Traditional VPN Vs. ZTNA: What's The Difference?

In an era when mobile devices are preferred for critical business processes, and the number of devices linked to the Internet is rising due to remote work, there is a growing need for novel solutions in cybersecurity and secure network access. This is where Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA) comes into play as the logical successor to Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology.

With the number of devices linked to the internet rising each day, the remote-work system boosting productivity, and mobile devices being used more than ever for critical business processes, the need for new cybersecurity approaches has become obvious. According to Verizon’s 2022 Mobile Security Index, four out of five businesses say remote-work negatively affects their cybersecurity systems and increases the burden on their cybersecurity teams. Moreover, 45% of businesses say they have recently experienced a mobile-related breach – two times more than the figures for 2021. This shows that Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology, which IT teams have used to secure remote access, must go one step further, and that traditional VPNs cannot fully protect against novel cyber-threats.

The concept of Zero Trust was first used in 1994 in researcher Stephen Marsh's doctoral thesis. It was later popularized by John Kindervag, an analyst at Forrester, in the 2010s, later becoming the Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA) approach, which can ensure security where VPNs fail. In 2021, the U.S. Biden Administration instructed all federal agencies to adopt ZTNA architecture. We can examine these concepts together in more detail.

 

What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a connection service used to establish secure and encrypted network connections, allowing a user to connect to a private network as if they were located in the same region where that network is used. A VPN can be thought of as a tunnel between a less secure network, such as the public Internet, and a more secure network, such as a company’s internal network. This tunnel is only available to authorized users, and allows remote devices to access central networks. VPN technology, however, cannot fully meet the complex cybersecurity needs of businesses in current conditions, where countless cloud-based applications and resources operate on the same network and cyber-threats are becoming ever more dangerous.

Advantages and disadvantages of VPNs

Offered as a secure connection service, traditional VPN systems basically allow remote users to securely access corporate networks over a proprietary protocol. The advantages of using VPNs can be summarized as follows:

  • Anonymity: Users can hide their credentials by remaining anonymous on the network, making it easier for them to ensure network security.
  • Geoblocks: VPNs provide access to regionally blocked networks.
  • Staying safe on public networks: With VPNs, data traffic is encrypted, so internet connections are more secure for users connecting to public networks.

 

The disadvantages of VPN technology, however, can prevent businesses from setting up network security infrastructure customized to meet their particular security needs:

  • Resource usage: As the number of users on a network increases, the expanding load on a VPN can cause unexpected delays and slow internet speeds.
  • Flexibility and agility: In order for VPN systems to be used on all company devices, VPN software with the right configurations must be installed on every device. This serves to increase the low-value-added workload on IT teams.
  • Fragmentation: VPNs do not allow authorization of users and devices to access a network, meaning users can access the entire network.

 

What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

The Zero Trust Network Access approach, meanwhile, is a new-generation security approach that subjects every user to a complex authentication process based on their credentials. The concept of ZTNA is based on the principle of never trusting a user attempting to access the network, and always verifying the owners of access requests. Thanks to ZTNA, users, applications and data can always access public networks, wherever they happen to be at the time. With authenticated and customizable permissions for every request, ZTNA gives cybersecurity teams total control over network access through a single platform.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of ZTNA

Among the many advantages of ZTNA, which is defined as a “double-barrier solution,” the following features come to mind.

  • More secure networks with micro-segmentation: ZTNA creates software-defined perimeters (SDPs), allowing networks to be compartmentalized into different segments. This way, the lateral spread of an attack can be stopped in a theoretical data breach.
  • Unified access control: ZTNA can also be used for traditional applications hosted at private data centers. What’s more, it offers unified access controls for internal and external users and systems. Every user linked to the network is only authorized for areas that they can access.
  • Optimal user experience: With ZTNA, users don’t have to install software or deal with slow network speeds to access networks. ZTNA can be easily scaled to specific numbers of devices and users.

 While ZTNA is one of the most advanced solutions for remote network access, it cannot provide total immunity from cybersecurity threats – and this is where Timus comes in. Timus offers Zero Trust Network Access services within the Secure Access Network Edge (SASE) platform, which includes an AI-Driven Dynamic Firewall, SWG, and threat prevention solutions. This is especially important since, by 2025, SASE will be used by three out of every five businesses as estimated by Gartner.


ZTNA vs. VPNs: Who wins?

Modern businesses use networks that link various devices, such as IoT devices, cell phones, computers and smart sensors. If we compare VPNs to ZTNA, the latter appears to have the advantage, given that every network-linked device is vulnerable and VPNs give the same authorization to every device. Gartner predicts that, by 2023, 60 percent of all enterprises will switch from VPNs to ZTNA. 

Main features of ZTNA

Main features of ZTNA – whose four key functions are Identify, Enforce, Monitor and Adjust – can be summarized as follows:

  • Fast, easy and flexible application
  • Fragmented access control
  • Continuous verification
  • Reduced costs
  • Easy scalability
  • Automatically-encrypted network tunnels
  • Simplified security architecture
  • Seamless user experience
  • Cloud and remote-work compatibility

 

Timus: Security solutions for the remote-work era

Designed with the understanding that “remote work is only possible with secure remote access,” Timus offers a comprehensive solution for eliminating cybersecurity threats on its platform, which features ZTNA. The current approach to cybersecurity is to assume that all users are potential threats. With its platform supported by the ZTNA protocol, Timus lets businesses create micro-segments within their networks, thereby preventing the lateral movement of potential attacks. In other words, it stops cyber-attackers from moving incrementally through the system. Timus also allows you to grant fragmented access privileges to every user or service, thus providing another line of defense against malware, ransomware and other advanced threats.

At a time when secure remote-access is indispensable for business sustainability, Timus answers the security needs of businesses that rely on employees and devices remotely linked to the network. Operating on the “never trust, always verify” principle and managed through a single platform, Timus helps reduce potential threats posed by services and users that remotely access the network. For more information on ZTNA and its many advantages, click here

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How is ZTNA different from VPNs?

While VPNs merely create a “tunnel” between public and private networks, ZTNA insists on verifying all requests made to private networks – at all times. While users can access entire networks through VPNs, that access has to be authorized with ZTNA. What’s more, ZTNA constantly monitors network activity.

Can VPNs be replaced by ZTNA?

Yes, they can. Gartner predicts that 60 percent of all businesses will switch from VPNs to ZTNA by the end of next year.

Why should I use ZTNA?

ZTNA is fast becoming a must-have for workplaces in the age of remote work. With ZTNA, businesses can eliminate threats by treating all devices that seek network access as threats – until, of course, they have been verified.

How does Timus ZTNA work?

By adopting the “never trust, always verify” principle, Timus ZTNA measures the risk scores of network users, monitors user behavior, and detects anomalies and suspicious activity. And it allows users to do all this from a single, easy-to-use, cloud-based platform.

Does ZTNA employ SDPs?

ZTNA helps corporate networks compartmentalize themselves into segments using software-defined perimeters (SDPs), thereby sidestepping lateral threats to the network.