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Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) vs. VPN

Before 2020, there were signs of a growing — albeit slow — shift to remote work. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations were forced to quickly adopt hybrid or remote work policies to keep operations running and protect their workforce. Since then, IT teams have continued to deploy corporate applications and desktops in the cloud while allowing remote employees to use unmanaged devices and unsanctioned networks to do their jobs.

Consequently, this has opened the door to a plethora of inherent network security risks. IT teams have traditionally relied on virtual private networks (VPNs) to provide secure remote access to distributed workforces. But with increased scalability demands from remote users, and new security architecture demands of software-as-a-service (SaaS), and web-based apps — as well as advanced cyber security threats in the cloud — VPNs and the traditional network security tools simply can’t keep up.

To help boost user productivity and granular security in remote work environments, many organisations are turning to more modern cloud-native security solutions such as zero trust network access (ZTNA).

If you’re unfamiliar with this approach, this guide will help you compare ZTNA vs. VPNs, as well as demonstrate how Edge7 Networks can help you secure your remote workforce with a zero trust framework.

ZTNA: Advantages in user productivity Because VPNs are appliance-based solutions that are deployed in customer managed data centres, they are limited in scope for scalability.

  • ZTNA provides direct breakout of cloud and SaaS traffic: As ZTNA is primarily a cloud native solution, it does not require backhauling of any traffic and provides a great end-user experience

  • ZTNA is auto-scale: With most of the workers remote, and continuing to stay hybrid, they may not be in locations close to headquarters or the data centres. Because ZTNA is cloud-native, it is available across all geo locations and scales automatically based on the number of users. This allows users to get excellent performance without any bottlenecks on scalability.

  • ZTNA provides flexibility: With more workers than ever being remote and in a hybrid work environment, ZTNA offers flexibility to support those using their BYO devices, enabling the security controls an organisation needs.

ZTNA: Advantages in Access Security ZTNA and VPNs take two very different approaches to securely accessing corporate applications from remote locations. VPNs are appliance-based, customer-managed solutions that establish a private and encrypted tunnel between a remote employee and a corporate network. This datacenter-based security solution gives authorised users full access to the corporate network — regardless of their location and state of the end-user device.

While VPNs provide a broad approach to security and do not offer much flexibility, ZTNA provides granularity and flexibility with adaptive security policies, and is primarily a vendor managed, cloud service. With a zero trust security approach, users and devices are verified not only at the time of login, but are continuously verified and validated throughout the user session. In addition, ZTNA uses the principle of least privilege (PoLP) that automatically defaults to the lowest level of access for all users and does not connect users or end-user devices to corporate network.

How to Boost User Productivity with ZTNA As application workloads are continuously moving to cloud and users adopting personal devices to access their applications, a ZTNA solution needs to provide security that is closer to the applications and closer to the users. Some of the benefits of a zero trust architecture, as it pertains to improving user productivity, include:

  • Closer to the apps: Because ZTNA is primarily a cloud-delivered service, the security controls can be applied inline and in real time. This allows for a much better performance and improved user experience, as opposed to backhauling all the cloud-based traffic to a datacenter.

  • Flexibility to use BYO devices: A ZTNA service allows access to certain applications if using a BYO device that does not have a ZTNA plugin. This is very helpful for situations where you have contractors and partners who are looking at access intranet or corporate SaaS apps from their unmanaged devices. This also allows employees with access to their browser-based apps from their personal devices, and they stay productive, even while they are traveling.

How to boost security with ZTNA

When you implement ZTNA, you can provide your remote employees with secure, VPN-less access to only the corporate applications and resources they need to get their jobs done. This ensures your entire network remains secure, no matter what devices or internet connections are being used. Some of the key benefits of a zero trust architecture include:

  • Real-time verification: When you deploy ZTNA, you can ensure your remote employees are continuously verified in real time. A true ZTNA solution provides authentication policies based on parameters like user location, device posture, and more and integrates with all the identity-provider solutions a customer may have already invested in.

  • Adaptive access: ZTNA establishes the principle of least privilege (PoLP) and defaults to the lowest level of access for all employees — which ensures adaptive access control. With ZTNA, employees are given access to corporate applications and resources based on things like identity, user location, device posture, and the risk profile of the user.

  • Minimised attack surface: As remote workforces grow, more corporate apps are deployed in the cloud, more unmanaged and BYO devices are being used, and attack surfaces are expanding. With ZTNA restricting access to your corporate network, your organisation’s attack surface is minimised and continuously safeguarded from advanced cyber threats, data breaches, or other network vulnerabilities.

ZTNA provides a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to security that helps keep your organisation’s network and digital landscape safe in remote-work environments. You can learn more about how ZTNA can replace VPNs by reading the New Tech: Zero Trust Network Access, Q2 2021 report from Forrester.

Zero Trust: The Way Forward As workforces continue to move to remote environments, security risks are also spreading out along with them. It’s important that your organisation addresses these risks and adapts to new security challenges, especially as remote work becomes more permanent. By adopting a zero trust approach to security, you can put your company in the best position to remain protected.

To learn more about how ZTNA can help your organisation, you can schedule a one-on-one informative meeting with an Edge7 security expert.


Does zero trust replace a VPN?

Zero trust is a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to network security, especially in remote-work environments. VPNs don’t address network security as deeply as zero trust network access (ZTNA), relying mostly on broad network-based protection. This means zero trust can be an excellent and more secure replacement for a VPN.

Why would zero trust network access be a better choice than traditional VPN?

What is the difference between SDP and VPN?

How is zero trust different from traditional VPN?


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