the dynamic nature of the cloud and the Internet. It ensures that every user, device, and application is authenticated, mitigating the risks of untrusted connections and unauthorised access.
  • Better protection of sensitive data: With the cloud as the primary storage and processing hub, Zero Trust's need-to-know access approach provides heightened security for sensitive data. It prevents unauthorised exposure and reduces the impact of data breaches or unauthorised data access.
  • Greater visibility and control: In a cloud-centric environment, Zero Trust offers unparalleled visibility into network activity, allowing administrators to promptly identify and respond to potential threats. It empowers businesses with fine-grained control over network resources, ensuring secure and compliant operations.
  • Increased flexibility: Zero Trust's adaptive architecture enables businesses to confidently embrace cloud services and leverage the flexibility of a mobile-first approach. It allows organisations to securely access and utilise cloud resources, facilitating seamless adoption of new technologies and enhancing operational efficiency.
  • Easier compliance and governance: Regulatory compliance becomes more complex in a cloud-centric world. Zero Trust simplifies compliance efforts by providing a robust security framework that can be audited and monitored easily. It helps businesses demonstrate adherence to regulatory requirements, mitigating compliance risks.

Click here for a deeper look at the common benefits of Zero Trust.


In conclusion, Zero Trust provides significant advantages over traditional security models, particularly in the context of a cloud-first, mobile-first world. With its focus on enhanced security, safeguarding sensitive data, greater visibility and control, increased flexibility, and simplified compliance and governance, Zero Trust is the recommended approach to address evolving cyber threats. 

As New Zealand’s leading Zero Trust experts, we’d be happy to answer any questions you have on how your business might adopt this new approach to security. Alternatively, if you’d like to hear how our customers are currently utilising Zero Trust to better safeguard their business and data, get in touch.