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What is Zero Trust Network Access and Why Does it Matter?

The pandemic gave a hearty push to the migration to remote work. And, while the pandemic may soon be in the rear-view mirror, working from home is here to stay. Point in fact: Bloomberg says U.S. job listings that tout working remotely as a benefit have more than doubled in the past year. Another recent study found that remote workers—overwhelmingly at 97 percent—would like to work remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their careers. With employees now scattered everywhere you can no longer be certain that every device that’s connected to your network is authenticated and behind a firewall. The traditional delivery of security services simply doesn’t work anymore because your organization no longer has a clearly defined perimeter.

That’s where the cloud comes into play. Moving to the cloud—including public, private, and hybrid-cloud environments—lets everyone in your organization have access to the data, applications, and resources they need, wherever they are. But, with 92 percent of organizations currently using the cloud to some degree, more risks have also come into play. Beyond access, those include remote users working on their own devices and a growing list of IoT devices being added to networks. That’s why more and more organizations are moving to a zero trust network access (ZTNA) model.

Zero trust: multi-level security

In reality, many organizations have already been using zero trust to some degree for a long time, whether that’s Active Directory authentication or just user names and passwords. In a ZTNA model, every device is “untrusted” within the network environment until it has gone through multiple levels of identification and authorization. Those include the device level, application level, and user level, with many more levels that can potentially come into play. Because a distributed workforce brings with it all kinds of new security concerns, ZTNA now makes more sense than ever.

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The challenge for most small and medium-sized businesses is that all those layers make implementing a robust ZTNA security program incredibly complex to deploy and hard to manage and maintain. Consider that ZTNA could include multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, email encryption, disk encryption, mobile device network access control, and agent-based encryption. It’s understandable how ZTNA can quickly overwhelm anyone who is responsible for their organization’s data security.

Tighter control, tighter security

With cyberattacks and ransomware schemes going after your organization’s data, access control is paramount. With each layer of your ZTNA strategy, you add another obstacle to unauthorized access. Blocked access means malicious players can’t cause damage.

Beyond access, ZTNA also bolsters your data loss prevention capabilities and your overall security posture. That matters because your data is precious. Even more important, if an attack is successful downtime can be a business killer, costing on average $300,000 per hour. That makes the price of prevention relatively small. And, while most global enterprises likely already have a sophisticated zero trust security structure in place, for small and medium-sized businesses the challenges in doing so can be more than they can handle.

Choosing the right ZTNA solution

ZTNA is built on an architecture that virtualizes software and hardware layers. It gives you a consistent way to authenticate and authorize access to private and public clouds—including SaaS applications—as well as on-premises systems. Your company needs a unique strategy for its zero trust initiative based on your infrastructure, objectives, and budget. It’s also important to note that designing access policies that are appropriate for your specific situation, such as time of day, type of device, location, data type, and more, are critical to using ZTNA successfully

ZTNA authorizes access based on the actual identity of the individual making the request. ZTNA also minimizes risks by applying comprehensive access policies to data via a dynamic policy engine. This engine gauges multiple factors before granting access, including device, location, network, behavior, and the specific data that is being requested. The result determines if a user identity is authentic, otherwise requesting reauthentication or denying access. Because, as noted, deploying, managing, and maintaining a ZTNA solution is more than most IT teams can handle, it’s best to look to outside experts for help, whether you’re a team of two or twenty.

Getting started

The first step is to figure out what data needs to be protected and identify current access methods and data flows across the network. The goal here is to find potential security gaps and create zero trust policies that close them. Network segmentation also figures into this equation by limiting a successful cyberattack to the segment that is compromised.

When you add it all up—cyber threats, a remote workforce, and the high cost of downtime—ZTNA is well worth considering for your organization. We suggest you take the next step and find a technology partner who has the expertise and experience to help you make ZTNA a reality in your organization.

I hope you found this information helpful. As always, contact us anytime about your technology needs.

Until next time,



Meet the Author
Tim Burke is the President and CEO of Quest. He has been at the helm for over 30 years.
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