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In today’s fast-changing digital landscape, ensuring strong network security has become a top priority for companies of all sizes. Given the rise of remote work, cloud computing, and increasingly complex cyber threats, conventional network architectures and perimeter-based security measures are no longer enough. Enter Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), a game-changing security concept that questions the traditional trust-based approach.

In this article, I explore the ZTNA security framework, looking at its key principles, its advantages, and how it is transforming the way organizations protect their networks and grant secure access to digital assets.

ZTNA Defined

ZTNA, or Zero Trust Network Access, is an IT security solution that adopts a “never trust, always verify” strategy when it comes to network access. This approach focuses on granting secure remote access to corporate resources, such as applications, data, and services, based on defined access control policies (user identity and context) instead of relying on broad network privileges.

In a nutshell, ZTNA is a subset of the Zero Trust security model that applies the idea of zero trust in the management of network-level access to a company’s resources.

This cutting-edge solution enhances network security, protects sensitive data, and mitigates sophisticated threats by implementing least privilege and constantly checking user and device authorization, no matter their location or network context.

Why Is ZTNA Important?

Many enterprises rely on the internet to grant users access to apps, whether on-premises via a VPN or cloud-based, direct internet access. Internet access reveals IP addresses, which can be used to track down users and assets and expose them to cyberattacks. When this visibility is combined with an approach that inherently trusts users and devices, the network, users, and devices become vulnerable.

Furthermore, the massive rise in the remote workforce that started in 2020 worsened the shortcomings of the traditional security architecture. Users may work remotely on unprotected devices, connect to unsafe Wi-Fi, and access applications directly via the Internet. VPNs have long served users who needed to work remotely for a couple of days. But when the number of long-term remote employees increased, VPNs were rendered ineffective due to their incapability to scale as well as their high cost and upkeep requirements. This is why organizations are paying more and more attention to Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA).

How Does It Work?

Within the Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) framework, access to specific apps or assets is allowed only after the user has undergone authentication to the ZTNA service. After being authenticated, the ZTNA gives the user access to the application they want via a secure, encrypted tunnel, which provides an additional layer of protection by hiding apps and services from IP addresses that would otherwise be visible.

In order to prevent users from gaining visibility into any other services and apps they do not have the authorization to access, ZTNA security solutions work very similarly to software-defined perimeters (SDPs) in this regard. This also safeguards against lateral attacks because even if a threat actor managed to obtain access, they would be unable to scan to discover other services.

Benefits of ZTNA

Many companies have already begun adopting ZTNA, the next generation of remote access technology. When compared to traditional remote access VPNs, this security framework provides stronger security, more granular control, better visibility, and a more transparent user experience. But let’s look closely at these benefits and many others:

Enhanced security

As we already know, ”Never Trust, Always Verify” is the foundation of Zero Trust Security. As a result, rather than permitting everyone to access the network with inherent trust, Zero trust only allows access to authenticated and authorized users and devices to particular assets and apps on a need-to-know basis. The fact that implicit trust doesn’t exist anymore lowers the risks of unauthorized access, data breaches, lateral movement within the network, and other security incidents by preventing malicious users’ access into the network.

Seamless scalability

With Zero Trust solutions, there’s no need to be worried about maintenance complexity or the challenges of scalability that come with VPNs. Zero Trust Network Access is cloud-ready and does not require any hardware, making scalability and deployment straightforward.  Because Zero Trust solutions are affordable and seamless, you can easily scale the network as needed without worrying about cost or disruption.

Improved user experience

User traffic is not backhauled via the datacenter while using ZTNA. Instead, users have quick and easy access to the application they need.

Better control and visibility

A unified admin portal with granular controls makes it simple to manage ZTNA technologies. Create access policies for user groups or individual users and monitor all users and app activity in real time.

Quick deployment

Unlike alternative systems that may take weeks or even months for deployment, Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) can be quickly implemented from any location within a matter of days.

Facilitates remote and hybrid work

ZTNA services make managing remote access for employees working from home or in a hybrid environment much easier. These technologies significantly improve the ease and flexibility of deployment and enrolment, turning what may have been a time-consuming task using VPN into a much less resource-intensive process. Furthermore, ZTNA provides enhanced transparency and comfort for your remote workers.

Invisible infrastructure

Zero Trust Network Access enables users to access apps without connecting them to the company’s network. This reduces risks associated with the network while keeping infrastructure completely hidden.

Cost savings

With zero-trust and the implementation of fine-grained access controls, companies can lessen the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches, thereby keeping away from the financial and reputational consequences caused by cyberattacks. Furthermore, ZTNA helps enterprises to deploy cloud-based solutions and remote work environments more securely, minimizing the need for expensive infrastructure investments and providing enhanced flexibility and scalability. ZTNA eliminates the need for the complex and pricey hardware infrastructure required by conventional VPNs.

Straightforward app segmentation

Organizations don’t need to do complex network segmentation because ZTNA isn’t tied to the network, allowing them to segment access down to specific applications.

Allows microsegmentation

ZTNA gives companies the ability to create software-defined perimeters and divide their internal network into multiple micro-segments, restricting intruders’ lateral movement and reducing the attack surface in the case of a breach.

Enhanced compliance

Due to the least privilege principle, a ZTNA security solution enhances compliance for organizations since all apps and information that employees can use are authorized and authenticated by the company.

Challenges of ZTNA

While Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) has several significant advantages, there are a few drawbacks you might want to consider:

Implementation complexity

Implementing ZTNA can be challenging, particularly for enterprises with legacy systems and complex network infrastructures. Significant planning, integration, and coordination among different departments may be required, which could lead to spending more money on implementation and project timelines.

