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What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) enforces granular, adaptive, and context-aware rules for delivering safe and seamless Zero Trust access from any distant location and device to private applications housed across clouds and corporate data centers. This context can consist of a mix of user identification, user or service location, time of day, service kind, and device security posture.

Based on user identity, device identity, and other contextual factors, ZTNA grants "least privilege" access to specific applications, rather than the entire underlying network, to any user with valid login credentials. This reduces the attack surface and prevents the lateral movement of threats from compromised accounts or devices.

ZTNA is based on the "Zero Trust" principle, which states that businesses should not trust any entity, whether inside or outside the security perimeters, and must instead authenticate every person or device before providing them access to critical resources, hence assuring data safety and integrity.

ZTNA is a critical enabler for Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), which transforms the idea of a security perimeter from static business data centers to a more dynamic, policy-driven, cloud-delivered edge to serve the access needs of a distributed workforce.

How Does ZTNA Work?

Network-centric solutions, such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and firewalls, offer an exploitable attack surface despite the growing importance of securing a distributed workforce. Based on these four key concepts, ZTNA offers a completely innovative approach to delivering secure remote access to internal applications.

  • ZTNA entirely separates application access provisioning from network access. This isolation eliminates network vulnerabilities, such as infection by compromised devices, and restricts access to particular programs to authenticated, authorized users.
  • ZTNA establishes outbound-only connections so that both the network and application architecture is hidden from unauthorized users. Never exposing IPs to the internet creates a "darknet" that renders the network untraceable.
  • Once users are allowed, ZTNA's native app segmentation guarantees that application access is given on a one-to-one basis. Rather than having access to the whole network, only certain programs are accessible to authorized users. Segmentation reduces excessively liberal access and the possibility of malware and other risks spreading laterally.
  • ZTNA employs a user-to-application strategy as opposed to a conventional network security strategy. Internet becomes the new corporate network, replacing MPLS with end-to-end encrypted TLS micro tunnels.

What Are the Benefits of ZTNA?

Within network ecosystems, ZTNA enables enterprises to establish a zero-trust security approach. This may be used in a variety of use cases and enhances the security posture of the company.

  • Secure Remote Access: As a result of COVID-19, the majority of firms have transitioned to a mostly or entirely remote workforce. Many businesses use virtual private networks (VPNs) to facilitate this. However, VPNs have some drawbacks, including scalability and a lack of built-in security. One of the most significant drawbacks of VPNs is that they offer an authenticated user unfettered access to the network, which exposes the organization to cyber attacks. ZTNA, when implemented as part of a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) or secure access service edge (SASE) solution, enables the integration of ZTNA into a remote access solution, therefore limiting remote employees' network access to only what is necessary for their employment.
  • Secure Cloud Access: The vast majority of businesses have adopted cloud computing, and many corporations have numerous cloud platforms. To decrease their attack surface, businesses must restrict access to these cloud-based resources. ZTNA allows a company to restrict access to its cloud environments and apps based on its business requirements. Each user and application may be allocated a role within the ZTNA solution, with the rights and permissions corresponding to the organization's cloud infrastructure.
  • Reduced Risk of Account Compromisation: The breach of accounts is a typical objective of cybercriminals. An attacker will try to steal or guess a user's account credentials in order to impersonate that user on the organization's systems. This grants the attacker the same access privileges as the authorized user.

Implementing ZTNA reduces this degree of access and the damage an attacker utilizing a compromised account may do. The rights and permissions provided to the compromised user account restrict the attacker's ability to go laterally within an organization's ecosystem.

What Is The Difference Between VPN and ZTNA?

IT teams have traditionally depended on virtual private networks (VPNs) to offer scattered workforces with secure remote access. With rising scalability needs from distant users, new security design requirements of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and web-based applications, and improved cybersecurity threats in the cloud, VPNs and traditional network security technologies simply cannot keep up.

VPNs are connections facilitated by tunneling and encryption technologies. Consequently, permitting a secure connection to a private network.

As an illustration of usage, we may cite a remote user with Internet access who utilizes a VPN based on locally installed software. After entering the appropriate credentials, it will authenticate in the company's private network and begin gaining access to the internal network.

With the usage of VPNs, businesses are able to control the various network-connected individuals. Consequently, implementing limitations based on the features of the private network.

However, given the current state of affairs, the use of VPNs brings with it a number of considerations for businesses.

ZTNA is a market-considered alternative to VPNs for use in distant connections that was explored prior to the emergence of VPN-related obstacles (Zero Trust Network Access).

ZTNA is an authentication-based system that restricts user access to only the essential apps. Therefore, rendering the remainder of the network unreachable to this user. This is an undeniable advantage when compared to the challenges and limits that are typically associated with VPN usage.

