Organizational networks are expanding beyond boundaries and so is the sophistication of the cyber-attacks trying to exploit these networks. With the rise of insider threats, remote work, and cloud adoption, it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect all the systems and data at once. Therefore, organizations are inclining towards the latest security solution, ZTNA, based on the zero trust concept.

What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

The term zero trust, coined by Forrester’s Kindervag in 2010, is an approach to the strategy, design, and implementation of IT systems. Based on the concept of zero trust, Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), or perimeter-less security, are security products or solutions that follow the idea of 'Never trust, always verify'. This means that every entity—user, device, application, or system—on the network must be verified before being granted access, as nothing is trusted by default. This applies to everything, even if the entity was previously connected and verified to the network.

Organizations are increasingly adopting zero trust IT models. According to Statista, more than half of respondents from a global survey considered the adoption of a zero-trust strategy a top or high priority for their organization.

ZTNA Demystified image

Understanding ZTNA: Explained with Museum Analogy

To understand the concept of ZTNA and how it applies to systems and networks, consider the following example of an invite-only exhibition at a prestigious museum. If the museum authorities were to follow traditional security measures, they would implement perimeter security. This means a protective fence surrounds the museum, and guards at the entrance check invitations before allowing the visitors inside.

Once they are inside, they’re free to move without any additional checks. This is highly dangerous as the visitors might carry something dangerous that the guards failed to check, try to access restricted areas, or even steal some of the items on display.

Now, let's apply the ZTNA model to this scenario:

  1. Invitation Verification at Every Entry Point: Instead of relying solely on the perimeter fence, every door inside the museum requires visitors to present their invitations and verify their identity. Even if a visitor has a valid invitation, they must verify their identity each time they enter a new area of the museum.
  2. Restricted Access to Sensitive Areas: Stricter access controls are imposed on certain parts of the museum, like the vault containing rare artifacts and highly valuable items. Access is only granted to specific visitors with a specific need, after rigorous verification of their credentials before entry.
  3. Continuous Monitoring: Despite the thorough verification and strict access controls, security cameras and personnel constantly monitor visitor behavior throughout the event. They are immediately alerted if someone behaves suspiciously or tries to access a restricted area without authorization, and appropriate action is taken.
  4. Dynamic Adjustments: Security measures are adjusted in real time based on the current threat environment. For example, if a visitor was behaving suspiciously, additional verification steps may be implemented to ensure only authorized access and the safety of valuable exhibits.

In this analogy, the museum represents your organization’s network, the visitors are users or devices trying to access resources on your network, and the security measures implemented at every door reflect the principles of Zero Trust. By applying ZTNA, your organization can ensure that only authorized individuals gain access to sensitive areas, and any suspicious behavior is quickly identified and addressed, thus providing a higher level of security compared to relying solely on perimeter security.

The Three Basic Assumptions of ZTNA

  1. All entities are untrusted by default. No entity is trusted just because it is in the organization’s network. Everyone requires an identity, which the organization understands and checks. Based on this identity check, the appropriate access to data and systems is granted.
  2. Least privileged access is again the default. One of the general policies of zero trust security models is providing as little access to resources as necessary for an individual, employee, or process to function. In instances where more access is required for a transaction, it's provided only for the life of that transaction. Once the transaction is complete, access reverts to the least privileged.
  3. Ability to support comprehensive monitoring. Zero trust models, in addition to regulating control over access, should be able to effectively shine a light on the dark crevices of your organization, the areas where nefarious actors are likely to hide, and be able to expose them.

The baseline of the zero-trust concept is that no one should be trusted with corporate network access privileges.

Difference between a Traditional Security Model and the Zero Trust Security Model

Feature Traditional Security Model ZTNA Model
Concept Trust but verify Never trust, always verify
Key Question Where are you (user) coming from? Who are you (user)?
Trust Boundary Everything outside the perimeter- Not trusted;
Everything inside the perimeter- Trusted
Micro-segmentation and requiring authentication to access every zone
Encryption Only external traffic is encrypted All traffic is encrypted
Authentication One-time authentication for the initial access Continuous authentication
Access Control IP-based access control Data-based access control
Control Level Less granular control over access More granular control over access
Security Individual periodic monitoring Real-time, full, and continuous monitoring and analytics
Compliance Difficult to comply with data regulations Simplifies compliance with data regulations


Zero Trust Security Model Through the Years

The Beginnings in the 2000s

Forrester’s John Kindervag put forward the concept of zero trust. At that time, the concept challenged the perimeter-based security model. Kindervag advocated for a model where organizations should not automatically trust anything inside or outside its perimeters and instead verify anything and everything trying to connect to its systems before granting access.

Google’s Inclination in 2010s

In response to Operation Aurora cyber-attacks, Google started an internal initiative, called BeyondCorp in 2009. This gave a boost to the zero-trust security model. BeyondCorp was created to enable employees to work remotely without the use of a VPN. In the later years, it moved its focus to device and user authentication, least privilege, context-aware access controls, and continuous authorization.

Core Pillars, ZTNA Entry in 2010-2020s

In 2018, Forrester introduced the concept of the zero-trust eXtended ecosystem, which established its seven core pillars. In the same year, NIST released a zero-trust architecture called SP 800-207, which offers guidelines on the core components of zero trust. Later in 2019, Gartner unveiled ZTNA, which are products and services that deliver zero trust concepts to a network.

