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What Is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

Zero trust network access is a group of technologies offering secure remote access to applications. Discover how ZTNA impacts security today.
May 2nd, 2022 10:42am by
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In the first article in this series, we discussed what zero trust security is and why it matters. In this article, we will take a deep dive into zero trust network access, how it works, and its benefits to the modern organization.  

What Is Zero Trust Network Access?

Zero Trust Network Access, or ZTNA, is a security solution that many IT departments and IT organizations use to ensure secure remote access to a range of data, applications, networks, and services within an organization. ZTNA is based on defined access control policies that clearly communicate who has access to what and for how long that access is granted.

ZTNA is a gap-filler when it comes to secure remote access tools, methods, and technologies. VPNs or virtual private networks are different from zero trust network access because VPNs give access to an entire network rather than specific applications or data. As the remote workforce continues to take shape and many companies lean on it as a source of employee satisfaction and employer productivity. Zero trust network access is pertinent to keeping the right people in and the wrong people out of your organization’s systems.

How Does Zero Trust Network Access Work Exactly?

When organizations use zero-trust network access, it ensures users are validated and authenticated to the ZTNA service before access is even granted. Access management is one of the very first steps that IT departments take for zero trust security. While zero trust access can sometimes be a slow process, it is important to avoid cutting corners at the access management level in the name of productivity.

Similar to an SDP or software-defined perimeter, zero trust network access conceals the connections between devices, services, assets, and infrastructure. Once the user has been authenticated for access, the zero trust network access system gives the green light for access to specific applications, data, or services through an encrypted tunnel. The encrypted security acts as an extra layer that protects everything on the other side of the encrypted tunnel from unauthorized access or being visible to anyone without authorized access.

How Does Zero Trust Network Access Protect Against Cybersecurity Attacks?

To begin, the idea behind the entire zero trust network access starts with the assumption that cybersecurity attacks can be a result of who is internal and who is external to the network. A traditional IT network trusts pretty much everything while a zero trust architecture network literally means “trust no one” including systems, users, software, and machines.

Zero trust network access verifies a user’s identity and privileges and forces both users and devices to be continuously monitored and re-verified to maintain access. For example, let’s say that you log in to your bank account via a mobile device or even your laptop computer. Once you check your balance, you open a new tab to continue something else outside of the bank account screen. After a while, that tab will produce a pop-up with a timeout warning asking if you want to continue or log out. If you don’t reply in time, it will automatically log you out of the screen and you will be forced to log back in if you want to access your bank account details again.

This continuous monitoring minimizes user exposure and helps to protect the network from attacks from within and external cyberattacks as well. With many applications and systems being in the cloud these days, a zero trust approach becomes even more critical. Since zero trust is designed to prevent and contain cyberattackers, internal or external cyberattacks can move laterally or move throughout the network or application to other segments of the network.

Source: Cloud Security Alliance’s Cloud Security and Technology Maturity Survey. Based on 256 surveys completed by November 2021, only 34% expected to have Zero Trust in place. 

Benefits of Zero Trust Network Access

In today’s multicloud environment, many applications and users do not even live within an organization’s network. According to Upwork’s 2021 Future Workforce Report, by 2025, 40.7 million Americans will be fully remote workers. This means the number of people whose devices and locations live outside an organization’s network will only continue to grow.

Zero trust network access allows for microservice-based applications to reside in multicloud environments. Today’s organizations have assets and data residing in multiple locations and require access anytime, anywhere, from any device mentality in order to be productive and efficient amongst their workforce.

The ZTNA model was developed to eliminate the need of giving access to everything to everyone. Thus, users have very limited access and contractors, freelancers, employees, and employers can be confident in knowing they have access to what they need to do their job and not to everything else that they don’t need. Since nothing can be trusted until it is proven to be trustworthy, reauthentication happens when the connection is lost or changes.

Bottom Line: How to Implement Zero Trust Network Access

Zero trust network access may sound complex and adopting it throughout an entire organization may sound even more complex. Finding the right security and technology partner to help you along the journey is the first step to eliminating the complexities and getting on the right track. Combining networking services with built-in zero trust network access for users and devices will help keep your network, assets, and data fully protected and accessible only to those who need it, when they need it.

Want to learn more? Discover how zero trust models work in container security.

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