None of the innovations seen in workplaces over the years posed challenges as significant as remote work. Even before hybrid workforces were the norm, many companies worldwide found themselves consolidated in large multinationals with employees all over the globe.
The leading problem companies face, no matter the industry, is giving all their employees the same working experience, regardless of where they are located. Factor in all the different software users might need, various internet connections, and local guidelines, and you can quickly end up with quite the cyber security puzzle.
Faced with this type of problem, certain technologies and frameworks that might have been overkill in the past become pretty attractive. Zero Trust Access Networks(ZTNAs) are definitely in that category and have become an essential buzzword in recent months.
While ZTNAs are an excellent solution for several different scenarios, they also happen to have various intricacies and best practices that might not be evident at first glance. This article will define ZTNAs, explain how they work, compare them to other alternatives and show you if they’re the right move for you and your users.
What is a Zero Trust Access Network (ZTNA)?
An important distinction is that ZTNA isn’t just a technology. It’s a framework to coordinate how several applications and networks communicate with each other to eliminate the risk of malicious connections while giving users a seamless work experience.
The central precept behind this software architecture is that all connections are dangerous until proven not to be. Even once a user’s identity and security have been vouched for, he gains access to the applications he needs but remains cordoned off from the rest of the infrastructure. As a result, any impact from a potential data breach remains low.
Since verification is at the core of this philosophy, various factors come into play when deciding who gets access to what within a ZTNA. A series of steps must be taken to determine who the user is, what machine he is currently on, how secure his internet connection is, and anything else relevant to your company’s security.
If this is done correctly and sufficiently automated, it provides an experience as seamless as if users were sitting at their desks. It allows for ultimate security and gives companies complete accountability in the event of a breach since every login step is monitored and recorded.
Why is it different than a VPN?
While VPNs and ZTNAs are used to achieve similar results, they are radically different. The main difference between the two lies in specific access levels. VPNs require software to be installed on a user’s machine, while ZTNAs only need to be configured on the targeted network. After verification, a VPN gives a user access to the entire network as if they were physically present at the source.
While this can be convenient to users, it can lead to severe issues if the encryption of a user’s connection fails since VPNs do not hide a network’s architecture and give access to all applications.
Since VPNs give so much access, they need a lot of extra backend steps to ensure connections are consistently encrypted. As anyone who has used or managed a VPN will tell you, this can lead to severe bandwidth and performance issues as more and more users log on to a VPN connection or if they use applications that have higher processing requirements.
Users of a ZTNA have gone through a much higher level of verification, and thus can be given more direct access to the application they are logging. While they might need to jump through more hoops to get in, the experience is exponentially better afterwards.
3 Best use cases of ZTNA
ZTNAs are a great innovation overall, but they excel in three specific areas:
Not only are ZTNAs a powerful replacement to VPNs in business settings, but they also allow for seamless, practical remote access to applications and files. The most obvious use case for this is for remote and hybrid workers, but it also can be very helpful in a large organization present in several countries and continents.
Since users have to provide credentials at every step of the way to gain proper access, ZTNAs remove the need for extra authentication applications and measures. While the added steps might seem like a hassle at first, they inevitably lead to a better, more secure network and device performance.
Because of the granularity of the connection process, administrators know everything about all the users of an application at any time. Breaches are immediately identified and can be traced back, step by step, to understand how the incident occurred.
This process can also help organizations tighten security measures to prevent similar breaches from happening in the future.
Steps to implementing a ZTNA
The first step to implementation is to do a thorough inventory of all applications, departments, offices and levels of access needed within the network. Since authentication is done on a case-by-case on a ZTNA, anything not included within the architecture simply cannot be accessed by any user, regardless of their access level.
The next step is determining the way user machines will communicate with the ZTNA.
This option requires a small authenticator to be installed on a user’s computer, which then provides the connection to the network. Once the authenticator is up and running, the ZTNA can then communicate with it to check identity and grant access.
While this is practical for the user, it can be challenging to implement since it involves widespread application installs. This can lead to tech support tickets IT departments must respond to if employees install the app themselves.
In this case, authentication happens entirely on the network without any software being installed on the user’s computer. Users connect to a cloud-based connector that then handles the link between
This solution allows for total administrator control without needing to modify or provide additional access to the company firewall. However, base application protocols must be handled over HTTP/HTTPS. This can be disqualifying if your users need access to software without a web app version.
The last step is choosing how you implement the ZTNA. If you’re considering this type of framework, it makes sense to deploy every aspect of it server-side or in your data center. That way, you have control over every aspect and you can ensure every authentication service suits your needs and the applications used.
Many vendors also offer ZTNA-as-a-service, but this comes with the usual caveats of this type of offering. Don’t end up spending more time vetting a vendor than you would’ve to install the separate pieces of such a network.
Is ZTNA right for you?
ZTNAs feel like a natural evolution of the cyber security landscape. It allows users to work from anywhere and feel like they’re sitting in the office next to their coworkers. They also give administrators an unprecedented level of security and control when remote access is required.
The only real downside you need to evaluate is whether ZTNA is appropriate for your situation. Smaller organizations can definitely get by with a lower level or simpler approach. The end game here is versatility. ZTNA can be molded and modified to your needs to provide the right experience and peace of mind to your end users and various departments or teams.
Cyber Security Hub: Access Exclusive Cyber Security Content
Take advantage of our free Cyber Security Hub – it is your one-stop cyber security awareness and knowledge center with one-click access to our COVID-19 Kit, Work From Home Kit, Password Kit, Phishing Kit and more.