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What You Need to Know About ZTNA

zero trust network access on tablet and laptop

A Zero Trust Approach to Meet Today’s Network Security Demands

Enterprises want to establish the highest level of network security while also giving employees the access they need to do their jobs. This is especially true with today’s remote and distributed workforces. In striving for this sweet spot, more organizations have been turning to a zero trust security model by deploying Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) as part of a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) architecture.

So, what is a ZTNA solution?

A ZTNA solution is designed to implement and enforce an organization’s zero trust policy, with regular authentication of devices and users. Access to applications, services, and data by remote users is only permitted if they require that specific access to perform their duties. This dramatically decreases an organization’s exposure to cyber threats and is a very different approach from that provided by traditional VPN security, which grants users full access to the network via the internet, leaving IP addresses and users exposed to attacks.

Therefore, in the comparison of Zero Trust Network Access vs. VPN security, ZTNA not only tightens security but also aligns with the flexibility required by today’s remote and distributed workforces.

What is Zero Trust Network  Access? A Deeper Dive

As highlighted above, Zero Trust Network Access is a security solution that verifies anyone or any device trying to access applications or data on a network at any time.

ZTNA solutions enforce strict access controls by denying access to unauthorized users and devices. Access is granted only to authorized users and only for the specific applications they are permitted to use.

Furthermore, ZTNA provides granular access privileges on a per-session, per-application basis. These privileges are determined by real-time assessments of the user or device status against centrally-defined security policies. This approach prevents the lateral movement of threats within the network, significantly enhancing an organization’s security posture.

How Does ZTNA Work?

ZTNA works by hiding apps and data that network users don’t have permission to access. It requires strong authentication of every user and device trying to access resources on the network.

With ZTNA, a user cannot access any application or service just because they are inside the network perimeter. ZTNA validates every request before granting access to a user’s device. Users access only authorized applications using a policy-based access gateway, which acts as a single access point.

This eliminates lateral movement within the network, as users can only access allowed applications and no other internal resources.

All user traffic and communications, even after a user is authenticated, are encrypted. Encryption prevents cyber criminals from intercepting or viewing sensitive data like login credentials, files, and communications in transit.

So, when evaluating a ZTNA vs. a VPN model for your security needs, the latter works as a network gatekeeper, while ZTNA provides users with only access to allowed specific applications. Additionally, ZTNA security follows the user and their device, enabling internal access anywhere; VPN restricts use to specific pre-approved devices or locations.

Evolving from VPN to a More Secure ZTNA Model

Many enterprises and government agencies use virtual private networks (VPNs) when employees work remotely or travel. Traditional VPNs have a number of limitations, however, including scalability and their lack of integrated security. VPN technology was ideally created for corporate-based applications, not cloud environments, and access to a company’s network via the internet poses a significant threat to the network, users, and devices. VPNs grant an authenticated user complete access to the network, which increases the company’s exposure to cyber threats.

The Zero Trust security framework makes no assumptions. There is no inherent trust and it requires strong, regular authentication for both devices and users. With ZTNA, no user or network is to be deemed trustworthy and no prior usage indicates trustworthiness. Every attempt for access is evaluated fresh. Therefore, organizations benefit from both a better remote access solution and a consistent policy for controlled access to services, applications and data both on and off the network.

There are several factors driving ZTNA adoption ranging from Covid-19 and remote work to the proliferation of IoT devices, regulatory privacy changes, and technology consolidation.

