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The main advantages of ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access) over VPNs (Virtual Private Network)

Are VPNs holding your organization back? It’s time to break free from the limitations of VPNs. With the rise of remote work and the increasing threat of cyberattacks, it’s never been more critical to ensure that your organization’s critical resources are protected.

In this article we’ll deep dive into the limitations of VPNs and how Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) provides a more secure and efficient alternative.


What does a VPN do?


VPNs were created to connect two trusted networks allowing communication between them. For instance, an organization may use a VPN to connect two different sites and therefore exchange data.

Practically, users log into a VPN server which verifies their identity. If the user identity is validated, access is then granted to the network and its resources.

With time, organizations started using VPNs to give access to external users such as remote workers and 3rd party contractors. Meaning VPNs are now used to connect an untrusted device to the network.

Therefore, the VPN worked fine when the world was network-centric and where the organization’s data center was the security perimeter since all the applications and resources existed in it. However, remote access VPN is not enough anymore and no longer provide the security, the visibility and the user experience required and here’s why.


Why the VPN is not enough anymore?


Over the years we have seen a widespread of the cloud and SaaS, thus third parties now manage  infrastructures and applications.  On the other hand, the value chains between the suppliers and the distributors, have been fragmented over the years. As a result, the number of parties involved increased and therefore rising software dependency. Furthermore, the switch from MPLS to SD-WAN, where the network has become a cloud service, made the security perimeter explode since the network is now on the internet.

And here’s where the VPN comes in short when it comes to security and efficiency.

VPNs are not adapted to the cloud needs:

The VPNs are inadequate for mobility and cloud needs. Since it is a point-to-point solution allowing you to access one site or one data center at a time, you will need multiple VPNs to provide access to multiple sites. Therefore, VPNs cannot be used for accessing SaaS applications and ZTNA/CASB technologies must be used in these cases.

Scalability can easily become a challenge:

VPNs have proven to be resources-extensive, needing enormous infrastructure. As the number of users increases, the organization will need high-capacity servers and network equipment to support a large number of VPN connections. Therefore, scalability can easily become a challenge.

Outdated VPNs are opportunities for hackers:

VPNs have an agent-based architecture meaning updates cannot be skipped. In fact, numerous cyberattacks took place by exploiting outdated VPNs. Hackers include malicious software whenever they get the chance to modify an agent. Once the agent is launched, the software is downloaded, infecting the system. It takes software vendors several months to fix vulnerabilities and addition time for organizations to deploy patches, leaving them vulnerable during this period. 

VPNs open a port to communicate with the network:

In addition, VPNs communicate at the network level. Making them dangerous when used from an uncontrolled device, in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for example. Therefore, they allow any infection to spread through the network into the information system. Additionally, since they consider the network as whole and not the applications/resources they can’t have an integrated single sign-on functionality. Degrading by that both security and user experience.


What are the benefits of ZTNA?

In fact, ZTNA is a security paradigm based on the least privileged principle that consists of limiting a users’ access rights to the minimum required to perform their job and function. It emphasizes the need to verify the right of every user in his(her) context at the moment (s)he wants to access to corporate resources.

Give a secure access from anywhere to any application/resource:

Unlike VPNs that assume trust based on location (inside/outside the network perimeter), ZTNA is designed to provide secure access to resources based on the identity of the user and the security posture of the device regardless of whether they are located inside or outside the network. Therefore, users can securely connect from anywhere and access their resources from the corporate network or from the Internet.

Simplified access management and scalability:

ZTNA is highly scalable. It provides a centralized approach to user identity and access control. It simplifies access management making it easy to accommodate a growing number of users and devices.

Advanced security unifying several functionalities:

ZTNA includes several technologies such as Identity & Access Management (IAM), Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), and segmentation to ensure that only authorized users with trusted devices and secure connections can access resources. 

Furthermore, the ZTNA approach which takes into consideration applications and resources allows the integration of the Single Sign-On feature increasing productivity and enhancing user experience.

Advanced traceability:

ZTNA goes beyond securing access by providing advanced traceability. Through secure logs that record all access attempts and contextual information, sessions can be analyzed in real-time or can be used after an incident to investigate any security breaches. ZTNA, therefore, gives a high degree of visibility over the organization’s data and critical resources.

No port opening – Double barrier architecture:

ZTNA grants no port opening through a double barrier architecture. It relies on two components: a broker server and one or more gateways (one on each LAN where the resources are located). The gateway connects to the broker server: it belongs to a site which indicates the resources to which it can provide access. Once a user authenticates on the broker server, which verifies identity against the company’s directory and decides to whether access can be granted or not. After identity validation, the users will have a list of applications they can request connection to. When the user requests connection to an application, the broker server communicates with the gateway to create the connection towards the application. Therefore, the session is established with the application instead of the network.


What is the difference between ZTNA and VPN?

The ZTNA architecture is by default significantly more secure than the VPN’s architecture. A VPN acts at the network level whereas ZTNA acts at the level of the users and their contexts (identities), and at the level of applications and resources. Therefore, ZTNA provides a higher level of access granularity. Furthermore, VPNs can only identify who has connected to the network at what time.  ZTNA, on the other hand, traces who has connected to which resources, in which context, and in which environment. Additionally, ZTNA can have Privileged Access Management features allowing advanced levels of access control and monitoring : it traces who has connected to what to do what ?

ZTNA architecture provides a superior alternative to VPNs, offering more granular access control, better traceability, and increased flexibility to enhance business performance.

To sum up, even though VPNs have been widely used in the past to connect one site to another, they are shown to be unsecure anymore. With the rise of cloud services and remote access, ZTNA has proven to be a more efficient solution.  The network is no longer the security parameter, but identity and access are. Finally, since it can adapt to evolving security threats and technologies, ZTNA provides a long-term value for your organization.

Don’t let your organization fall behind the times with an outdated VPN. It’s time to go VPNless with, the ZTNA platform to secure your access to all your resources!

Schedule a demo and check out why many organizations are making the switch to ZTNA.