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What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

The Information Technology (IT) industry is growing, and the technologies that are made available tend to grow in number and complexity as well. With more and more people working from home or any remote location, it’s no surprise that cybersecurity threats are becoming more prevalent. Fending off would-be hackers is always a top priority for businesses and their IT departments.


An emerging trend in the IT industry is Zero Trust Network Access, also known as ZTNA. The concept of ZTNA is not brand new, but more and more companies are adopting this kind of zero trust architecture as opposed to the traditional perimeter-based security architecture.


Businesses must adjust their security protocols based on the increased instances of security breaches facing the corporate world. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are considered traditional solutions, but the number of businesses transitioning to ZTNA will likely increase.


VPNs may become antiquated, and ZTNA will reign supreme. Let’s dive right into ZTNA so you can be better informed about its use cases and how it will affect you in your position as a cybersecurity professional.


What is ZTNA?


In simple terms, ZTNA is a network that provides limited access to applications and services within an organization. The members of an organization are either granted access to these applications or are denied based on their credentials. Like its name, there is a zero trust policy to help secure a company’s network perimeter.


ZTNA defaults to denying a user access until their identity has been authenticated. It’s crucial that users can be identified to prevent attackers from accessing valuable company assets. This becomes especially important when more employees are working remotely or on networks that aren’t secure.


Once a user’s identity has been verified, they can access and connect to the network through an encrypted tunnel, which adds another layer of protection from anyone trying to gain access to commit cybercrimes.


ZTNA can be extremely useful for companies looking to protect their customers’ sensitive information and trade secrets.


Many companies across all industries can benefit from using ZTNA, but let’s first get into how ZTNA works.


How ZTNA Works


There are four core principles that can be used to help us better understand ZTNA:


● ZTNA isolates access on an application basis, not the network as a whole. In other words, users are granted access to the application they need to use, not the entire network. If devices become compromised, there’s no need to worry about the network being negatively impacted.

● ZTNA makes the network infrastructure invisible to any unauthorized user, making the network impossible to find. Think of it like a closed loop, where only authenticated users access the applications and services in-network.

● ZTNA uses native app segmentation, allowing authorized users to use specific applications rather than the full network.

● ZTNA takes a user-centric approach rather than a network-centric approach, deemphasizing the use of a network and emphasizing the use of the internet.


ZTNA is similar to software-defined perimeters (SDP) in the sense that users cannot see or have access to software or applications they are not granted access to. This establishes what is known as a “dark cloud” infrastructure and can help elevate a business’ network security measures.


Now that we know what ZTNA is and a general overview of how it works, let’s explore some of the benefits of using ZTNA to improve security within an organization.


Benefits and Uses of ZTNA


Understanding the benefits of ZTNA will help businesses and cybersecurity professionals if or when they decide to transition to this security model. Below are some of the advantages of using ZTNA within your organization.


● Closes security gaps and mitigates risks

● Improved cybersecurity and connects remote workers more efficiently

● Protection for applications both on and off-premise

● Reliable for advanced persistent threats (APTs)


For example, the financial services industry can benefit significantly from the use of ZTNA. Whether it’s filing sensitive documents or handling a simple transaction, limiting risks to user data is achievable with ZTNA, and should be prioritized.


Banks and financial institutions should tackle security issues head-on and consider switching from traditional security measures, like VPNs. ZTNA helps to mitigate the shortcomings of using a VPN, and that’s why it’ll likely grow in the coming years.


In fact, in Gartner’s 2019 Market Guide on Zero Trust Network Access, it’s estimated that by 2023, 60% of businesses will phase out VPNs in favor of using ZTNA. Because of this unparalleled switch to ZTNA, violations such as security fraud and network breaches will be less likely to occur.


ZTNA assists organizations of all kinds operate more securely and effectively. Adding more layers of protection in a world full of cybersecurity threats will stop hackers and make it more difficult for them to penetrate a network and access sensitive information.


The Future of ZTNA


Based on its current usage, it’s more than likely that we’ll see more adoption of ZTNA across all industries. As we experience a time where remote work is a new norm, securing the pathways that allow employees to access crucial data is paramount. It will be interesting to see how willing organizations will be in making this transition.