What Is a Zero Trust Network and How Does It Protect Your Data?

VPNs have become an integral part of every company’s standard operating procedures. VPNs effectively mask your identity during online activities; nonetheless, there are quite a few downsides to using these software applications these days.

More than 1000 VPN servers operated by Pulse Secure got hacked in 2020, leaving critical data like IP addresses and admin details exposed to the world. Given the situation, it is high time companies start considering alternatives like Zero Trust models, which offer way more functionality than a legacy VPN model.

Downsides of Traditional VPN Systems

VPNs date back to 1996, when the internet was a privilege and cybersecurity naturally wasn't as sophisticated. But there are numerous vulnerabilities that require advanced methods of data protection.

VPNs work by backhauling users' information through a data centre and then connecting it to the company's resources. This data centre becomes a treasure chest for hackers, as it constantly receives sensitive data from the user and the company’s data repositories.

Many VPN attacks target the vulnerabilities in the VPN data centres to hack through layers of data, all at once.

This traditional software can bottleneck a company's workflow due to their poor performance. Depending on the VPN client you choose, you can experience a significant increase in loading times, caused as a result of increased network latency.

The cost of using a VPN client adds to its existing list of drawbacks. VPNs have their own set of challenges when it comes to installing them on a network. The installation is manageable when employees work in well-guarded company premises.

Related: Do You Need a VPN to Keep Your Internet Activity Private & Safe?

As working from home became a new normal, installing VPNs in extensive networks became a humongous task in itself.

If you plan to upscale your business, you have to invest in upscaling every component of a VPN network to upscale your business. This includes adding bandwidth, increasing security measures, investing in expensive VPN clients, and much more.

What Are Zero Trust Networks?

Zero Trust networks prioritize the online security of an enterprise by eradicating the concept of a trusted-user.

The network authenticates every incoming user's request to access the company's resources and places them in a secure bubble by limiting access to resources they actually need. The Zero Trust approach makes sure that the centralised data vault is protected at all times, even if a remote user is compromised.

The Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) also obfuscates all the URLs and hides sensitive data in addition to the secure environment.

ZTNA finds patterns in user behavior to point out any erratic actions, especially when suspicious activity takes place. It combines essential user data, such as location and user behavior, with algorithms to log all necessary information for future use.

Related: 5 Times Brute Force Attacks Lead to Huge Security Breaches

ZTNA: An Ideal Replacement for VPNs?

VPNs use a uni-dimensional approach to provide online protection to their clients. Zero Trust, on the other hand, uses a multi-dimensional approach by adding multiple layers of security.

Companies are constantly moving towards cloud computing. Legacy security solutions can't always cope with such evolving demands, and using a dynamic security solution like ZTNA becomes even more essential.

A Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP) makes sure that users get confidential and secure remote access to the company’s applications with the firewall in action. The SDP acts as an intermediate between the user and the company's resources, and provides secure remote access to a user from any location.

While VPNs typically hand over all accesses to every employee in the network, this is not the case with SDPs. The latter only gives users access to what they need.

Nothing changes in terms of user experience, but ZTNA makes sure that everything remains invisible, unless the user requests a particular resource.

ZTNA works on the following principles:

1. Revisit All Default Access Controls: ZTNA makes sure that every connection request is thoroughly monitored, within the enterprise and even outside the network perimeters.

2. Use of Preventative Techniques: Unlike legacy solutions, ZTNA adds measures like multi-factor authentication, least-privilege access, and user behaviour monitoring.

3. Use of Real-Time Monitoring: Real-time monitoring is an essential part of the ZTNA model. It sends an alarm and reacts immediately to an initial breach.

4. Security at the Core of Business Practices: ZTNA provides a 360-degree approach to security strategies by using multi-dimensional security standards.

Even though VPNs have quite a few downsides, you can't discard them altogether. SDPs are way ahead in ensuring online security, but they are often complex and hard to manage.

Subsequently, VPNs are still an excellent option for small-scale enterprises that can't afford to invest in SDPs. VPNs extensively reduce the complexity and overhead management costs.

Benefits of SDPs

There are numerous benefits of using an SDP. Let’s look at some of its major offerings.

User Centricity

SDPs are designed to be user-centric and authorize every user before granting them any internal accesses. They log every piece of information, including user's context, permission(s), location, and more. This logged data even helps differentiate normal user behavior from erratic ones.

Granularity

SDPs maintain high levels of granularity to create a secure one-to-one network segment. It helps in keeping any unauthorized request outside the company's servers.

Adaptive

SDPs are dynamic and highly adaptable to changes in network demands. They monitor real-time changes and adapt accordingly.

Extensible and Scalable

SDPs are great for cloud and cloud-based companies. They can integrate with internal operational systems and implement security parameters within the cloud-based network.

Implementing Zero Trust Networks Within Your Organization

The hack on Pulse Secure's VPN servers shows the need to upgrade security systems regularly. ZTNA enjoys an upper hand over legacy solutions like VPNs, given its modernistic approaches and multi-layered security parameters.

ZTNA implementation requires skilled professionals, considering its complexities and complicated nature. But VPNs are not a bad option for small-scale enterprises, since they work with fewer network elements.

Author: Wini Bhalla

Source: Wini Bhalla.” What Is a Zero Trust Network and How Does It Protect Your Data?”. Retrieved From https://www.makeuseof.com/what-is-zero-trust-network/

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