I was eavesdropping on a conversation among some very tech-savvy friends recently when I heard someone say, “I work in a zero trust environment.” I had been drifting in and out of their conversation like a falling leaf, but suddenly, I was all ears: “zero trust environment?” What in the heck is that?
It turns out that Zero Trust is a strategic approach to cybersecurity that secures an organization by eliminating implicit trust and continuously validating every stage of a digital interaction. That’s almost Greek to me, but I can at least discern a hint of its meaning. We all know we live in a digital world infested with hackers and identity thieves who apparently have no other purpose in life than to prey on those among us who are, like me, both digitally dumb and inherently trusting. In theory, zero trust strategy is our shield against these dark-web predators.
My digital needs are minimal at best…or so I think. I send texts and emails, bank online, scroll through FaceBook and Instagram, take digital images with my camera, even write these weekly Musings on my laptop. I’m careful about creating strong passwords and sharing personal information, and if I receive a phone call from a number I don’t recognize, I either don’t answer it or simply hit the delete button. That said, I generally approach the internet from a position of guarded trust which, if my tech-savvy friends are to be believed, is either childishly naive at best or unbelievably stupid at worst. According to them, I should trust no one and only approach the internet on tiptoe through Dante’s door—you know, the one marked “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”
I’m no Pollyanna but neither do I consider myself a particularly wary person. It seems to me that if some modicum of trust doesn’t underlie all human interactions, then we really are living in hell. When I’m driving down the road, I’ll stay in my lane and I trust you’ll stay in yours, but maybe that’s now a dangerous assumption. The Beltway is indeed an infernal place; you never know when someone will swerve into your lane, so driving defensively has become the first rule of the road. Whether accidental or intentional, bad things do happen to good people, on the highway, on the internet, and in life.
I grew up in a world far different from the one I now live in. We generally didn’t lock our doors, or wear helmets when we rode our bikes, or use seat belts. We played in the street until dark on summer evenings, we spoke to strangers, and we even opened containers that weren’t secured with twelve safety seals or childproof caps. Somehow, we survived. But now—and I get this—we live in a world where all the underlying assumptions are built on either safety or fear, certainly not on trust. Are we better off for that? Probably, but something important has been lost along the way: our inherent trust in each other, our common denominators. Maybe that’s why things are so out of whack now: we’re mired in zero trust.
Our digital world isn’t a grandfather clock that can be turned back an hour on the first Sunday in November, and maybe the good old days weren’t all that good anyway. Life has gotten oh-so complicated and I grudgingly accept that. But I sure hope that we aren’t doomed to living out our days in a zero trust environment, whether of the cyber or human ilk. I still want—still need—some measure of implicit trust to validate my life transactions.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.