ZTNA: All You Need to Know About Zero Trust Network Access

Zero trust network access (ZTNA) is becoming a buzz-word for IT and security professionals. Many companies are even looking to replace VPNs with ZTNA. That’s because it relies on a trustless method to grant access to assets and networks. It relies on authentication and authorization to verify users and devices. 

That’s great when you want high security with good resource utilization, flexibility, and granularity. 

In this article, I’ll describe all you need to know about zero trust network access. You’ll find out what it is, when, and how to use it. You’ll also learn how it differs from a VPN. Let’s first get to know what ZTNA is. 

ZTNA: A Brief Description

Zero trust network access is a security model gaining popularity. It allows employees to work from any device, anywhere, without a VPN. ZTNA relies on authentication and authorization, not trust. This makes it ideal for BYOD environments and companies to move away from the traditional perimeter-based security model.

In a ZTNA model, an identity management system performs authentication from any device storing credentials. then, that device receives a trust score based on several factors, including location, user behavior, and time of day. 

For example, if you log in from multiple locations over different days. Those locations receive a high trust score. That means the identity management system might approve the authentication automatically. That said, a new user or device with a low trust score will have trouble getting approval for system access requests. Authentication might fail and require approval before granting access.

ZTNA differs from traditional network models in that it doesn’t trust any device. Inversely, traditional networks place all devices within trusted zones and grant access to network resources freely. That’s the finish line for traditional networks. ZTNA, though, goes a step further. Even if you’re in a trusted zone, you’ll need additional authentication before receiving access to network resources.

Now that you know what ZTNA is, let’s dig deeper into how it works. 

ZTNA’s Identity Verification Process

ZTNA uses authentication and authorization to grant network access to resources. Authentication uses different methods to authenticate users, including passwords, biometrics, and tokens. Authorization, alternatively, relies on each user’s roles and permissions. The process also authenticates and authorizes devices before allowing network access and connection.

ZTNA relies on a combination of network access control (NAC) and security information and event management (SIEM) tools. It uses these controls and tools to manage identities, devices, users, applications, and data. ZTNA uses NAC to enforce policies that protect the entire network from unauthorized or unmanaged devices. The SIEM, in turn, analyzes user activity patterns for abnormal behavior, signaling a potential attack or data breach.

If you’d like to benefit from ZTNA as a company, the first step is to choose an NAC solution. Once you deploy it, you can add SIEM to provide deeper analytics and real-time alerts for security threats. Here are 7 of the most common use cases. 

7 ZTNA Use Cases

ZTNA has many ways to help your company protect itself in the digital world. You can use ZTNA in these 7 most popular methods. Let’s go over them one by one:

1. VPN Out, ZTNA In

Dependency on VPNs is decreasing as they become less necessary. According to Gartner, 60% of companies will switch to ZTNA from VPN by 2023. ZTNA is a faster, more secure alternative companies can easily manage. 

2. ZTNA for Securing Multi-Cloud Access

As remote work gains traction, more companies are adopting cloud applications and services. That’s why companies are prioritizing security to protect their data as cyberattacks increase. ZTNA helps you control your security since you can set specific access limitations and only grant access to authorized users and devices! That way your employees only access assets they need for work, limiting the endpoints cyberattackers can use to reach your information and hit you with ransomware.

3. ZTNA to Reduce Third-Party Risk

Third-party users who access the network and use unmanaged devices are at risk. Cyberattackers search for security backdoors to infiltrate devices and lurk around to find data to exploit your company for cash. That said, ZTNA significantly reduces this security threat by ensuring external parties never gain complete control of your company’s assets. It also blocks them from accessing unauthorized applications that could cause disruption or damage internally, if left unchecked.

4. Speeding Up M&A Integration

You often need many years to reap M&A benefits. That’s because you’ll end up with overlapping IPs and networking tools which extend the integration process. ZTNA helps you achieve integration faster since it relies on rules and parameters you set not IP addresses you need to verify.

