What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

The zero trust security model states that a user should only have the access and permissions that they require to fulfill their role. This is a very different approach from that provided by traditional security solutions, like VPNs, that grant a user full access to the target network.

Zero trust network access (ZTNA) – also known as software-defined perimeter (SDP) – solutions are designed to implement and enforce an organization’s zero trust policy. Users attempting to connect to an organization’s applications are only permitted to do so if they require that access to perform their duties. This dramatically decreases an organization’s cyber risk and exposure to cyber threats.

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What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

How does ZTNA operate?

The goal of ZTNA is to ensure that a user only has access to an application if they have a legitimate need to do so. A user’s rights and permissions are defined using roles that are designed to map to an employee’s position within the organization. When a user attempts to access the network, the first step is authentication. The ZTNA solution will verify the identity of the user and link this identity to their collection of roles on the organization’s system.

ZTNA enforces its access controls by ensuring that all traffic to an organization’s resources pass through a ZTNA solution. As traffic enters the ZTNA solution, traffic is permitted to pass through or is blocked based upon the predefined access controls.

Benefits of ZTNA

ZTNA enables organizations to implement a zero trust security model within their network ecosystems. This can be applied to a number of use cases and improves the organization’s security posture.

  • Secure Remote Access

In the wake of COVID-19, most organizations have shifted to a mostly or wholly remote workforce. Many companies are using virtual private networks (VPNs) to support this. However, VPNs have a number of limitations, including scalability and their lack of integrated security.

One of the biggest issues with VPNs is that they grant an authenticated user complete access to the network, which increases the company’s exposure to cyber threats. ZTNA, implemented as part of a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) or secure access service edge (SASE) solution, provides the ability to integrate ZTNA into a remote access solution, reducing remote workers’ access to the network to only what they require for their jobs.

  • Secure Cloud Access

Most organizations are embracing cloud computing, and many enterprises have multiple cloud platforms. To reduce their attack surface, organizations need to limit access to these cloud-based resources.

ZTNA enables an organization to limit access to their cloud environments and applications based upon business needs. Each user and application can be assigned a role within the ZTNA solution with the appropriate rights and permissions associated with the organization’s cloud-based infrastructure.

  • Minimized Risk of Account Compromise

Account compromise is a common goal of cybercriminals. An attacker will attempt to steal or guess a user’s account credentials and use them to authenticate as the user to the organization’s systems. This provides the attacker with the same level of access as the legitimate user.

Implementing ZTNA helps to minimize this level of access and the damage that an attacker can cause using a compromised account. The attacker’s ability to move laterally through an organization’s ecosystem is limited by the rights and permissions assigned to the compromised user account.

How to Implement Zero Trust Network Access

ZTNA functionality can be implemented within an organization’s ecosystem in a number of different ways:

  • Gateway Integration: ZTNA functionality can be implemented as part of a network gateway. Any traffic attempting to cross the network boundary defined by the gateway solution will be filtered based upon the defined access control policies.
  • Secure SD-WAN: SD-WAN implements optimized networking across the corporate WAN, and Secure SD-WAN integrates a security stack into each SD-WAN appliance. ZTNA functionality can be incorporated into this security stack to provide centralized access management.
  • Secure Access Service Edge: SASE takes the functionality of Secure SD-WAN and hosts it as a virtual appliance in the cloud. This enables an organization to maximize both network efficiency and security, including ZTNA functionality.

Deploying ZTNA

Implementing a zero trust architecture dramatically decreases an organization’s exposure to cybersecurity risk. By limiting users’ access and permissions to those required for their duties, an organization reduces the damage that can be done by a malicious insider or a compromised user account.

Implementing ZTNA within an organization’s network ecosystem is considered a cybersecurity best practice, and it does not require a significant network redesign to accomplish it. ZTNA can be deployed in a number of different ways, whether via standalone solutions inserted into an existing network infrastructure or as part of a digital transformation initiative to replace VPN with SD-WAN or SASE.

Check Point offers ZTNA solutions that can meet any organization’s networking and security needs. Contact us to discuss which options might be the best fit for your organization’s unique business case. Then, request a demonstration to see Check Point’s ZTNA solutions in action.

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