What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

what-is-ztna
Ahmet Polat
Ahmet Polat
26 February 2024

In the current realm of a decentralized workplace where a remote workforce is accessing company resources and cloud-based applications from anywhere, organizations face increasing urgency in securing their networks and protecting sensitive data. In 2022, 1 out of every 5 organizations were the target of security breaches due to remote worker error. 


Traditional security measures, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), fall short in providing the granular access control and visibility needed to combat sophisticated cyber threats. These are actively being phased out in favor of more granular access control policies or the Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) security framework.


At its core, ZTNA is a security model that says organizations should not automatically trust anyone just because they are inside the network perimeter, or that their credentials (username and password) have been checked out. Instead, companies should thoroughly verify the request via rigorous contextual means and policies before granting access to resources.


ZTNA moves beyond the physical limitations set by the 4 walls of an office, hardware appliances such as on-premise firewalls (FW) and leverages a Software Defined Perimeter based on Zero Trust principles. Least privilege is enforced in order to minimize the threat surface, and the blast radius in case of a breach. With least privilege, users are allowed access only to the resources that they are authorized to, and cannot move laterally within the network.  Admins can enforce company security policies based on user defined roles and permissions. Third parties such as IT contractors or partners must be properly verified before they can log into any company resource, typically through a layered Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) process.


Core Components of Zero Trust Framework

At the core of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is the principle of "never trust, always verify." This means that access to applications and resources is not granted based on a user's location or network connection, but rather on their identity and context. ZTNA takes a multi-layered approach to security, incorporating several components that work together to create a comprehensive and secure framework.


Identity-based Authentication

Identity-based authentication is the foundation of ZTNA. It ensures that users are who they claim to be by verifying their identity through a comprehensive contextual policy checklist and if needed via a multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanism. This authentication process is continuous and dynamic, constantly re-evaluating user credentials and device posture to ensure ongoing trust.


Granular Access Control

Unlike VPNs that provide broad network access, ZTNA offers granular access control, allowing organizations to define specific policies and permissions for each user and application. With ZTNA, access is granted on a "need-to-know" basis, limiting users to only the resources they require to perform their tasks. This minimizes the attack surface and reduces the risk of unauthorized access and lateral movement within the network.


Application Segmentation

Application segmentation allows creating perimeters around individual assets to control traffic flow and prevent the spread of threats in the event of a breach. By segmenting applications, organizations can isolate and protect critical resources, ensuring that even if one application is compromised, the rest of the network remains secure.


Invisibility and Dark Cloud

One of the key features of ZTNA is its ability to make applications and infrastructure invisible to the public internet. By hiding applications from public discovery, ZTNA creates a "dark cloud" that shields the network from potential attackers. This makes it difficult for unauthorized users to locate and target specific applications, enhancing overall security.


Zero Trust Remote Access Solutions

ZTNA solutions provide secure remote access to applications and services based on clearly defined access control policies. Unlike VPNs, which grant access to an entire network, ZTNA solutions grant access only to specific applications or resources. This ensures that users have limited and controlled access, minimizing the risk of unauthorized activities and data breaches.




Authentication and Access Control

The primary use of ZTNA is to provide highly granular access mechanisms based on a user's identity. ZTNA can provide additional levels of security with location- or device-specific access control policies, preventing compromised or unauthorized devices from accessing critical resources.


Holistic Control and Visibility

ZTNA solutions offer organizations holistic control and visibility over remote access. By incorporating ZTNA into a secure access service edge (SASE) solution, organizations can benefit from enhanced security, scalability, and network capabilities. Post-connection monitoring can help prevent data loss, malicious actions, or compromised user credentials. ZTNA also enables organizations to connect users, applications, and data regardless of their location, whether on-premises or in multi-cloud environments.


