Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) w/ Binu Panicker

The idea of Zero Trust security has become widely popular over the last few years. While many organizations have shifted priorities to adopt Zero Trust, ZTNA is the technology behind achieving a true Zero Trust model.

VPN-related organizational attacks and breaches are on the ascent, resulting in the adaptation of newer strategies for securing an organization’s networks and cloud systems. Consequently, two-thirds of organizations worldwide are adopting something new; it is what is known as a Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA). The idea of Zero Trust security has become widely popular over the last few years. While many organizations have shifted priorities to adopt Zero Trust, ZTNA is the technology behind achieving a true Zero Trust model.

         What is ZTNA and why is it important? The Zero Trust Network Access security model is best described by the phrase never trust, always verify. The ZTNA theory assumes that there will always be an attacker both inside and outside an organization’s network. No client or user ought to be consequently trusted, even if they bypass the DMZ. This clearly differentiates from the “trust but verify” concept behind traditional perimeter security. Zero Trust networks require verification whenever a client or user requests for access, whether or not the requester sits inside the organizational network. ZTNA does not depend on a DMZ comprising VPNs, firewalls, edge servers, and other security devices protecting restricted resources.

        There are many ways that ZTNA establishes more secure access to organizational applications. ZTNA services establish an environment that safeguards both your physical (on-premises) and logical (cloud-based) resources. Applications are non-discoverable (covered up), and access is checked by a trusted broker, who permits or denies access utilizing these three key advances:

  • Verify users when they sign on to the system.
  • Validate devices before entering the network for potential threats. Ensuring that devices that are incoming are known, trusted, and up-to-date on patches and security.
  • Limit access based on the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP). The user or device is only given as much privilege as needed to access the requested resource, based on the roles of the user.

        ZTNA provides advanced flexibility and scalability which enables organizations to access critical infrastructure without exposing services. Some core principles of ZTNA are as follows:

  • Least-privilege access, which means only allowing access to the information each individual requires as mentioned above. This limits the ability of any malicious file to jump from one system to another and reduces the chance of internal data exfiltration.
  • Micro-segmentation divides a network into segments with different access. This increases the means of security and keeps attackers from running rampant through the network even if one segment is compromised.
  • Data usage controls limit the actions of the user with data once they are provided access using safeguards such as revoking permission to copy already-downloaded data to USB disk, email, or cloud apps.
  • Continuous monitoring observes how users are interacting with data and systems. This verifies that people really are who they claim to be and enables risk-management and security enforcement based on people’s actions.

        There are several ZTNA use cases, but there are four common organizational use cases:

  • ZTNA provides more secure cloud access. Securing multi-cloud access is the most famous spot for associations to begin their ZTNA journey.
  • With more organizations receiving cloud, ZTNA can reduce third-party risk. Most outside users get over-privileged access which could become a threat. ZTNA fundamentally decreases third-party dangers by guaranteeing an outside user never gains access to the network and that only authorized users gain access to allowed applications.
  • ZTNA can accelerate M&A integration. ZTNA reduces and simplifies the time and management needed to ensure a successful M&A and provides immediate value to the business.
  • ZTNA is a more secure VPN alternative. For most organizations, VPNs are slow,  have poor security, and usually are difficult to manage.

        There are two significant ZTNA architectures: Endpoint-initiated ZTNA and Service-initiated ZTNA.

Endpoint-initiated ZTNA is portrayed by its use of an agent on users’ devices:

Service-initiated ZTNA is portrayed by being cloud-based:

ZTNA Considerations

        When choosing a ZTNA provider and technology, here are some questions an organization should consider:

  • Who has control of the access rules?
  • Where are our organizational secrets (like passwords and private keys) kept?
  • How is the risk of internal threats alleviated?
  • Is the users’ data exposed or sold?
  • What is the scope of secure access? Does it include networks, users, etc.?
  • What is the ZTNA provider’s architecture? Are the servers located in the cloud or in a data center? Who can access it?
  • What happens if the ZTNA provider is compromised? Is the organization still secure?

        For organizations that are interested in Zero Trust Network Access functionality, it can be implemented within an organization in several ways:

  • Gateway Integration is a way for ZTNA functionality to be implemented as part of a network gateway since any traffic
    endeavoring to cross the network limit characterized by the gateway arrangement will be filtered based upon the access control policies. 
  • Secure SD-WAN executes advanced networking across the WAN, and Secure SD-WAN coordinates a security stack into every SD-WAN machine. ZTNA functionality can be fused into this security stack to give centralized access management.
  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) takes the functions of Secure SD-WAN and implements them as a virtual machine in the cloud. This empowers an organization to boost both network effectiveness and security, including ZTNA functionality.

        You may ask, what are the benefits of ZTNA? First of all, there is less vulnerability. Once it’s set up, the ZTNA strengthens the security of your organization, particularly from in-network lateral dangers that could easily be manifested shown under a different security model. 

        Secondly, there is a strong policy for user identification and access. Zero Trust requires solid administration of users inside the network so that their records are safer making the whole network more secure. Utilizing multi-factor authentication or moving beyond passwords with biometrics are effective methods to keep accounts protected. Then, with the order of clients, they must be given access to information and accounts as essential for their specific work.

        Third, there is smart segmentation of data. With ZTNA, you would not give clients access to all the information. Segmenting information by type, sensitivity, and use gives a safer arrangement. As the result, critical or sensitive data is secured and potential attack surfaces are reduced, leading to increased data protection. ZTNA also keeps data secure in both storage and transit through the use of automated backups and encrypted or hashed message transmission.

        Lastly, ZTNA is a good example of security orchestration, which ensures all your security components work efficiently and viably. In an ideal ZTNA, no openings are left uncovered, and the joined components complement one another rather than presenting incongruities between them.

        There are still some challenges to using the Zero Trust model. With so many extra security classifications, ZTNA makes a security strategy more complicated. Considerations that come with such a comprehensive strategy include:

  • Time and effort to set up — Reorganizing strategies inside a current network can be troublesome because it still needs to work during the change process. Moreover, it might be easier to create another network from scratch and then switch over to the new one. If legacy systems are contradictory to the ZTNA structure, starting from scratch will be necessary.
  • Increased management of varied users — Employee users need to be monitored more closely with access granted only as necessary. Keep in mind that users can go beyond employees. Customers, clients, and third-party vendors may also use your company’s website or access data. This means there is a wide variety of access points, and a good ZTNA implementation requires specific policies for each type of group.
  • More devices to manage — The present workplace incorporates several types of users, as well as various devices for every one of them. These various devices may have their own properties and communication protocols which should accordingly be monitored and secured.
  • More complicated application management — Moreover, there has been an increase in business applications. Applications are often cloud-based with users across different platforms, and they might be shared with outside users. In accordance with a ZTNA mindset, application use ought to be arranged, checked, and tailored specifically to users’ needs.
  • More careful data security — On modern networks there is typically more than one area where data can be stored, meaning there are more sites to secure. Data configuration should be done capably with the most elevated security principles.

        In conclusion, ZTNA combines the principle of least privilege, software-defined perimeters, and advanced security tools and strategies to create a comprehensive security solution. While some effort is involved in implementing a ZTNA model, the result is increased security and reliability for your users.

About the author:
Binu is an experienced cybersecurity expert, consultant, and blogger who writes about information security and data privacy. Connect with Binu: @letsaskbinu on Twitter.


Scroll to Top