ZTNA can be more than a VPN replacement for application access

ztna application access portnox

Originally published on HelpNet Security

In the wake of increased workforce mobility, today’s organizations require more innovative, more flexible, and more secure methods of granting network and application access to their workers.

ZTNA adoption

The encryption-based security approach leveraged by the virtual private networks (VPNs) is no longer an effective means of maintaining data protection in today’s always connected and on-the-go working environment.

In recent years, high-profile VPN vulnerabilities became prime targets for exploitation by not-so-sophisticated hackers. But out of the ashes of the VPN rose a phoenix: Zero trust network access (ZTNA) emerged as a promising alternative, particularly for application access. ZTNA 1.0, however, while certainly a step forward in terms of scalability, data loss prevention, and advanced threat protection, still had some growing up to do.

To truly evolve beyond a mere VPN replacement for application access, ZTNA must expand its scope and continually improve its approach to enforcing network access policies, profiling and monitoring connected devices, and mitigating associated security risks.

Broadening access control

Traditional ZTNA offers a more granular and dynamic approach to access control compared to traditional VPNs. By adopting a zero-trust model, ZTNA focuses on verifying the identity of each user and device attempting to access an application. To improve its approach further, however, ZTNA must evolve to include:

  • Contextual access xontrol: ZTNA should leverage contextual information such as user behavior, location, time of access, and device posture to make access decisions – for both the physical network (wired and wireless) and business applications. By analyzing these factors in real-time, ZTNA can dynamically adjust access privileges, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Continuous authentication: Instead of relying solely on a one-time login, ZTNA should implement continuous authentication mechanisms. This can involve multi-factor authentication (MFA) or behavior-based authentication to ensure ongoing verification of user identities.
  • Application-aware policies: ZTNA can enhance its policy enforcement capabilities by being application-aware. By understanding the specific requirements and vulnerabilities of different applications, ZTNA can apply more precise access controls and security measures, reducing the attack surface.

Encompassing risk mitigation

As organizations embrace hybrid and fully remote work policies, accurately identifying all devices with network and application access and mitigating associated security risks has become imperative. ZTNA can play a crucial role in achieving this standard mandate by expanding its purview to include:

  • Endpoint visibility and control: ZTNA solutions should provide comprehensive visibility into all endpoints attempting to access the network. This includes devices owned by employees, contractors, and partners.
  • Network segmentation: ZTNA should facilitate network segmentation, dividing the network into smaller, isolated segments to limit the lateral movement of threats. By separating sensitive data and critical resources from the rest of the network, ZTNA can reduce the impact of potential breaches.
  • Continuous monitoring: ZTNA must incorporate continuous monitoring and threat intelligence capabilities to identify emerging threats and vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate those threats through automated endpoint remediation. By integrating with security information and event management (SIEM) systems, ZTNA can help security teams detect and respond to security incidents in real-time.

Going cloud-native

The adoption of cloud-native ZTNA control can further empower agile, resource-constrained IT teams to proactively address even the most sophisticated security challenges. In general, the move to fully cloud-native ZTNA enables:

  • Easier deployment and scalability: Cloud-native ZTNA solutions should be able to effortlessly scale with the growing needs of an organization. By leveraging cloud infrastructure, IT teams can easily deploy, manage, and update ZTNA capabilities across multiple locations and diverse environments.
  • Automation and orchestration: Cloud-native ZTNA solutions must incorporate automation and orchestration capabilities, reducing manual effort and increasing operational efficiency. With automated provisioning, policy enforcement, and threat response, IT teams can focus on strategic security initiatives rather than repetitive clerical tasks.
  • Centralized management and monitoring: Cloud-native ZTNA solutions should provide a centralized management console, enabling IT teams to have a holistic view of the network, user activity, and security events. This centralized approach simplifies policy management, reduces complexity, and improves incident response times.

By continuously improving its approach to enforcing network and application access policies, accurately profiling all devices with access, and mitigating associated security risks, ZTNA can provide a robust and adaptive security framework for the connected business era.

Going a step further, the adoption of cloud-native ZTNA signifies an opportunity for IT teams to proactively address security challenges in an increasingly agile and efficient manner. As organizations embrace an expanding device landscape, ZTNA’s evolution will play a pivotal role in ensuring secure and efficient network and application access for employees while safeguarding sensitive data from ever-evolving threats.

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