User experience

ZTNA adds more levels of identification and verification, which can sometimes make the user experience more difficult. Users may be required to provide additional credentials or go through additional processes to gain access, which may cause frustration and have an impact on productivity.

Infrastructure and performance considerations

Zero Trust Network Access often relies on network tunnels, encryption, and other security strategies, which may result in delays and negatively influence network performance. To ensure that ZTNA does not significantly impact the user experience or network performance, organizations must carefully assess infrastructure requirements, bandwidth capacity, and the performance implications of deploying this seacurity solution.

Adoption challenges

Transitioning to a ZTNA security framework frequently requires a shift in mindset and a cultural change inside the company. It may entail providing employees with training on the new security measures, ensuring policy and procedure compliance, and addressing resistance to change. Successful ZTNA implementation may necessitate organizational buy-in as well as continuing training and awareness initiatives.

Dependency on external service providers

Some businesses prefer to implement ZTNA via third-party service providers or cloud-based solutions. While this can provide convenience and expertise, it also adds a dependency on external vendors and raises concerns regarding data privacy, reliability, and the consequences of service outages.

Zero Trust Network Access Use Cases

By adopting a more granular and dynamic access control architecture, ZTNA assists enterprises in improving their cybersecurity posture. Here are some common use cases for this security solution.

  • Remote Access: ZTNA is particularly useful for granting secure remote access to a company’s assets. It enables enterprises to provide users with access to certain applications or resources depending on the identity of the user, device posture, and other contextual factors, regardless of where the user is.
  • Partner and Third-Party Access: Companies can use ZTNA to grant secure access to partners, providers, contractors, and other external parties who need access to particular resources. It guarantees that only authorized users or entities see the designated assets, lowering the risk of unauthorized access or data breaches.
  • Cloud Application Access: As companies increasingly use cloud-based apps and services, this security model ensures secure access to these resources. ZTNA can allow appropriate access to cloud apps while enforcing tight security regulations by validating user identity and context.
  • Microsegmentation: ZTNA supports microsegmentation, which is the process of dividing a network into smaller, isolated segments with the goal of improving security. It enables organizations to define and enforce access control at a granular level, preventing lateral movement within the network and limiting the impact of a possible breach.
  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): With the rise of personal devices in workplaces, ZTNA provides a way to protect access to users’ personal devices while having control over the resources they can use. It ensures that only authorized devices with adequate security measures are given access.
  • Privileged Access: ZTNA is useful for managing and controlling privileged access to critical systems and confidential information. Organizations can limit the risk of unauthorized access to privileged accounts by enforcing rigorous access controls and multi-factor authentication.
  • IoT Device Security: Zero Trust Network Access can help secure access to Internet of Things (IoT) devices by imposing authentication and authorization procedures. Thanks to such security solutions, only authorized devices can connect to the network and communicate with other resources, reducing the risks related to unprotected IoT devices.

These are only a few cases in which ZTNA can be applied to improve network security, simplify access controls, and lower the risk of unauthorized access to critical assets. ZTNA deployment can be tailored to an organization’s specific needs and privacy concerns.

How ZTNA Differs from Traditional VPNs

A VPN manages network access rather than individual resources on the network. Historically, VPNs were appliance-based, meaning access via a VPN controller grants access to all assets on the protected network behind it. The need to create several segregated environments requires a VPN controller for each and be managed independently from each other.

A ZTNA, on the other hand, would manage all access to all sets of resources via a single policy engine and implement all the policies through the same set of policy enforcement points.

Stand-alone ZTNA or ZTNA as a Service?

Both ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access) and ZTNA as a Service have their advantages depending on the specific needs and resources of an organization.

ZTNA refers to the implementation of Zero Trust concepts within a company’s infrastructure. This approach provides more control over security policies, customization, and integration with current systems. It involves internal administration and maintenance, making it ideal for organizations with specialized IT staff and infrastructure.

On the other hand, ZTNA as a Service is a cloud-based service delivered by a third-party vendor. It provides simplicity, scalability, and ease of deployment since the provider manages the infrastructure and maintenance. This model is advantageous for businesses wanting a fast and hassle-free deployment that does not require significant upfront costs or IT expertise.

Ultimately, the decision between ZTNA and ZTNA as a Service is determined by criteria such as organizational needs, budget, resources, and control and customization preferences.

Zero Trust and Application Control with Heimdal®

When it comes to zero-trust security, Heimdal brings into the game a revolutionary solution that supports the execution of this framework – Heimdal Privileged Access Management.

Also, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, ZTNA improves security by enforcing least privilege and continuously checking user and device authorization, regardless of their location or network context. Heimdal Privileged Access Management offers you the option to assert the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP), meaning that users and applications are only given necessary access to complete their tasks.

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ZTNA is a Zero Trust Access (ZTA) capability that manages application access. It extends ZTA concepts to validate users and devices before each application session. ZTNA confirms that they comply with the organization’s policy to access that application.

At Heimdal, when PAM is combined with our Application Control module, it lets you perform application execution approval or denial or live session customization to further ensure business safety.

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ZTNA is the fastest-growing network security segment, with a 31% growth estimate in 2023, due to increased demand for zero trust protection for remote employees and companies’ reduced dependence on VPNs for safe access. As organizations get more accustomed to Zero Trust Network Access, there is a growing trend to employ it not only for remote working but also for in-office personnel.

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Antonia Din

PR & Video Content Manager

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As a Senior Content Writer and Video Content Creator specializing in cybersecurity, I leverage digital media to unravel and clarify complex cybersecurity concepts and emerging trends. With my extensive knowledge in the field, I create content that engages a diverse audience, from cybersecurity novices to experienced experts. My approach is to create a nexus of understanding, taking technical security topics and transforming them into accessible, relatable knowledge for anyone interested in strengthening their security posture.