AIMultiple ResearchAIMultiple Research

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

Written by
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani

Cem is 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 focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

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Researched by
Ezgi Alp, PhD.
Ezgi Alp, PhD.
Ezgi Alp, PhD.
Ezgi is an industry analyst at AIMultiple. She specializes in firewall, firewall management and procurement technologies.

She has held various positions in academia and the finance industry. Ezgi holds a PhD in finance and a bachelor's degree in management. She has a background in publishing scientific articles and presenting at conferences.

Publications:
• Tanyeri A. B., and Alp E. (2022).
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Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) in 2024: Definition & BenefitsZero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) in 2024: Definition & Benefits

AIMultiple team adheres to the ethical standards summarized in our research commitments.

Traditional cybersecurity techniques and 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 one of the modern cybersecurity best practices tools.

This article covers the definition, benefits, and principles of zero trust network access (ZTNA), details its deployment strategies, and compares ZTNA with VPN and SASE.

Zero trust network access definition

ZTNA is an IT security solution that enables safe remote access to an organization’s applications, data, and services based on strictly defined access control policies that are explicitly defined. It uses a zero-trust architecture to cybersecurity, assuming that individuals, devices, and networks can never be trusted and must be constantly monitored and verified. It falls under the category of technologies aimed at enhancing secure remote access.

 ZTNA uses the application layer to provide secure connections, which fits the least privilege principle of zero trust. It fundamentally shifts the security paradigm by providing access only to specific applications or services rather than granting blanket access to an entire network, as is common with virtual private networks (VPNs). This granular access control minimizes the attack surface and reduces the risk associated with unauthorized access or lateral movement within a network.

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.1

The main differences between ZTNA and VPN are:

1. 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.

2. 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. ZTNA, on the other hand, creates a secure work environment for remote users as if they were using corporate laptops in corporate offices. Consequently, ZTNA’s device verification capability has become crucial for cybersecurity.  

3. 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. 

For more information, check ZTNA or VPN in 2024: Which is Right for Your Business?

Case study on the transition from VPN to ZTNA

A technology company based in Sunnyvale, California, transitioned from VPNs to Fortinet zero trust network access (ZTNA) for better application access and security. The shift resolved issues like VPN-related interruptions during calls and increased latency due to VPN bottlenecks. With Fortinet’s existing security fabric, ZTNA was seamlessly integrated, improving access control and reducing policy management burdens. The migration to ZTNA was gradual, starting with critical applications, and resulted in improved productivity, simplified access, and enhanced security posture without additional costs.2

7 Benefits of ZTNA

According to Gartner analysts, it is predicted that until 2026, over half of cyberattacks will target areas that are not covered by zero-trust controls and cannot be mitigated by them.3

1. 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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 remote workers thanks to the least privilege concept. Also, enhanced visibility of user location makes it easier to find these employees.

4. Invisible applications

ZTNA makes applications inaccessible via the public internet, shielding them from data leakage and ransomware attacks.

5. Extended talent pool

More than 80% of employees believe that hybrid working, in which at least 25% of work is done remotely, is the best option.4 As a result, enterprises with archaic IT infrastructures that do not support mobile working find it difficult to reach the whole talent pool. 

6. Improved user experience

Continuous monitoring and identity authentication enhance security, preventing unauthorized users from gaining access.

7. Enhanced compliance

The least privilege principle of ZTNA improves corporate compliance; thus, all applications and data that employees can access can become authorized users and get granted access.

5 Core principles of ZTNA

Zero trust security model contrasts with the traditional paradigm, which assumes reliability within the corporate network. ZTNA better meets the security needs of today’s remote workforce, who often use their own devices, public Wi-Fi, and cloud computing platforms.

1. Monitoring and validating users and devices

  • User identity, privileges, and device security are systematically validated.
  • Logins and connections must time out regularly, forcing users and devices to re-verify themselves.
  • Ensures that compromised devices and unauthorized users cannot gain access.

2. Applying the least access principle

  • Grants users only the level of access they require, following least privilege access.
  • Reduces each user’s exposure to sensitive network areas and potential hacker damage.
  • Limits user access to specific applications and data, enhancing secure remote access.

3. Controlling device access

  • Organizations must know how many devices are attempting to access the network and ensure each one is authorized.
  • All devices are examined to confirm they are not compromised.
  • Reduces the attack surface by preventing compromised devices from gaining access.

4. Using microsegmentation:

  • Involves splitting safety perimeters into smaller regions, allowing independent access control.
  • Reduces the attack surface by isolating segments of the network.
  • Ensures secure connections within different parts of the corporate network.

5. Preventing lateral movement

  • Prevents viruses from spreading quickly through lateral movement within the network.
  • In the event of an attack, quarantining patient zero’s device or user account helps protect the rest of the network.
  • Uses granular access control to limit the spread of threats.

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.

SASE and ZTNA

SASE diagram showing SaaS, clouds, and data center linked to security services, such as ztna, and endpoints.

Source: Paloalto Network5

The secure access service edge (SASE) is a unified cloud-native security approach that integrates software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) with various security functionalities, including secure web gateway (SWG), cloud access security broker (CASB), Firewall as a Service (FWaaS), and zero trust network access (ZTNA). It offers a comprehensive platform that secures network connections, manages security features, streamlines management workflows, and provides a flexible network structure adaptable to changing business needs.

The main differences between SASE and ZTNA lie in their architectural integration, scope of application, network design philosophy, application visibility and access, security capabilities, deployment and management, and access control strategies. SASE integrates networking and security into a cloud-based service for broad enterprise environments, while ZTNA focuses on secure remote access to specific applications for authenticated users only.

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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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem is 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 focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

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.

Cem's hands-on enterprise software experience contributes to the insights that he generates. He oversees AIMultiple benchmarks in dynamic application security testing (DAST), data loss prevention (DLP), email marketing and web data collection. Other AIMultiple industry analysts and tech team support Cem in designing, running and evaluating benchmarks.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised enterprises on their technology 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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AIMultiple.com Traffic Analytics, Ranking & Audience, Similarweb.
Why Microsoft, IBM, and Google Are Ramping up Efforts on AI Ethics, Business Insider.
Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI to pursue artificial intelligence that’s smarter than we are, Washington Post.
Data management barriers to AI success, Deloitte.
Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, World Economic Forum.
Science, Research and Innovation Performance of the EU, European Commission.
Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge, McKinsey & Company.
Hypatos gets $11.8M for a deep learning approach to document processing, TechCrunch.
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck AI startup Hypatos used to raise $11 million, Business Insider.

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