Focusing on the known good: A guide to zero trust network access


As organisations continue to work towards digital transformation, the need for reliable cyber security frameworks becomes imperative. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) insists on a simple principle: never trust, always verify. So what is it and how will it change your cyber security strategy?

What is zero trust network access?

Zero trust network access is a strategic approach to network security that eliminates the traditional trust assumptions within network environments. Instead of assuming everything behind the corporate firewall is safe, ZTNA asserts that trust must be earned, regardless of location. This shift is critical in a world where threats can originate from anywhere, and the perimeter-based security model is no longer enough.

ZTNA works by strictly enforcing identity verification, context-based access policies, and least privilege principles. It ensures that only authenticated and authorised users and devices can access applications and data. Importantly, access decisions are dynamically adjusted based on real-time assessments of risk and behaviour anomalies.

Key components of zero trust network access

  • Identity verification: ZTNA solutions use strong authentication methods to verify the identities of all users before granting access to network resources
  • Microsegmentation: This involves dividing the network into smaller, distinct zones to maintain separate access for different parts of the network. Microsegmentation helps limit the lateral movement of potential threats within the network
  • Least privilege access: Users are granted the minimum level of access necessary for their work. This limits the potential exposure of sensitive information even if credentials are compromised
  • Real-time security posture assessment: ZTNA platforms continuously analyse user behaviour and device security posture to detect and respond to anomalies in real time

Benefits of implementing zero trust network access

Adopting ZTNA offers numerous advantages, the key among them being enhanced security. By verifying every request as though it originates from an open network, ZTNA minimises the attack surface. It also provides:

  • Improved data protection: By limiting access based on user roles and contexts, sensitive data is better protected against unauthorised access and breaches
  • Adaptability to modern environments: ZTNA is well-suited for today’s diverse and dynamic IT environments, including remote work scenarios, cloud-based resources, and mobile access
  • Regulatory compliance: With its rigorous access controls and audit capabilities, ZTNA helps organisations meet compliance requirements more effectively

What’s the difference between VPN and ZTNA?

Understanding the distinctions between Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is important to know what is good for you and your business. Both technologies offer solutions for secure remote access but differ significantly in their approach and underlying principles.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, extends a private network across a public network, enabling users to send and receive data as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. This creates a secure “tunnel” through which data can travel, protected from external visibility and interference.
VPNs are primarily designed to provide secure access to an internal network from an external location. The primary focus is on encrypting data in transit without verifying the security status of the device being used or the user’s credentials beyond the initial access point. Once inside the network via a VPN, users often have broad access to network resources, which can present security risks if their credentials are compromised.

Key differences:

  • Scope of access: VPNs typically grant access to an entire network or a substantial segment, whereas ZTNA only provides access to specific applications and resources. This application-centric approach of ZTNA aligns with the principle of least privilege, enhancing security
  • Security posture: VPNs rely on the security of the network perimeter and assume that threats are primarily external. ZTNA, on the other hand, treats every access attempt as potentially hostile, whether inside or outside the network, and continuously verifies trust before granting access
  • User experience: VPNs can sometimes introduce latency due to the need to route traffic through the VPN server. ZTNA can offer a more seamless user experience by connecting users directly to applications without the detour, often improving performance and reducing latency
  • Adaptability: ZTNA is inherently more adaptable to complex modern IT environments, such as cloud services and mobile access, as it does not require users to connect to a network but rather to specific services, regardless of location

Implementing zero trust network access in your organisation

Implementing ZTNA requires a methodical approach tailored to your specific organisational needs. Here are the key steps:

  1. Define the protect surface: Identify what critical data, applications, and services must be protected. This will determine the scope of the ZTNA implementation
  2. Map the transaction flows: Understand how traffic moves across your networks, who accesses what resources, and from where. This information is crucial in designing effective control policies
  3. Architect a ZTNA solution: Choose a ZTNA provider that fits your needs and begin designing the architecture. Consider factors such as scalability, ease of integration, and the comprehensiveness of security features
  4. Policy development: Develop and enforce access policies based on the principles of least privilege and microsegmentation. Ensure these policies are adaptable to changing circumstances
  5. Monitor and adjust: Continuously monitor the network and the performance of the ZTNA solution. Use insights from the monitoring to refine and adjust policies to maintain optimal security posture

How can you implement zero trust network access?

By focusing on the “known good” rather than reacting to the “known bad,” organisations can significantly enhance their security postures. As cyber threats grow more sophisticated, the principles of zero trust provide a strong framework to protect critical assets in an increasingly interconnected world. Embracing ZTNA is more than an upgrade—it’s a strategic imperative for modern businesses aiming to thrive.

To start implementing zero trust network access for your business or organisation, get in touch with us at CyberHive. Our cyber security solutions can give you the protection you need.


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