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Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) in 2024: Definition & Benefits

Compared to 2020, the number of cyber-attacks increased by 30% in 2021. Some cyberattack tactics have become even more prevalent. For example, the number of ransomware attacks doubled in 2021. Although the digitization trend of organizations can explain part of the rise in cyber threats, the fact that ransomware attacks have skyrocketed is linked to new normal work practices.

Traditional cybersecurity techniques such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and traditional cyber-security paradigms that presume everything within the corporate network is reliable have become archaic. They were created in an era when cloud computing tools were not widely used, and people worked in offices using company devices. Zero trust network access (ZTNA) is an appropriate cybersecurity tool for today’s working practices. Therefore, we go through it in depth.

What is ZTNA? 

ZTNA creates a secure work environment for mobile workers as if they were using corporate laptops in corporate offices.

ZTNA is an IT security solution that enables safe remote access to an organization’s applications, data, and services based on application control policies that are explicitly defined. It promotes a zero-trust approach to cybersecurity, assuming that individuals, devices, and networks can never be trusted and must be constantly monitored and verified.  

ZTNA uses the application layer to provide secure connections, which fits the least privilege principle of zero trust. Thus, ZTNA allows users and devices to access the data necessary to complete certain activities. This gives administrators the control and visibility. ZTNA authenticates users and devices in the background at all times. It allows users to access private apps housed in clouds and corporate data centers from any place and device.

What are the differences between ZTNA and VPN?

VPN and ZTNA seem quite comparable because they both provide secure database connections. However, the details are vastly different, making VPNs an outdated security solution for today’s hybrid/remote working practices. In fact, numerous businesses have just switched their VPNs to ZTNA.

The main differences between ZTNA and VPN are:

  • Network level vs. Application level access: VPNs use network level access. Therefore, users gain access to the full system once inside a VPN boundary. ZTNAs, on the other hand, adopt the opposite approach, providing no access unless an asset – an application, data, or service – is specifically permitted for that user. Thus, ZTNA reduces the attack surface, cost of data breaches, and lateral movement that might cause greater damages after an event of hacking. ZTNA also has greater visibility capabilities about the actions of users. So it becomes easier to find inside threats.
  • Device Assessment: VPNs were created for the time when employees work in corporate offices with corporate computers. Thus, there was no need to scan computers for viruses. Employees nowadays regularly utilize personal laptops and other devices to work. Consequently, ZTNA’s device verification capability has become crucial for cybersecurity.  
  • Latency and risk of data loss: Using a private network to access applications takes longer, mainly if employees are located throughout the globe. ZTNA, on the other hand, connects to apps directly over the internet, which optimizes traffic and decreases latency and the risk of data loss.  

7 Benefits of ZTNA

  • Allows micro-segmentation: ZTNA enables companies to construct software-defined perimeters and divide their internal network into several micro-segments, limiting attackers from moving laterally and decreasing the attack surface in the event of a breach.
  • Provides protection against malware codes: ZTNA improves protection against malware codes in two ways. First, it regularly checks the health of devices that connect applications. Secondly, micro-segmentation limits lateral movement and reduces the possible damage of a cyber attack. 
  • Protects against rogue employees: Traditional cybersecurity solutions lack monitoring and protection against insider threats. However, the zero trust driven security approach of ZTNA limits the damage of rogue employees thanks to the least privilege concept. Also, enhanced visibility of users makes it easier to find rogue employees.
  • Makes applications unseen: ZTNA establishes a virtual darknet and prohibits app availability on the public internet, protecting businesses against data leakage, and ransomware, via the internet.
  • Makes a richer talent pool available for companies: According to Accenture, more than 80% of employees believe that hybrid working, in which at least 25% of work is done remotely, is the best option. As a result, enterprises with archaic IT infrastructures that do not support mobile working find it difficult to reach the whole talent pool. 
  • Improve user experience: Optimizing data traffic reduces latency and provides a more comfortable work experience for employees.
  • Enhance compliance: Thanks to the least privilege principle ZTNA improves corporate compliance since all applications and data that employees can use is authorized and verified by the company.

How can companies deploy ZTNA?

Businesses can employ ZTNA solutions in one of two ways: 

  • Stand-alone ZTNA: It involves organizations constructing IT infrastructure to run it. Unless they have the budget, time, and IT capabilities, many firms will not be able to deploy ZTNA in such a way.
  • ZTNA as a service: Third-party vendors lease ZTNA gear and services from a cloud service provider, allowing enterprises to save money on hardware that would otherwise be acquired.

Stand-alone ZTNA vs. ZTNA as a service

Pros of stand-alone ZTNA:

  • Control: It provides greater control for executives over cybersecurity measures since the internal IT team is responsible for the maintenance and upgrades of the system.
  • Uniqueness: It can offer more customized solutions that suit better the specific businesses/sectors needs. Since a stand-alone ZTNA is not a general cybersecurity solution.

Pros of ZTNA as service solution:

  • Cloud-native solutions: These solutions run on cloud systems. Therefore, most of them are designed to integrate with other cybersecurity solutions, such as SWG, SASE, and FaaS, to provide comprehensive cyber protection for businesses. Furthermore, cloud-native refers to ZTNA as a service platform and may be integrated with major cloud computing services that enterprises have recently adopted. Such systems include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Salesforce. 
  • Easy implementation: Especially for SMEs developing and deploying their in-house ZTNA can be challenging. Paying a vendor a subscription and, after a few clicks using their ZTNA solution is easier for companies than developing and deploying their own tool.

To improve your cybersecurity posture, you can read our Top 4 Secure Web Login Best Practices for Corporations article.

You can also check our zero trust networking software list.

If you have further questions about ZTNA you can reach us:

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Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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