  • Cloud Adoption and Multicloud. With the continued adoption of cloud services, it has become increasingly critical for organizations to secure access to cloud-based applications and resources, while, as we discussed, allowing people to still do their jobs. ZTNA allows organizations to authenticate and authorize users and devices before granting access to specific cloud services, regardless of location.
  • Software-Defined Perimeters (SDP). More organizations have been adopting Software-Defined Perimeters, which provide dynamic, specific access controls based on user identity, device posture, and other contextual elements. This secure micro-segmented access to particular resources reduces the attack surface and prevents lateral movement within the network. ZTNA works nicely with an SDP practice.
  • Identity-Centric Security. You’ll begin to notice a theme here; organizations are looking to move away from blanket rules and permissions and move toward individual identity-centric security, focusing on user identities and their associated attributes. ZTNA leverages approaches such as multifactor authentication (MFA), risk-based access controls, and continuous monitoring to grant access based on a user’s identity and context.
  • Remote Workforce Security. As we know, the remote work practices that were adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic are either lingering or are here to stay. ZTNA has become a relied-upon security measure for organizations to enable secure remote access and mobile users to corporate resources while ensuring that only authorized users can connect to sensitive data and applications.
  • Web Filtering and SaaS Control. Relating to the above point, organizations are looking for off-network web filtering, which provides web security and content filtering. A ZTNA solution combined with the right firewall solution can provide granular application traffic control and botnet protection, including SaaS and web-based applications.
  • The Rise of Hacks, Malware, and Ransomware. Companies are seeking continuous monitoring and analytics to prevent and detect threats. Certain ZTNA solutions have advanced monitoring and analytics capabilities, allowing organizations to detect anomalies and potential security threats in real-time, and to take proactive measures to mitigate these risks.
  • Automation and Orchestration. Organizations are seeking more automation and orchestration to streamline security processes and reduce manual intervention. Some ZTNA solutions automate the provisioning and de-provisioning of access rights, real-time threat response, and policy enforcement.
  • Convergence with Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). Network security services and wide-area networking (WAN) capabilities are converging, with ZTNA becoming a key component of the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) framework.

The Business Benefits of ZTNA

Implementing ZTNA to enhance data security provides businesses with several key advantages:

  • Comprehensive visibility and auditing: ZTNA security enhances visibility into the network and simplifies management, as administrators can monitor any activities that may be threats for auditing purposes.
  • Secure access from any device or location: Remote employees can access applications from their internet-enabled mobile devices without a VPN. This promotes productivity for mobile and remote teams.
  • Reduced attack surface: With ZTNA, only approved applications and resources are exposed during sessions through an encrypted tunnel. Compromised devices and users must undergo additional authentication and clearance verification steps before full privileges are restored.
  • Enhances micro-segmentation: ZTNA security creates segments in the network by allowing users to access what they need. With segmentation, attackers have a much smaller footprint if one segment is compromised.

Never Trust, Always Verify

When you are ready to deploy ZTNA, you would want to ensure that your organization embraces zero trust principles, namely: never trust, always verify. Adopting ZTNA, meaning embracing a security framework where trust is never assumed, sets the foundation for a robust cybersecurity strategy. Implement granular access controls based on user identities, device posture, and contextual information, and maintain the principle of least privilege. Additional key pieces of advice are below:

  • Evaluate Current Network Architecture. What needs to be secured? What are your potential vulnerabilities, risks, and gaps? In what areas can access control and segmentation be improved?
  • Define your ZTNA Strategy. As with any project, it’s best to clearly define your goals and objectives. Determine which users, devices, and applications will be included in the scope and establish a roadmap for a phased implementation of ZTNA within your organization.
  • Choose the Right ZTNA Provider and Solution. Choose a provider that can tailor their solution to your organization’s needs. Also look for scalability, integration capabilities, and compliance with industry standards, as well as user experience, administrative controls, monitoring and reporting, and support for multi-cloud and hybrid environments.
  • Prioritize Identity and Access Management (IAM). Utilize multifactor authentication (MFA), centralized identity management systems, and strong password policies to ensure that only authorized users and devices can access resources.
  • Educate and Train Employees. Educate employees about ZTNA and its importance, emphasizing safe computing practices, the significance of strong passwords, and the importance of reporting any security incidents or concerns promptly. Your ZTNA provider may help with guidance for change management and ongoing employee education.
  • Monitor and Analyze. Rely on your ZTNA solution to provide ongoing real-time monitoring and analytics to help you detect and respond to vulnerabilities, anomalies, and potential security threats.
  • Regularly Update and Improve. As you know, there will always be threats to your network. Include your ZTNA strategy and solution in your general program of continual vigilance and improvement, and work with a solution and provider that can facilitate rapid and low-effort deployment of endpoint software and upgrades.

Secure Your Organization With MetTel

ZTNA security is a necessity for any business that wants its network to be safe from intrusion and to maintain the integrity of its data against sophisticated cyber attacks. MetTel’s ZTNA solution strengthens security, simplifies management, and provides visibility for your business through its zero-trust-based access and endpoint capabilities.

Contact us for more information about how ZTNA and network security services can help you stay ahead of today’s cybersecurity threats.

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