Zero-trust network access (ZTNA) vs. VPN: Which is best for your business?

The words zero trust raised against a shiny background covered in padlock symbols.A lack of trust can destroy personal relationships. However, in the IT world, it’s the opposite: Giving people (and devices) the benefit of the doubt can allow malicious actors to breach your network. That’s why many businesses have turned to zero-trust network access (ZTNA) solutions to minimize cybersecurity risks while maximizing productivity for mobile and remote workers.

If you’re weighing your options for a secure remote work strategy, a ZTNA solution can give your end users access to the data and applications they need to do their jobs without compromising your company’s data security. Here’s everything you should know about this type of solution and how it compares to a virtual private network (VPN).

What is zero-trust network access (ZTNA)?

Gartner defines ZTNA as “a product or service that creates an identity- and context-based, logical access boundary around an application or set of applications.” A trust broker grants application access to specified entities after verifying their identity, policy adherence and context. Additionally, Gartner notes that the broker doesn’t permit lateral movement throughout the network, limiting the amount of damage malicious actors can do if they manage to compromise an account or device.

A definition of zero-trust network access against a blue background. Gartner defines ZTNA as “a product or service that creates an identity- and context-based, logical access boundary around an application or set of applications.”

As the name implies, ZTNA leverages the zero-trust security approach, which assumes that anything or anyone in or outside of the network could be a threat, according to Cloudflare. Like the software-defined perimeter method, the zero-trust network access model ensures connected devices lack visibility beyond the applications they’re allowed to connect with according to granular access permission policies.

In the wake of the pandemic and readjustment of workplace norms, ZTNA has become popular with organizations seeking to accommodate remote employees while fending off evolving IT security threats. From 2022 to 2027, the global zero-trust security market is projected to increase in size at a compound annual growth rate of 17.3 percent, reaching $60.7 billion by the end of that period, according to a press release.

ZTNA vs. VPN: Choosing the best solution for your business

VPNs used to be the go-to solution for companies looking to grant remote workers access to corporate local area networks (LANs). However, as cybercriminals have become craftier, it’s become apparent that VPNs are vulnerable to hacking.

For example, in March 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (DHS CISA) published an alert cautioning companies utilizing enterprise VPNs to “adopt a heightened sense of cybersecurity.” The DHS CISA noted elevated data breach risk due to failure to patch and update VPNs, a lack of multi-factor authentication, and a deluge of phishing attempts.

Traditional VPNs create a larger potential attack surface because they give end users broad access to the entire corporate network, according to Sophos. If one of your employees get hacked, the criminal can get their hands on all the applications and data on your LAN.

ZTNA, on the other hand, establishes a tunnel connecting a user and the application they’re allowed to access. By evaluating each end user individually, the zero-trust framework only clears a path to the limited resources the worker needs to fulfill their professional obligations. Subsequently, if a hacker steals a ZTNA end user’s credentials, the bad actor won’t have free rein of your entire corporate network.

Minimizing the attack surface is just one of the benefits of deploying a ZTNA solution instead of a VPN. Here are a few other notable advantages, as explained by Sophos.

  • Device health and compliance factored into access policies
  • Increased visibility into application activity
  • Easier implementation and management
  • Enhanced remote desktop protocol (RDP) session security
  • Better user experience with less latency and fewer connectivity issues

Overall, if you want to avoid costly data breaches and maintain the best possible application performance, ZTNA makes more sense for your business than a VPN.

How to find the right ZTNA solution for your company

Identifying the ideal ZTNA for your company depends on your specific requirements and situation. Factors to consider include whether you want to fully manage your ZTNA solution or purchase it as a cloud-delivered service (ZTNA as a Service), and integration with your pre-existing cybersecurity solutions.

If you’d like guidance as you search for a ZTNA solution, our trusted advisors can leverage their experience, advanced tools, and our partner network (which includes leading IT security solution suppliers) to help you pinpoint products that align with your needs and goals. We can rapidly produce comparison matrices showing how all your options stack up against each other – and our price parity guarantee means working with us won’t cost you more than going straight to the supplier.

Explore our advisory process today by calling 877-599-3999 or emailing to schedule a consultation.

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