5. ZTNA for Tightening Access Control

You can design ZTNA’s security approach to provide the least possible access for all users, limiting what each person knows and does. The case with traditional SaaS solutions’ broad perimeter-based strategy is that it can allow cyberattackers into your network if they hack an account with valid login keys. That, in turn, opens the door to full rights to sensitive corporate resources, like the data you store inside server farms. That can also mean the cybervillains have already accessed back-office computers,  compromising them as well. 

The key difference between ZTNA and other systems in this category is that it verifies connection requests before granting complete unrestricted use. It also assigns every request a verified digital signature. This signature only matches one valid copy present anywhere. This ensures no two people will ever have a direct communication path.

6. Reducing Connection Costs and Maintenance

Cloud-first networks are a necessity for modern-day business. That said, if you use a traditional VPN solution, you’ll add expenses and maintenance that’ll only hurt the business, not help it grow. The ZTNA approach to remote user access provides you with the best of both worlds. It enables fast and direct connections that reduce cost. That’s because you don’t need to set up a VPN on every device and spend time training employees. It also helps you increase performance capabilities to facilitate workforce deployment strategies in this ever-changing environment we call “the cloud.”

7. Securing Remote Access to Private Applications

In your company, you face the challenge to maintain application security across multiple cloud environments as you move business-critical apps between devices. These connecting devices need a way to identify who has access and what type it is. That way, no one can take over your company’s data without permission from you first.

ZTNAs help you achieve context-aware access to your private applications. It also helps you adapt this access. The system checks your identity before granting permission for an app or programmable interface. That means that only designated users can open specific files. That also denies outsiders complete control over these critical business assets.

What is the difference between VPN and ZTNA?

VPNs and ZTNA provide network-wide access, but a VPN functions primarily to secure your entire internet connection. That said, ZTNA only permits access to certain resources and frequently asks for authentication

Are you sure your VPN is providing adequate security?

Let’s explore 3 VPN drawbacks compared to ZTNA:

1. Adapting to a Growing Remote User Number

The pandemic’s impact on work conditions created a dependency on remote work locations. That said, VPNs have to keep up with the increased demand, but they often can’t. Many VPNs often have limited resources or a small server network. That can lead to congestion as 1 server connects more users. 

The situation leads to higher latency and the need to have additional resources to meet growing demand or peak usage periods. This might strain your IT department as they strive to deliver the needed resources timely. For ZTNA, this isn’t an issue since all your IT admins need to do is set the authentication and authorization parameters once. Then, the system will operate independently and use existing computational power to check if a user meets the parameters. 

2. Modifying Security Policies and User Authorization

You often need to manage many endpoints and the many resources your employees use every day. If you rely on VPNs to control access, you’ll have to install software on all employee devices. You also have to train your employees to use the VPN and how it works when connecting from different networks, like from work or home. This can be time-consuming and complicated as it relies on employees making sure the VPN is active when they connect to the network. That’s why you’ll find ZTNA an ideal solution. 

ZTNA is an excellent choice if you want to easily modify your security policies and user authorization based on a need-to basis. This gets even simpler when you use ABAC and RBAC in ZTNA. 

3. Limiting User Privileges

VPNs are like master keys since they help you grant users access to the entire network. The process verifies each user before allowing access to undesignated assets, like applications or data. What if you don’t want that? Here’s where ZTNA comes in handy. ZTNA helps you verify and authenticate each user and device before opening access. Users must prove their worthiness through proof of possession. That creates an extra security layer because it ensures only authorized devices have full privileges to use certain services at any given time. Sometimes companies use ZTNA and VPN together for strengthened security

How Can You Implement ZTNA?

ZTNA is a secure, multiplatform, trustworthy internet system that facilitates information sharing across networks. You can implement zero trust network access using 2 main architectures: endpoint-initiated or agent-based ZTNA and service-initiated or service-based ZTNA. Let’s check out how you can use each.

