Don’t Ruin ZTNA by Planning for the Past

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Zero trust network access (ZTNA) is an integral part of an enterprise security strategy, as companies move to adopt zero trust security principles and adapt to more distributed IT environments. Legacy solutions such as virtual private networks (VPNs) are ill-suited to the distributed enterprise and do not provide the granular access controls necessary to protect an organization against modern cyber threats.

However, not all ZTNA solutions are created equal. In some cases, ZTNA solutions are designed for legacy environments where employees and corporate resources are located on the corporate LAN. Deploying the wrong ZTNA solution can result in tradeoffs between network performance and security.

Where ZTNA Can Go Wrong

Three of the primary ways in which ZTNA goes wrong are self-hosted solutions, web-only solutions, and solutions only offering agent-based deployments.

Self-Hosted Solutions

Some ZTNA solutions are designed to be self-hosted or self-managed. An organization can deploy a virtual ZTNA solution on-prem or in the cloud and configure it to manage access to the corporate resources hosted at that location.

These self-hosted ZTNA solutions are designed based on a perimeter-focused security model that no longer meets the needs of an organization’s IT assets. Self-hosted ZTNA is best suited to protecting locations where the virtual appliance can be deployed, such as in an on-prem data center or an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud service.

However, many organizations use a variety of cloud services, including Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings where a self-hosted ZTNA solution cannot be easily deployed. This and the fact that expanding self-hosted ZTNA to support new sites requires additional solutions or inefficient routing, means that these solutions are less usable and offer lower network performance than a cloud-native solution.

Web-Only Solutions

Often, security programs focus too much on the more visible aspects of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Web security focuses on websites and web apps instead of APIs, and ZTNA is targeted toward the protection of enterprise web apps.

However, companies commonly use various non-web applications as well. For example, companies may want to provide access to corporate databases, remote access protocols such as SSH and RDP, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and other applications that do not run over HTTP(S).

A ZTNA solution needs to provide support for all apps used by an enterprise. This includes the ability to manage access to both web and non-web enterprise applications.

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Only Agent-Based Deployment

Some ZTNA solutions are implemented using agents that are deployed on each user’s endpoint. These agents interact with a self-hosted or cloud-based broker that allows or denies access to corporate resources based on role-based access controls. By using agents, a ZTNA solution can provide a more frictionless experience to users.

While an agent-based deployment has its benefits, it may not be a fit for all devices. The shift to remote and hybrid work has driven the expanded adoption of bring your own device (BYOD) policies and the use of mobile devices for work. These devices may not be able to support ZTNA agents, making it more difficult to manage users’ access on these devices.

Support for agent-based deployments can be a significant asset for a ZTNA solution. However, implementing ZTNA only via agents deployed on the endpoint can result in some devices being unable to access corporate resources or being forced to use workarounds that could degrade performance or security.

Choose the Right ZTNA Solution

ZTNA provides a superior alternative to VPNs for secure remote access. However, the success of an organization’s ZTNA deployment can depend on selecting and deploying the right ZTNA solution.

Some key requirements to look for when evaluating ZTNA solutions include:

  • Globally Distributed Service: ZTNA solutions that are self-managed and can only be deployed in certain locations create tradeoffs between the performance and security of corporate applications. A ZTNA solution should be responsive everywhere so that employees can easily access corporate resources hosted anywhere, which can only be achieved by a globally distributed, cloud hosted, ZTNA solution.
  • Wide Protocol Support: Many of the most visible applications used by companies are web-based (webmail, cloud-based data storage, etc.). However, other critical applications may use different protocols yet have the same need for strong, integrated access management. A ZTNA solution should offer support for a wide range of network protocols, not just HTTP(S).
  • Agentless Option: Agent-based ZTNA solutions can help to achieve better performing and more secure remote access management; however, they are not suitable for all devices and use cases. A ZTNA solution should offer both agent-based and agentless options for access management.

Cato SASE Cloud offers ZTNA as part of an integrated Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution. By moving access control and other security and network optimization functions to cloud-based solutions, Cato SASE Cloud ensures that ZTNA services are accessible from anywhere and support a range of protocols. Also, with both agent-based and agentless options, Cato SASE Cloud ensures that all users have the ability to efficiently access corporate resources.

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