What is Zero Trust Network Access


Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is an enterprise approach IT security which provides secure remote access to a company’s data, applications, networks and services based on defined access control policies.

ZTNA establishes several layers of protection assuming that any connection will be malicious. Therefore, it places various security mechanisms between the user and the organization’s resources. Therefore, authentication can occur at every layer and not just once at a centralized point.

See also: Top Zero Trust Networking Solutions

How does ZTNA work?

The fundamental concept of ZTNA is to segregate critical assets on a network by not trusting end devices. Therefore, when accessing a resource, an end-user device must authenticate before being granted access to the resource or part of the network.

A zero-trust network assumes that any device can potentially be compromised, so it restricts access to resources based on the user’s location, authentication level, and risk rating of the accessing endpoint to the resource. For example, with ZTNA, access to a specific service is granted when authentication is successful.

ZTNA operates on the principle of “zero trust, always verify”. A zero-trust approach requires that all users, devices, systems, networks, and resources be treated as untrusted strangers. He argues that IT should move away from the monolithic model where all devices have unrestricted access to all applications, and the “always verify” part means that there is no internal or external system of implicit trust. All identities are presumed to be at risk until proven otherwise by authentication from an acceptable source at the appropriate level.

ZTNA technologies, unlike VPNs, have a “deny by default” policy and only allow access to services for which the user has been granted access. If one area is compromised, attackers do not automatically gain full access to other areas of the organization.

When implementing ZTNA, organizations must take a layered security approach with multiple controls between the outside world and their sensitive data or infrastructure. The different layers act as obstacles, making it difficult for attackers to reach their target.

Also see: Secure Access Service Edge: Big Benefits, Big Challenges

Advantages of ZTNA

ZTNA offers tremendous benefits to organizations. They understand:

Improved compliance

Improving compliance can be a difficult task as it requires many different measures. ZTNA makes it easier for an organization to comply with regulatory requirements, such as PCI DSS, GDPR, HIPAA/HITECH, and NIST SP 800-53A. It meets these requirements without compromising data protection.

Securing Access to Legacy Applications

By enabling encrypted connections and offering the same degree of security benefits as web applications, ZTNA could be used to improve the security of legacy applications running privately. data centers or on-premises servers.

Application microsegmentation

With ZTNA, enterprises can create a Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) that uses identity and access management (IAM) to segment their application environments. This technique allows enterprises to divide their network into multiple micro-segments to prevent lateral movement of threats and reduce the attack surface by compartmentalising critical assets.

Agile safety posture

The agile security posture provided by ZTNA enables enterprises to quickly modify their defense tactics in response to an ever-changing cyber threat landscape.

Make apps invisible

ZTNA provides the necessary protection for a network as it creates a virtual darknet that prohibits the availability of applications on the public internet. In addition, ZTNA monitors the data access patterns of all applications, helping to minimize risk and protect businesses from distributed denial of service (DDoS), data leaks and other cyber attacks.

See also: Containing cyberattacks in the IoT

Common ZTNA Use Cases

Authentication and access

Rather than a single login or access point, users in a zero-trust network must authenticate each login session to access specific data resources on a given system. So, for example, they might only see certain files stored on a server rather than having all files visible.

User account management

ZTNA is changing the way user accounts are managed by creating different control and access policies for different types of users, such as contractors, suppliers, vendors, customers, and partners, with different levels of access to sensitive information within an organization’s network.

Visibility and analytics

A zero-trust approach tracks both authorized and unauthorized activities on various enterprise assets (systems and databases). This allows organizations to detect abnormal behavior to protect against threats before any damage occurs.

Integration of ZTNA into a secure access service edge (SASE) helps organizations get the most out of their investment in this technology. When properly implemented, SASE solutions provide granular visibility and automate actions based on preconfigured rules regarding risks and vulnerabilities. As a result, security teams can now manage risk proactively through automation rather than reactively through manual intervention.

Real-Time Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Inspection and Enforcement

ZTNA provides organizations with real-time DLP inspection capabilities. Continuous monitoring enables the detection and mitigation of insider threats without the need for constant scanning that could overwhelm the IT infrastructure.

Organizations can identify who is accessing what content, when it was viewed, and where it came from in greater detail, allowing them to make better decisions about what to share internally and externally.

Remote access from any device, including unmanaged BYOD devices

Mobile workers, remote office workers, and visiting guests may need to access corporate networks remotely via the Internet or a VPN. Zero-Trust networks can meet this requirement by implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) for remote connections and encrypting traffic to protect intellectual property.

With strong authentication, enterprises can maintain strict compliance requirements and data privacy laws while preventing malicious attacks and unwanted malware on their networks.

See also: Steps to Create a Zero Trust Network

Differences between VPN and ZTNA

VPNs grant access to the entire network, while ZTNA grants access to specific apps or services. Additionally, VPNs are often used when users need remote access to the entire network. Meanwhile, ZTNA requires individual app approval, which means that before the user can access apps or services on their network, they must complete an authentication process. This can be a combination of user identity, user or service location, time of day, service type, and security status of the device.

Network Level Access vs Application Level Access

The main difference is that VPNs grant access to the entire network, while ZTNA only grants access to specific applications or services. In other words, VPNs generally allow users to connect remotely and have full control over the network, while ZTNA allows users to connect remotely. However, user access is limited to an access need.

Endpoint posture assessment

After granting the device access to corporate network applications through a VPN or ZTNA, it is important to assess the position of its endpoint. Endpoint status refers to an endpoint’s compliance with corporate policy security requirements. These include:

  • anti-virus software
  • Anti-spyware software
  • Password complexity requirements
  • Software update frequency settings

While VPNs ignore the risks posed by end-user devices and applications after access, ZTNA does. ZTNA continuously monitors all endpoints after connecting to the corporate network validating their security posture.

Visibility into user activity

ZTNA provides a granular level of visibility into user activities across applications and services, making it easier to detect unusual behavior and malicious intent. When an employee takes actions outside of approved apps or services, IT is more likely to know about it because ZTNA operates at the level of individual apps or services. However, the VPN does not offer application-level control, which means it lacks visibility into user actions once they are inside the private network.

See also: Best IoT platforms for device management

How to Implement ZTNA

Companies should follow the ZTNA principle to identify, classify and authenticate users accessing their networks. ZTNA can be deployed as standalone ZTNA or ZTNA as a service.

The first requires organizations to build their ZTNA infrastructure and work independently to set up an identity management system and deploy network access control devices. At the same time, the latter provides a quick way to deploy ZTNA through third-party vendors.

With this approach, organizations must purchase a software license from these vendors and install it on their servers to enable centralized management of all endpoints on the organization’s network.

See also: Best Network Management Solutions


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