Traditional cybersecurity models are no longer effective as applications and data move to the cloud, and employees work from anywhere. Zero trust network access provides powerful protection for your data, applications, and users without compromising productivity.
This strategy replaces the castle-and-moat security model that allows attackers to move laterally through a business network after making it past the firewall moat. The Zero Trust approach uses identity as the perimeter and authenticates, authorizes, and verifies every connection.
Traditionally, cybersecurity technologies protected enterprise data by establishing a secure perimeter around assets and allowing access to systems and applications within that perimeter. As employees started working remotely, utilizing personal devices that could never be guaranteed as fully secured and with the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, this model quickly became untenable.
Many solutions try to address this by relying on authentication and authorization to protect access to data. These include Discretionary Access Control (DAC) systems, which allow owners or administrators to create policies that determine who can gain access to a specific system, application, asset, etc. Unfortunately, DAC systems can be compromised through various methods, including malware, computer equipment failures, stolen credentials, and terminated users who continue to use company assets (such as smartphones with a company app) even after leaving the organization.
Zero-trust network access is a philosophy and strategy that allows organizations to implement security controls to extend remote and mobile connectivity confidently based on identity, device, location, application, and other contextual flags. This includes micro-segmentation, a continuous security inspection of all connections, and the principle of least privilege, which ensures that each user only has the minimum permissions required to do their job. It also requires a strong security posture that can be monitored and assessed continuously, such as by using a dynamic policy that considers the state of a client’s identity, device, application, and other behaviors.
The rise of remote work and BYOD has made securing business data and applications more challenging. Traditional firewalls and VPNs need to provide visibility, control, and granular access to secure modern workspaces. Zero trust networking (ZTNA) solutions offer a new approach to security that combines an inherently secure micro-segmented architecture with strong endpoint detection and response capabilities to protect critical assets from attack.
In a Zero Trust model, even authenticated users can only access specific apps on a need-to-know basis. This means attackers can’t move laterally within the network and expose more sensitive assets, and it also helps mitigate insider threats. Zero trust is an ideal complement to robust multifactor authentication (MFA) solutions, which can prevent credential theft and other lateral movement by verifying identities with physical security keys or biometric authentication on the user’s device.
There are two primary types of ZTNA solutions: agent-based and service-based. Agent-based solutions require installing a software application on all devices, while service-based ZTNA is delivered as a cloud-delivered service that does not depend on agents. Businesses should consider which solution best supports their needs based on the mix of managed and unmanaged devices, security posture, and application-specific requirements.
Zero trust is a fundamental shift from perimeter security models (such as firewalls and VPNs) to an identity-based architecture. It follows the mantra “Never trust, always verify.” Working effectively requires a new way of thinking and working with your employees. This includes enabling the right people with the right permissions and continually monitoring their behavior to limit the “blast radius” in case of a breach.
Zero Trust enables your teams to access the necessary resources without compromising security posture or creating workflow chokepoints. It uses security policies and identity to provide secure remote access to the apps, services, and data that employees need. This allows you to close security gaps and reduce the lateral movement of malware, even when users connect from offsite locations.
It also provides visibility into modern, ephemeral, and legacy resources critical to your business, including containers and serverless processes. It enables your teams to use just-in-time access and limits the permissions granted to each resource. It helps your team to monitor activity across all the tools and platforms they use and generate reliable information stored in a central location for stronger analytics that support faster response times. This helps you minimize the number of manual tasks your team takes, freeing up their time to focus on more strategic priorities.
Detailed visibility and reporting are important features to look for in ZTNA solutions. The ability to see device and user activity at a granular level helps organizations strengthen security posture and reduce risk across the network. Additionally, a ZTNA solution that provides real-time insight into the status of devices, network infrastructure, communications, and end users allows organizations to monitor progress toward their Zero Trust goals and ensure compliance with policies.
A Zero Trust solution can be agent-based or service-based, depending on the type of access control an organization wants to implement. Agent-based ZTNA requires software installation on each endpoint device, while service-based models operate as a cloud service rather than requiring any agent to be installed. This approach may work better for organizations concerned about protecting a mix of managed and unmanaged devices and IoT systems incapable of running a client application.
The Zero Trust model is rapidly gaining acceptance in the enterprise, offering an innovative and effective defense against constantly escalating threats. While it may be challenging for IT and security teams to transition from a perimeter-focused mindset, it will be necessary to mitigate recurring risks such as ransomware and malware that have proven successful against traditional security approaches.