The traditional approach to cybersecurity boils down to looking for vulnerabilities and patching them. Security teams approach security as someone using the tools available to mitigate a potential breach.
With the advent of remote working and the resulting larger attack surface, troubleshooting has become increasingly challenging.
Thousands of potential vulnerabilities and new hacking methods have left security professionals catching up on networks that can change in minutes.
It’s true that not all vulnerabilities pose a high risk that needs to be patched immediately. Serious defects always have priority. But there is no guarantee that they will be discovered in time.
Successful hacking can be the result of corporate information leaked online or a bug in the system that IT teams have not yet fixed.
How can IT teams reduce the number of possible vulnerabilities and the attack surface itself?
One solution is to enforce a zero-trust policy on the network’s weakest point—unsecured access points that are easy to breach.
What are the key principles behind Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), how does it protect the network, how does it compare to traditional solutions, and how does it encourage IT teams to think like hackers?
The Zero Trust security approach is the key principle of the ZTNA framework.
Essentially, what ZTNA does is restrict permissions to users, regardless of who they are or where they connect from.
It enforces Zero Trust for networks by mapping the access level for different employees connecting to the network. In order for the users to be allowed within the network, it must be explicitly stated that an individual is being granted a certain level of access to the resources.
Each user has a specific role that allows them to see specific data. They can see a specific part of the network that their job gives them access to.
In a remote work environment, this means employees can only see a part of the system that they need to do their daily work. As simple as that.
This restrictive approach strengthens the security of a network and the security of data circulating within the system.
In the event of an injury, the attacker’s lateral movement is restricted.
As a result, the security model reduces the number of possible attacks and protects data by denying hackers posing as employees access to the network.
When ZTNA runs on an organization’s network, it has several roles:
- Enforcement of its zero trust policy
- Restrict access to users according to their role
- Traffic filtering
When a user tries to log into their account, they must be authenticated. To pass this step, the ZTNA compares the credentials to the mapped database of employees working within the organization.
The user’s identity must be verified and linked to the role and appropriate access level. Once verified, the user can enter and reach parts of the system based on the needs of their role.
In addition to implementing Zero Trust during authentication, ZTNA also filters inbound traffic to further detect and block credential abuse and malicious activity at security points.
Traditionally, companies have used Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, to protect their remote workers.
VPNs have been the default network security for most businesses that have switched to remote over the past few years because they are easy to install and operate for both businesses and their employees.
Virtual Private Network tunnels to create a secure and private network that is separate from the public and can be used by remote workers while connecting to systems. The tool disguises activity by hiding IP and encrypting data to keep it safe from prying eyes.
Its main disadvantage is that it allows broad access to the network for authenticated users. Once they sign up, they can use the entire infrastructure without any limitations or restrictions.
Even for authentication in the network protected by VPN, it is enough to have a password to gain access to a large subnet of the network.
Zero Trust network access is the evolution of VPN and a more viable solution for businesses with growing complexity.
For ZTNA, anyone can be a threat actor. This means that the attacker cannot gain full access to the system once they breach it.
If the attacker gains access to any part of the system using a specific user’s credentials, they cannot penetrate further into the system.
Instead of relying on remote workers to regularly update and replace passwords with unique and even stronger passwords that aren’t shared across multiple accounts, ZTNA assumes that anyone accessing the system could be a hacker.
Another benefit of the ZTNA system is that this type of security is easier to scale. Compared to a VPN that has a limited number of devices it can cover to protect privacy, ZTNA can cover the ecosystem of the entire network.
For companies with numerous employees connecting to the network remotely, this means that access is subject to the same security parameters regardless of which device the employee uses to connect to the corporate network.
Social engineering attacks, which involve defrauding and manipulating people, are one of the most common techniques that hackers like to rely on. They’re prominent because they work—especially with more sophisticated methods that target unsuspected employees.
Zero Trust networks can help prevent phishing and malware attacks or fix the aftermath of a successful scam.
For example, a scammer could pose as an executive figurehead at the company and ask employees to share their credentials via email. Also, employees could click on the malware-infected link that installs viruses and steals data.
Another way hackers can gain unauthorized access to the system is by using leaked credentials they discovered online.
A member of your team could reuse the same password across multiple accounts, a lay mistake but one that’s common. Cyber criminals could get it from hacking forums, vaults or dark web. A single password provides access to an organization’s entire system.
Applying Zero Trust doesn’t get the hacker far into the system in either case as he would not be able to pass the multiple authentication processes even if the stolen password gets him through the first door.
When IT teams had to adapt their systems to work remotely, this transition presented an opportunity for hackers. They knew that lack of security equals multiple vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited.
The number of hacking attempts and breaches increased dramatically during this period.
Therefore, in the age of remote work, where more employees are connecting to the network than ever before, the Zero Trust network has become an invaluable tool.
ZTNA protects sensitive data and corporate information, as well as remote workers. It makes it difficult for hackers to access the system.
It prevents them from exploiting network vulnerabilities by challenging every step of the authentication process when they log into the system.
As such, this type of security can buy time and reduce the attack surface at the stage when the business is most vulnerable — as it adapts to change, adds tools, and IT teams put security in place.
Another major change for businesses in recent years has been the implementation of the cloud environment. It helped them adapt to remote work and scale quickly and affordably.
However, this was also a major weakness in their security.
Multi-cloud deployment has increased the attack surface for businesses and made them more complex than ever. This also required more sophisticated security solutions than a simple firewall and antivirus software.
New technologies also raise questions about data security. Sensitive information about users and employees has become accessible to remote cloud storage or networks and applications that can be accessed online.
The cloud has been accompanied by security concerns such as misconfigurations or bugs that lead to vulnerabilities if the technology is not used properly.
One reason for this was the infrastructure, which includes various services provided by multiple providers. For IT teams, this meant they had to adhere to multiple protocols and configurations when managing the system.
By limiting access to cloud-based resources, ZTNA reduces the size of the attack surface and enables organizations to grow using cloud infrastructures.
Much like how it protects networks by restricting access based on one’s role, the tool applies the same restrictions based on assigned permissions to any user trying to get into the cloud.
A major benefit of ZTNA is that it can be deployed without requiring organizations to redesign infrastructure.
The solution can be integrated in many ways without disrupting the work of the company. For example, it can be integrated as part of:
- network gateway
- SD WAN
- cloud environment
When protecting the gateway, it adheres to the policies that regulate what traffic is allowed to pass through the network and enter and exit the network.
ZTNA can also be used to protect the corporate WAN and each individual SDW-WAN within it, or set up as centralized access management for developers.
The third way is that it can secure the access point for the service like cloud.
The Zero Trust network access model of security encourages IT teams to think like their opponents, assuming that everyone is a hacker and that there are vulnerabilities that have already been exploited and allowed criminals to gain access to the network.
Taking an adversarial approach to security, ZTNA covers the weakest point of an organization’s cybersecurity – the people who administer and use the system.
It prevents unauthorized access through phishing and stolen credentials.
Does your IT team need ZTNA?
Businesses that can benefit from ZTNA are those that have recently adopted a fully remote or hybrid working model. Other companies that could use ZTNA are those that rely on technologies like cloud computing.
Cyber criminals could break into the system at any time, but the tool ensures that hackers cannot penetrate even deeper into the network and steal sensitive data.
Protection, which can limit and limit hacker activity and prevent hackers from exploiting unauthorized access, means organizations don’t have to suffer the aftermath of the attack, such as data leakage, or damage their reputation.