What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) Software?
Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions, also referred to as a software-defined perimeter or SDP, are used to provide secure access to private applications without allowing users access to enterprise networks. They are often described as a replacement for traditional technologies like VPN, and introduce various methods of authentication to remain identity and context aware of users accessing enterprise applications. ZTNA solutions are available self-hosted, from the cloud and self-managed, or as fully managed services.
Zero Trust Network Access solutions are guided by the notion that no users are “trusted” by default, so even users who are given some level of permissions are still not presumed to be “trusted” elsewhere. This “zero trust” stance leads solutions to adopt the “least privileges” approach, in which users are given the least amount of access possible. Usually, this means giving users and devices access to exclusively the resources that they explicitly ask and are approved for.
There are a few key benefits driving ZTNA adoption. The primary driver is the improved security, particularly against initial breaches within specific endpoints, resources, or applications. Properly-implemented ZTNA procedures mitigate the impact of these breaches by limiting the avenues for malicious users/devices to access other systems or data. Recently, it’s also become more popular for its remote access and remote work applications. ZTNA products can often replace traditional VPNs, improving remote security while lessening performance bottlenecks.
ZTNA is best understood as an approach to network and digital security, rather than being defined by a particular technology or feature set. This means that there are a range of security products that can deliver ZTNA functionality. It also means products associated with ZTNA cannot be compared apples-to-apples. In fact, many leading or emerging security technologies claim to support a “zero trust” security posture, such as SASE products and Next-Generation Firewalls.
While there are a range of potential products and software that can deliver ZTNA functionality, there are some common components across postures:
Multifactor authentication, which verifies users
Device-level authentication, which verifies devices
Next-Generation Firewalls, especially deployed around particular high-value data sources and applications
VPN vs. ZTNA
Virtual Private Networks and ZTNA solutions are theoretically intended to serve similar purposes. However, VPNs refer to a specific technology process, while ZTNA encompasses different technologies and a broader approach to an organization’s entire security posture.
VPNs create a secure, encrypted tunnel over the internet between an end-user and the main network or application. In contrast, ZTNA dials up the security factor by limiting the end-user’s access to only specific applications or microsegements that said end-user has been approved for. Malicious actors who can gain access to a VPN would be able to cause much more harm than bad actors who access a given application or user within a ZTNA architecture.
Zero Trust Network Access Comparison
When comparing different ZTNA solutions, consider these common factors:
Agent vs. Agentless Access: Does a ZTNA product require users to download an agent onto every endpoint to gain access? If so, the product may be more difficult to use in some extended use cases, such as with third-party users and BOYD scenarios.
Point Solution vs. Full Implementation: Does the organization just need to purchase a particular component to fill out its ZTNA posture, or does it need assistance rolling out the entire architecture? If the business needs the latter, there are some vendors that specialize in this sort of implementation and consultation, but not all vendors will do so.
Vendor Specialization: Vendors tend to enter the ZTNA market with a focus either in Identity and Access Management or Network Security. While any vendor in this category should be able to facilitate both areas of security, the former may be better suited to user access, while the latter may have better device security features. Consider which area is of greater concern or focus to the organization and its security posture.