The term zero trust is often used as a buzzword, but Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief Information Officer (CIO) Kurt DelBene said a successful organization will prioritize security above all else, and have zero trust baked into its workforce culture.

DelBene explained that getting the workforce to embrace zero trust as part of its culture is “super important,” and security should be top of mind for all employees.

“If it’s implemented well in your organization, people should be able to spout out to you what are the key fundamental aspects of zero trust as we think about it in our organization,” DelBene said at a Sept. 29 event hosted by GovCIO Media & Research. “It should be part of their passion and how they think about everything that they do in the organization.”

The CIO explained that zero trust is not just one product an organization can buy, but that it can help a workforce differentiate which products to buy and which ones to not buy.

Oftentimes, DelBene said, organizations can get caught up in delivering on new products or features, when the first question they should be asking themselves is: “is the new capability going to be secure?”

“The first thing we have to do is get a workforce that fundamentally believes that security is the most important thing,” DelBene said. “You get so bottled up in this whole notion of ‘I gotta deliver the next set of features for end users.’ Having a secure organization is like dial tone – if you don’t do that, nothing else above it matters.”

DelBene explained zero trust is a continuous process, and employees need to be reflective when it comes to security to develop “an inherent sense of what zero trust means to them.” This means asking questions, he said, such as have the accessors of my system been authenticated? Or when was the last time I conducted an audit to see who has access to my system?

“Paranoia is key,” he said. “I think people have to be paranoid that they were just this far away from a major breach. And so, getting that culture inculcated in the organization is super important.”

DelBene went on to say that while some of the best organizations in the development space always believe they’re close to disaster, they also believe they’re close to massive success. “It’s all a very tenuous situation we live in,” he said.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.