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Zero Trust vs SASE: Understanding the Differences


Modern networks are defined by many concepts developed to combat cyber threats. Zero Trust and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) are two of the most prominent, but their similarities and differences are often misunderstood. It’s important to understand their unique strengths and the ways they can interact, as they both have a key role to play in implementing strong cybersecurity—especially when combined. This article will review these two concepts and how they differ, as well as how they can complement each other.

Understanding Zero Trust

Zero Trust emerged in 2010 as a concept that challenged the traditional view of network security. The perimeter was dynamic and constantly evolving with business needs, and controls like network firewalls were being made redundant, thanks to emerging trends like cloud computing and remote work. The perimeter ceased to play a major part in security decisions, and it was understood that threats could exist both inside and outside the network boundary. Hence, trust could not be assumed, and every request had to be authenticated.

Zero Trust recognizes this trend and proposes the principle of “never trust, always verify,” enforcing a continuous verification method regardless of a user’s location or device. Along with this core principle, Zero Trust also has several other core concepts, such as:

  • Micro-segmentation: Dividing the network into smaller secure zones to contain breaches and limit lateral movement in case of a cyberattack.
  • Least Privilege: Granting users only the access necessary to perform their job functions, which reduces the attack surface.
  • Identify Verification: Ensuring that only authenticated and authorized users and devices can access applications and data. Using multi-factor authentication (MFA) implements layers of security beyond just passwords for verifying user identities.
  • Continuous Verification: Regularly verifying and adjusting user permissions and actions to maintain security. This is done using  various dynamic attributes at runtime that are continually assessed.

Zero Trust offers several key advantages over the traditional network security model, such as enhanced security, reduced risk, and increased scalability. The strict access control model it enforces has the added benefit of making regulatory compliance easier for companies. It is also useful for setting up a solid foundation for further security development.

At the same time, it may require significant investments of time and money and a re-architect of the existing network. The changes introduced by a Zero Trust network also require users to be trained to ensure cultural buy-in and reduce user friction.

Understanding Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)

SASE, like Zero Trust, is another evolution of the network security model that addresses the limitations of traditional network security architecture. It is a type of architecture that merges various modern networking and security components into a single, cloud-native platform. SASE combines network and wide area networking (WAN) functionality to deliver focused security services from the cloud, which helps it meet the challenges of today’s increasingly distributed and cloud-focused network.

SASE’s unified cloud platform is designed to be identity – and context-aware, allowing it to adapt to cyber threats and risks in real-time. Its key components include the following:

  • Cloud access security brokers (CASB): CASBs act as a mediator between users and cloud services, allowing companies to enforce security policies and control data leakage. 
  • Secure web gateways (SWG): This component is used to filter and control internet access and enforce corporate security policies. 
  • Zero trust network access (ZTNA): An optional component of SASEs can be the Zero Trust solution itself, delivered from the cloud.
  • Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS): This component of the SASE delivers next-generation firewall capabilities with deep packet inspection and other advanced security services from the cloud.

SASE adoption can lead to several security advantages over traditional systems. SASE’s unified cloud platform can provide a full view of the security posture to cybersecurity teams, and its design also reduces complexity; however, it should be noted that SASE’s improvements in performance and user experience are most apparent in environments with a high degree of cloud adoption and remote working.

Despite the benefits, implementing SASE and moving to a fully cloud-native architecture can be challenging. Successful adoption requires thorough planning. You must be ready for a mindset shift in how security concepts are enforced, and you must implement training and improve awareness among your users.

Comparing Zero Trust and SASE

Zero Trust and SASE both support cybersecurity, and can be implemented together, but they operate in different ways. It is essential to understand their critical differences for companies who want to use either one or both to improve their cybersecurity posture.

Let us compare both methods in detail:

  • Use Case: Zero Trust is ideal for those companies that want to improve and overhaul their core security posture. Focusing control on the Zero Trust model allows them to mediate and control access requests and ensure least privilege is enforced dynamically. SASE is more suited for companies that have adopted a cloud-first model with offices and locations spread across the globe. 
  • Focus: Zero Trust approaches network security based on its core principle of zero implicit trust that requires every request to be authenticated regardless of origin. SASE focuses on providing secure network connectivity and access within a distributed environment. It combines the network and security components into a single unified platform. In other words, Zero Trust focuses on access management, while SASE focuses on network management.
  • Implementation: When it comes to implementation, Zero Trust requires rearchitecting the network model, enforcing solid identity controls, and continuous monitoring. SASE focuses more on streamlining how network and security services are delivered. Adopting a unified cloud platform and consolidating security policies is required for an effective implementation.

Combining Zero Trust and SASE

There are numerous ways in which Zero Trust and SASE complement each other (in fact, SASE platforms often come with built-in Zero Trust compliant policies). Combining the two methodologies, despite their differences, is a good strategy that can give cybersecurity teams the advantages of both approaches without compromising on either. Zero Trust can provide a solid security foundation by enforcing “never trust, always verify,” then SASE can be brought in to enhance additional security services, providing streamlined security services and improved visibility to the entire company. Working together, SASE platforms allow for better enforcement of Zero Trust policies, ensuring that every network entry point enforces its principle of “never trust, always verify.” In addition, Zero Trust requirements for micro-segmentation (in which a network is further divided into smaller zones based on sensitivity and workloads) can be more easily executed within a SASE platform. Policy enforcement becomes easier from the unified cloud platform, allowing easier adoption of Zero Trust.

However, care should be taken when combining these two approaches, due to the required technical and cultural changes. It is a good idea to adopt a phase-wise approach to reduce the changes and effort required when integrating Zero Trust into SASE or vice versa. There is no single one-size-fits-all approach to these models, and each organization will experience its own unique challenges. The decision to go for Zero Trust or SASE, or a combination of both, requires considering the company’s network maturity and the level of effort and cost that would be required.


Zero Trust and SASE are separate yet complementary approaches to modern security and network architectures. Zero Trust challenges the traditional security approach of “trust but verify” and replaces it with “never trust, always verify,” making it focus more on managing access; it is best suited for companies who want to revamp their core security protocols. Meanwhile, SASE combines network services with wide area networking technologies, catering to the challenges of remote workers, hybrid clouds, and diverse endpoints; it is ideally suited for organizations that use the cloud and remote working. Despite their differences, Zero Trust’s access policies and SASE’s cloud-based network delivery can work together to provide a robust next-generation security architecture for modern companies. Considering this potential for combination, it is important to consider them not as two opposing approaches but as synergistic strategies that provide companies with advanced and scalable security.

The traditional network security model is no longer sufficient in the new cloud-first and remote-focused workplace. By integrating Zero Trust and SASE architectures, companies can significantly boost their cyber defenses, offering a more robust and responsive approach to mitigating cyberattacks.

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Meet the Author
Adam Burke is Quest's Vice President of Sales and Partnerships.
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