Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) -or Software Defined Perimeter (SDP)- is an IT solution category for secure remote access to an organization’s applications, data, and services based on a structured control policy.
The Difference between ZTNA and VPN
ZTNA differs from Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) by hiding the applications and limiting access to them with a trust broker since it is based on the assumption that no user or network is assumed to be trustworthy. This trust broker provides a secure layer that is not available with VPNs, allowing organizations to control and restrict access in a way that is not possible with a traditional VPN.
Top 3 ZTNA Use Cases
Authentication and Access
As opposed to IP-based VPNs, ZTNA offers highly granular access based on the identity of the user. It is a limited, fine-grained access to specific applications and resources, ensuring that users only have access to what they genuinely need. This level of access control goes beyond basic authorization and can be further strengthened by implementing location- or device-specific access policies. This means that unwanted or compromised devices are prevented from accessing an organization's critical resources. In contrast, some traditional VPNs may inadvertently grant employee-owned devices the same access privileges as on-premises administrators, potentially increasing the attack surface.
Secure Partner and Third-Party Access
Collaborations can be essential for business growth, but they can also pose security risks. Traditional methods of granting access, such as VPNs, might provide partners with more extensive access than necessary, exposing sensitive data and systems to potential threats. However, ZTNA allows organizations to enforce strict access control policies even for external users. With ZTNA, partner employees or third-party contractors can access specific applications or resources required for their tasks.
Holistic Control and Visibility
One potential concern with ZTNA is that, unlike certain VPNs, it does not inspect user traffic after authentication. This could lead to issues if a malicious employee exploits their access for malicious purposes or if a user's credentials get lost or stolen. This can be addressed by integrating ZTNA with a comprehensive Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution to take advantage of ZTNA's advanced security features as well as the scalability and network capabilities necessary for secure remote access.
Benefits of Zero Trust Network Access
- Reduced attack surface: ZTNA employs identity-based authentication and access control, minimizing the organization's attack surface by preventing unauthorized access.
- Simplified app segmentation: ZTNA enables organizations to easily segment access at the application level, eliminating the need for complex network segmentation and providing more granular control over access policies.
There are two approaches to implement ZTNA: endpoint-initiated and service-initiated. In endpoint-initiated ZTNA, users initiate access to applications from their devices through an agent communicating with the ZTNA controller. On the other hand, in service-initiated ZTNA, a broker initiates the connection between applications and users using a lightweight ZTNA connector in front of the applications. Further, ZTNA can be implemented as a standalone solution, requiring deployment and management by the organization, or as a cloud-hosted service, leveraging the infrastructure of a cloud provider.