1. Agent-Based ZTNA

This architecture is close to the Cloud Security Alliance’s specification for software-defined perimeters (SDP). In this case, a virtualized perimeter creates small zones around users, devices, and applications.

When you initiate an endpoint-initiated ZTNA, the process starts with the agent. Your security context reaches one of many controllers for recording and analysis. This third-party company’s servers may have access or knowledge about what device you used at what time frames. These servers compile this data based on many factors, like geographic location, country code, etc.

The ZTNA controller ensures that any device trying to connect via the internet is authentic and has permission for what it’s doing. The first step in this process is to determine the familiar security features on your network. This can be a next-generation firewall (NGFW) capable of enforcing multiple policies. You can also use this firewall as a gateway between internal networks and external connections.

Get a controller you trust to organize your ZTNA.

Once you grant access, the traffic can head to its destination through an end-to-end encrypted connection. In generalized ZTNA architectures, one central gateway serves as a point for all communication within this network.

2. Service-Based ZTNA

The service-based ZTNA resembles the Google BeyondCorp technology. That said, it’s a more advanced architecture based in the cloud. The process doesn’t require an agent on the devices. Instead, you can rely on services provided by a third party, like device management.

The connector is a key component of the Systems Manager. It connects to applications, databases, and other systems. That helps your company’s technology infrastructure to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

Going back to Gartner, their documentation, unfortunately, doesn’t mention what makes up this vital link. Still, it states that connectors exist on dedicated networks. This means connectors have high-speed connections, so you can continue scaling with demand without experiencing slowness or downtime. That differs from less-advanced platforms that experience slowness or downtime when multiple users share connection speed.

When you request access to the application, the service in the cloud authenticates them. Then, validation goes through an identity management product, like a single sign-on tool. That product has complete control over your proxy for all applications. It also isolates applications from direct attacks and hacks.

Final Thoughts

Zero Trust Network Access is a great way to provide your employees and customers alike with utmost security. It can help you avoid costly data breaches by cutting down on account takeover attacks. ZTNA is also a security solution that helps protect your company from risks associated with leveraging cloud environments and boosts user experience. Implementing ZTNA is not a simple task. It requires an experienced security partner who can ensure your business implements the ZTNA pillars we mentioned above for you to reap all its benefits.


What is ZTNA?

Zero trust network access (ZTNA) is a security system that allows employees to work from any device, anywhere, without a VPN. It relies on authentication and authorization which differs from VPNs that rely on trust. This makes it ideal for companies looking to move away from the traditional perimeter-based security model.

What can I use ZTNA for?

You can use ZTNA in many cases. It’s a trustless take to security, which allows you to control who has access to what assets within your company. That’s why it can be useful for reducing third-party risk, limiting access control, and securing remote access to remote applications. Aside from security uses, ZTNA helps you achieve faster M&A integration and replace VPN connections. 

How is ZTNA different from a VPN?

The difference boils down to trust. When a VPN establishes trust it grants access to your company’s entire asset network. ZTNA, inversely, is a trustless system. It only grants access to specific features and assets once it authenticates and verifies user or device authorizations. That helps you achieve stricter security measures for confidential and important company data. 

How can I implement ZTNA?

You can implement ZTNA in 2 ways based on an agent or service. Agent-based ZTNA starts with the agent. A third-party controller gathers data and permission information on their servers. Then, it uses this information to grant access to users. Service-based ZTNA relies on the service in the cloud to authenticate them. Then, an identity management product, like a single sign-on tool, validates access. It also isolates applications from direct attacks and hacks.

How does ZTNA grant network access?

ZTNA relies on a combination of network access control (NAC) and security information and event management (SIEM) tools. It uses NAC to enforce policies to protect the entire network from unauthorized or unmanaged devices. The SIEM, in turn, analyzes user activity patterns for abnormal behavior. That can signal a potential attack or data breach.


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