  • With the ZTNA, it is possible to allow access just to the required apps, hence denying access to the remainder of the network. This permits the allowed access to be restricted to specified purposes and applications, and not to other access kinds. Additionally, only authorized individuals to get access to the programs.
  • Permissions of distant users on networks are a common source of difficulty in the use of VPNs. In contrast, the ZTNA approach makes it more flexible for both existing and new users to gain access to certain resources. The ZTNA makes it simpler and quicker for the technical team to allow authorized users access to the appropriate apps.
  • In a VPN-based approach, the number of remote accesses is dependent on the simultaneous connection capability of a given piece of equipment. Whereas under the ZTNA model deployed in the cloud, there is scalability for both increasing and decreasing application access, allowing the organization to have greater control over the consumed resources.
  • Zero trust is a multilayered, comprehensive approach to network security, especially in remote work contexts. Zero trust network access (ZTNA) addresses network security more thoroughly than virtual private networks (VPNs), which depend mostly on wide network-based protection. This indicates that zero trust might serve as a better and more secure alternative to a VPN.
  • VPNs do not offer granular network security. On the other side, zero-trust network access (ZTNA) provides adaptive access based on identity, time, and device-posture evaluations, which is a far more severe approach to security. This provides end-users with separate access to the apps and data they require to perform their tasks efficiently and considerably reduces the risk of cyberattacks, data breaches, and other network vulnerabilities.

How Do you Implement ZTNA?

Implementing ZTNA in a legacy network is a complex procedure including a series of decisions and activities. This section will describe the general actions that must be taken to transition to the ZTNA paradigm.

  1. Identify All Assets and Establish the Perimeter of Protection: Identifying all of the data, assets, applications, and services is the initial stage in adopting the ZTNA paradigm.
    • Sensitive data
    • Laptops and desktops
    • Mobile devices
    • IoT gadgets
    • Employee-owned mobile devices
    • Client devices
    • Programming and application
    • User profiles
    • Virtual resources Maintain a catalog of devices and data, their location inside the segment, and the people that require access. By executing this procedure, the ZTNA's required protective surface may be isolated. Depending on the locations of sensitive data, it may be the entire network or merely a portion of the network.
  1. Understand the Existing Security Posture of Your Organization: Evaluate your present security environment, rules, and processes to have a firm grasp of your current security posture. This step resembles the phase of gap analysis. The ZTNA model allows you to determine what security flaws exist in your environment and where you are presently incurring them.
  1. Identifying Transaction Flows: Analyzing the flow of sensitive data inside your network is essential for discovering relationships between network parts. Map out and document your traffic patterns to get insight into how users access data, where portions of the network they flow through, and their interdependencies with devices and other networks. In addition, it assists in defining controls over certain traffic flows to guarantee that only authorized traffic flows within the network.
  1. Design the Architecture of the Zero-Trust Network: After identifying your sensitive data and protection surface, mapping your traffic flows, and doing a gap analysis, you have the knowledge required to construct your ZTNA architecture. In this phase, if your organization lacks the necessary ZTNA experience, you can seek the assistance of a third-party ZTNA specialist or service provider to build the architecture that best meets your requirements.
  1. Employ Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) Guidelines: Implementing the security concepts stated before is the next step. Next, implement micro-segmentation by defining granular network zones and enforcing security policies that are unique to each segment. Place next-generation firewalls as segmentation gateways for application-level packet inspection in addition to protocol inspection throughout this procedure. Moreover, install multi-factor authentication(MFA) techniques if your firm has not previously done so.
  1. Observe the Network: As the final stage in obtaining Zero Trust, you may monitor traffic logs and see the gradual improvement of your network using the Zero Trust paradigm. After completing these steps for the first time, you can expand upon them.

What Are Common ZTNA Uses?

ZTNA is suitable for several use scenarios. Here are a few of the most prevalent:

1. Securing Remote Access to Private Applications

As enterprises migrate their mission-critical applications to different cloud environments to facilitate seamless collaboration, they face the unique problem of monitoring each connecting device to safeguard application access and prevent data exfiltration. ZTNAs offer flexible, context-aware access from any place and device to private applications. By default, access to apps is blocked unless specifically permitted. Application access context may include user identity, device kind, user location, device security posture, etc.

2. Replacing VPN and MPLS Connections

VPN designs are inefficient and inefficient in cloud-first deployments. Securing every distant user access with software- and hardware-intensive VPNs can increase capital expenditures and bandwidth fees. Zero Trust Network Access enables quick, direct-to-cloud access to corporate resources, while decreasing network complexity, cost, and latency, and considerably enhancing performance to accommodate remote workforce deployments.

3. Limiting User Access

Traditional security systems' expansive, perimeter-based security strategy enables full network access for any user with valid login credentials, therefore exposing critical business resources to compromised accounts and insider attacks. Intruders who get access to the whole underlying network can freely navigate the inside systems without being discovered. ZTNA enables least privileged controlled access, restricting "need to know" user access to specified apps. Before allowing access to the internal resources, every connection request is validated.