Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA): The Ultimate Guide

What Is Zero Trust Network Access?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a security model that assumes every entity trying to connect to a network is potentially hostile. Under a ZTNA model, a user's role and permissions are irrelevant. If they wish to connect to internal applications or resources, they must authenticate and then continuously validate their identity—this is typically achieved via strict access controls combined with contextual and behavioral flags.

ZTNA emerged as a necessary response to highly distributed networks and supply chains. As businesses continue to scale their ecosystems, directly controlling every device and endpoint becomes increasingly infeasible. Similarly, extending unrestricted access to remote users in this climate has the potential to directly expose a network to an array of threats and threat actors.

Benefits of ZTNA

According to Forrester, the benefits of adopting ZTNA include:

  • Improved network visibility, vulnerability management, and breach detection
  • Prevention of malware propagation
  • Reduced capital and operational cybersecurity expenditures
  • Reduced scope and cost for compliance initiatives
  • Improved interdepartmental collaboration during disruptive events
  • Enhanced insight into and awareness of data as it flows through the network
  • Protection against data exfiltration by threat actors
  • A strong basis for digital business transformation

Because it provides direct, segmented access to applications and services, ZTNA is inherently secure. It dramatically reduces a business’s potential attack surface, as threat actors can no longer move laterally within the network. It also lays the groundwork for migration from endpoint detection and response towards extended detection and response (XDR).

The most significant benefit of ZTNA by far, however, involves the end users. A business that adopts and integrates ZTNA with strong endpoint security can ensure only valid users and healthy devices are granted access. This allows the business to support both BYOD and remote work initiatives without exposing sensitive assets to undue risk.

Additional ZTNA benefits:

  • Improved network speed and performance
  • Better end-user experience
  • Extensive scalability without the need for additional hardware
  • Easier policy management

ZTNA Features

ZTNA is more of a network model than it is a reference to any specific technology. It applies the principles of the zero trust model of cybersecurity as defined by NIST 800-207 to network access. Any business that seeks to embrace ZTNA should ensure that it’s capable of the following:

  • Continuous verification and validation of access privileges for all resources
  • Dynamic access policies that can be adjusted based on user behavior
  • Real-time visibility of the business’s entire ecosystem
  • Centralized management of all security controls
  • Extended detection and response, ideally supported by AI
  • Identity and access management
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Security auditing and reporting

How ZTNA Works

Traditional network access is based on two principles:

  1. Trust, but verify
  2. All users and endpoints within the network are trusted by default.

Unfortunately, this approach is predicated on the idea that a business’s security perimeter not only exists, but can also prevent unauthorized access. In a landscape defined by cloud computing and hybrid work, neither concept holds true. The traditional firewall-based perimeter has dissolved.

ZTNA functionally replaces it with a new, more dynamic perimeter. Per Gartner, ZTNA this involves the creation of “an identity- and context-based, logical access boundary around an application or set of applications.” Access is also restricted to as set of specific named entities via a trust broker. In this way, said applications are hidden from discovery, simultaneously reducing a business’s attack surface while preventing lateral movement.

ZTNA is built on the following principles:

  • Continuous monitoring
  • Ongoing validation
  • Least-privilege access
  • Microsegmentation
  • Device and endpoint authorization

Use Cases for ZTNA

ZTNA can be applied to any of the following high-level use cases.

Access Control and Authentication

ZTNA primarily exists as an alternative to the IP or account-based access controls used in legacy remote access solutions such as virtual private networks (VPNs). By defining and applying strict rules and standards around access permissions, businesses are able to configure and control access on a granular level. Potential options in this regard include:

  • Preventing connection requests from unpatched devices.
  • Not allowing users to authenticate if they aren’t running approved security software.
  • Providing different permission levels to personal devices vs. corporate devices.
  • Modifying permissions based on user location.

Supply Chain Management

The nature of ZTNA makes it ideally suited for controlling third-party access to corporate applications, assets, and services. Administrators can seamlessly ensure that contractors, vendors, or supply chain partners are only ever given permissions and access to resources that they absolutely need. More importantly, they can ensure that this access lasts only as long as necessary.

Distributed Cybersecurity

As mentioned earlier, modern networks and workplaces have become more widely distributed than ever. ZTNA provides businesses with the footing necessary to contend with this environment, reducing their attack surface while also supporting both distributed and hybrid work. More importantly, incorporating ZTNA into an endpoint-focused cybersecurity strategy enables holistic control over and visibility into its entire ecosystem.

ZTNA vs. VPN

In many ways, ZTNA represents an evolution of VPN technology. VPNs were built for a different time, back when businesses had well-defined security perimeters and did not have to contend with constantly evolving ecosystems. As a result, VPN technology has numerous drawbacks when compared to ZTNA solutions.

  • Security. A VPN extends a business’s network to a remote user, allowing them to step inside the entire security perimeter rather than a granular, tightly controlled segment.
  • Performance. VPN connectivity is typically marred by heavy resource utilization, cumbersome interfaces, and high latency.
  • Ease of configuration. VPN software is not designed with flexibility or agility in mind. Adapting security policies and controls based on context thus tends to be incredibly difficult.

FAQ

What does ZTNA stand for?

ZTNA stands for Zero Trust Network Access, a security model that assumes every entity trying to connect to a network is potentially hostile.

What is ZTNA?

Zero Trust Network Access is a security model that assumes that all users, endpoints, and entities are hostile by default, requiring validation and authentication.

What’s the difference between ZTNA and VPN?

ZTNA software is more lightweight, flexible, and agile than VPNs. They are also built for granular access and segmentation rather than extending the entire network to any authenticated user.

Why is ZTNA important?

The traditional security perimeter no longer exists, and legacy network security tools can no longer effectively control access. This is especially true for businesses that wish to embrace digital transformation. They need a level of agility, flexibility, and segmentation that older solutions like VPNs simply don’t provide.

What does ZTNA have to do with SASE?

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is essentially the convergence of multiple security and networking services and concepts into a single, unified platform, typically delivered via the cloud. ZTNA is typically viewed as a crucial component of SASE.

Between the growing complexity of supply chains, the proliferation of IoT devices, and the increased focus on remote work, the network security challenges faced by modern businesses seem almost insurmountable. Administrators need a way to support distributed work, yet they also cannot afford to put critical assets at risk. Complex and resource-heavy VPNs are ill-suited for this task.

CylanceGATEWAY is a cloud-native ZTNA solution designed to support scalable, outbound-only access to business-critical applications and services. Its multi-tenant architecture is designed with digital transformation and distributed work in mind, while its powerful artificial intelligence simultaneously augments your business’s security posture and simplifies the configuration and management of granular, dynamic policies and access controls.