ZTNA vs VPN

While VPNs have been widely used to provide remote access, they have limitations in terms of security, scalability, flexibility, and granular control. ZTNA overcomes these limitations by focusing on identity-based authentication, granular access control, and application segmentation. Unlike VPNs, ZTNA solutions default to deny, only granting access to specific applications or resources based on user authentication and authorization. This approach significantly reduces the attack surface and provides organizations with better control and visibility over remote access.


Implementing a Zero Trust Security Framework

Implementing a Zero Trust Security Framework requires careful planning and consideration of an organization's specific needs and requirements. While each implementation may vary, there are some key steps that organizations can follow to successfully deploy ZTNA and enhance their security posture.


Step 1: Assess Assets and Vulnerabilities

The first step in implementing a Zero Trust Security Framework is to assess the value and vulnerability of an organization's assets. This involves identifying critical applications, data, and resources, as well as potential security risks and vulnerabilities. By understanding the organization's assets and vulnerabilities, organizations can develop effective access control policies and security measures.


Step 2: Define Access Control Policies

Once assets and vulnerabilities have been identified, organizations can define access control policies based on the principle of least privilege. Access control policies should be granular, ensuring that users have only the necessary access to perform their tasks. This includes defining user roles, permissions, and authentication methods, as well as making sure a layered MFA is implemented for additional security. 


Step 3: Establish Continuous Monitoring and Verification

Continuous monitoring and verification are essential components of a Zero Trust Security Framework. Organizations should implement mechanisms to continuously monitor user behavior, device posture, and application activity to detect any anomalies or suspicious activities. This allows organizations to promptly respond to potential threats and take appropriate actions to mitigate risks.


Step 4: Educate and Train Employees

Implementing a Zero Trust Security Framework requires the collaboration and cooperation of all employees. Organizations should invest in employee education and training programs to raise awareness about the importance of security and the role each individual plays in maintaining a secure environment. This includes educating employees about best practices for password management, recognizing phishing attempts, and reporting any suspicious activities.


Step 5: Regularly Update and Improve Security Measures

Security is an ongoing process, and organizations should regularly update and improve their security measures to stay ahead of emerging threats. This includes keeping software and systems up to date with the latest patches and security updates, conducting regular security audits and assessments, and staying informed about new security trends and technologies.

By following these steps and implementing a Zero Trust Security Framework, organizations can enhance their security posture and protect their sensitive data from evolving cyber threats.


Zero Trust Network Security and Timus

Timus is a cloud-based zero-trust network security platform developed to protect an organization’s local & cloud resources with zero trust policies.
Timus helps companies orchestrate secure access regardless of location and device while protecting the network against cyberattacks. It also provides deep visibility into network activities and helps with compliance.


Timus provides a Software Defined Perimeter with the following key building blocks:

  • Zero Trust Network Access with a rich set of behavior-based policies

  • Always-on, OS-agnostic agent (Timus Connect App) to replace VPNs 

  • Adaptive Cloud Firewall that tracks users everywhere

  • Dedicated Private Client Gateway with a Static IP 

  • Secure Web Gateway with web and category filtering

  • Safe Browsing, and Dark Web Monitoring 

  • Productivity Tracker  

  • A multi-tenant Partner Portal for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to onboard and manage clients from a centralized single pane of glass

Conclusion

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is revolutionizing the security paradigm by providing organizations with a more robust and effective approach to secure remote access. By focusing on identity-based authentication, granular access control, and application segmentation, ZTNA offers enhanced security, control, and visibility over remote access. Implementing a Zero Trust Security Framework requires careful planning, assessment of assets and vulnerabilities, definition of access control policies, continuous monitoring and verification, employee education and training, and regular updates and improvements. By adopting a Zero Trust Security Framework, organizations can strengthen their security posture and mitigate the risks associated with remote access in today's digital landscape.


Timus is one of the key players in the ZTNA space focusing on protecting small, medium and mid-market businesses’ resources, data and the remote workforce. Timus works with its Managed Service Provider (MSP) Partners as part of their layered cybersecurity stack.