Rise of ZTNA in the 2020s and Beyond

With the explosion of remote work, cloud-based applications, and sophisticated cyber-attacks, ZTNA is quickly becoming a popular security model among organizations. The zero-trust model keeps evolving with new concepts such as micro-segmentation and behavioral analytics.

Benefits of ZTNA: Trust No One and Protect Everyone

Cyber-attackers frequently target organizations in today's environment, as cloud adoption and remote work have become the standard. The Zero Trust model protects everyone connected to the network without trusting them while saving costs. According to a report from IBM, zero trust reduced the cost of a data breach by about $1 million. Organizations need to switch to ZTNA for sophisticated cybersecurity in the 21st century.

Enhanced Security Posture

The main benefit and aim of ZTNA is to improve the cyber security of an organization’s network. With its core principle of "never trust, always verify", ZTNA significantly reduces the attack surface by limiting access to resources based on strict authentication and authorization criteria. This eliminates unauthorized access to sensitive data and applications and restricts suspicious movements within the network.

Improved Access Control

The dynamic policy adjustment and monitoring of ZTNA allows organizations to include various factors in implementing access controls. These include user identity, device security posture, location, and the sensitivity of the resource being accessed. Strict access controls help users access necessary information while lowering the risk of insider threats and data breaches.

Improved Flexibility

With growing remote work and cloud adoption, the ZTNA security model supports these types of settings. This model provides secure access to data regardless of the user's or cloud infrastructure’s location. This enables employees to work seamlessly from anywhere without compromising security.

Simplified Compliance

Many countries’ data regulations mandate strict controls over access to their citizen’ and nations’ sensitive data. ZTNA security models align with these requirements, implementing robust access controls, thereby helping organizations avoid the risk of non-compliance penalties.

Real-time Threat Detection and Response

ZTNA continuously monitors network traffic and user behavior. It detects and responds to any suspicious behaviors and potential security threats on the network in real time before they escalate into major breaches.

Challenges in ZTNA Implementation

ZTNA is fairly a new concept despite its promising benefits. Organizations may face difficulties when first implementing the ZTNA model into their processes. Some of the difficulties include:

  • Complexity: The zero trust model encompasses all the data, resources, endpoints, and workflows of an organization. Identifying every single resource, configuring access control, and continuously monitoring them can be very challenging. The flow of data within third-party cloud services, supplier networks, and payment providers further adds to this complexity. The rise of remote work adds more endpoints beyond the organization’s control. Mapping these connections takes time, technology, and personnel.
  • Cost: Implementing ZTNA requires a fair amount of investment. It starts with a pilot setup, followed by the actual implementation, and then continuous maintenance and monitoring. The costs also include the time and expenses needed to train employees on the ZTNA solution. The process needs repeating whenever new people are onboard or switch roles, adding up the costs over time.
  • Operational Challenges: Verification upon every access can lead to interrupted workflows and slowed-down processes. As a result, it may affect the productivity of employees who need access to systems to perform their duties. There may be delays to overall processes leading to other downstream impacts.
  • Compatibility Issues: Organizations run on a web of diverse products that may not be fully compatible with Zero Trust principles. Implementing ZTNA can be especially difficult if any legacy technologies are in use. Organizations may often run into compatibility issues demanding both time and costs.
  • Employee Resistance: Verifying every time before gaining access to the data can be frustrating to some employees. They may find it hard to adapt to the zero-trust model. Especially if the organization is fluid and employees’ roles and duties are not static and change frequently.

How do you implement Zero Trust Network Access?

  • Identify and Verify Users and Devices: Organizations should implement strong authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and ensure that all users and devices are continuously authenticated.
  • Segment the Network: The network is divided into microsegments or smaller identifiable zones, in which access is granted based on job roles and responsibilities. Sensitive and confidential data is isolated from unnecessary exposure.
  • Implement Strict Access Controls: The principle of least privilege is applied where users only have access to what is required for their specific roles.
  • Monitoring and Analytics: Continuous monitoring and threat detection tools are deployed to identify anomalies and potential threats.
  • Education and Training: Continuous training to the team to ensure that everyone is well-versed in the principles of zero trust, to prevent any attacks because of human errors.

Begin Your Zero Trust Journey with Sangfor Access Secure

To streamline your organization’s adoption of the zero trust security model, Sangfor presents Access Secure, a cutting-edge SASE solution recognized in Gartner and Forrester publications. It offers an advanced ZTNA solution to provide secure access to network resources, cloud services, and SaaS applications for HQ, branches, and remote users. Core to Access Secure’s ZTNA solution is its capabilities across Identity, Connection, and Behavior security.

  • Identity Security: Ensures comprehensive authentication across entities, including users, devices, applications, systems, and even data. This is achieved through a variety of robust authentication mechanisms to verify every access request.
  • Connection Security: Uses technologies like next-gen VPN and Single Packet Authentication (SPA) to establish secure connections to resources across and between HQ, branches, and remote users, allowing only authorized entities to establish connections.
  • Behavior Security: Continuously monitors user and system behavior to identify any unusual or unauthorized attempts to access data. Immediate corrective actions are taken to mitigate any identified security risks.

Deploying Access Secure gives you robust access control consistent across all locations, protecting your organization’s valuable assets from intrusions, advanced persistent threats (APTs), insider threats, ransomware attacks, and more. 

Check out this video to learn how Access Secure empowers remote/hybrid work with secure and efficient access to network resources.

To know more about Sangfor Access Secure, visit our website or contact us here.


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