From VPNs to Zero Trust: The Transition to a More Secure Networking

Shankar Venkatesan, Senior IT Leader, Avalon Technologies | Friday, 12 April 2024, 14:23 IST

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Passionate about the information security space, Shankar is a seasoned IT leader with close to three decades of experience across diverse tech functions. Owing to his vast expertise, he has also been conferred with numerous prestigious awards such as NEXT100 CIO 2023, CIO Excellence Award, INFOSEC Maestro Award, and CISO Top 100.

In today's constantly evolving cyber world, zero trust is no more an option but a norm for all organizations due to the large number of smartphones, laptops and other devices that are being used to access the enterprise network remotely. Since VPNs mostly depend on perimeter security measures such as firewalls, they have a lot of limitations, especially in terms of granting controlled access to a user once they enter the network/system. However, zero trust frameworks on the policy of 'Never Trust, Always Verify', making it more preferred over traditional VPNs. Having zero trust framework in place enables enterprises to have enhanced control of all systems & applications, along with facilitating continuous verification of all users and devices.

The foremost advantage that zero trust offers to companies is that it focuses on protecting resources and data instead of securing the network perimeter. Additionally, zero trust also enforces granular access control - commonly known as least privilege access in IT lingo - and implements microsegmentation, limiting lateral moment of malware across the network and preventing other systems from getting infested in case a breach occurs. Also, zero trust adapts itself on a real time basis based on the user identities and accordingly decides which users require what level of access to which application. Further, zero trust significantly reduces both the attack surface and the impact of a security breach by giving enterprises enhanced control over each of their systems and applications.

Key Elements of Zero Trust Network Architecture

While there are a myriad of elements that are required for an effective implementation of zero trust, the primary ones among them are identity & access management (IAM), continuous monitoring, encryption, data loss prevention measures (DLP) and many others. IAM not only facilitates effective management of user identities, but also enforces an additional layer of security when integrated with Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), irrespective of the users' location. Also, enterprises must continuously monitor & analyze user behavior, devices and network activities to identify suspicious behavior and take precautionary measures. Additionally, it is crucial that organization educates the users on various aspects pertaining to cyber security so that it can stay wary of any malicious activity such as phishing emails. Having all these tools and practices in place significantly strengthens the organization's security posture through minimum access and stringent access controls.

Enhanced Security & Flexibility of Network Architecture through SDN

While zero trust in itself offers numerous benefits to the organization, adopting Software Defined Networking (SDN) within a zero trust environment enhances those benefits to a great extent. Firstly, SDN enables organizations to segment their network into smaller isolated sub-sets, minimizing the potential damage of data breaches to the fullest, if they were to happen. Also, SDN can be dynamically adjusted and reconfigured to support the zero trust principles, while simultaneously offering centralized control and enhanced visibility to the admins to help them effectively manage network traffic, policies and security measures. Additionally, all the policies and frameworks pertaining to network security are adopted in real time based on the present context. Most importantly, SDN has the ability to provide detailed insights on various parameters, along with facilitating zero trust.

Ensuring Seamless & Secure Customer Experience

Deploying ZTNA facilitated encrypted access to applications and resources irrespective of the user's location or device. Also, having Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR), Extended Detection & Response (XDR) and Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools enables enterprises to have a clear visibility of all the devices that are accessing their network/applications and ensure that they are compliant with the company's security policies & frameworks. This helps both end users and the organization to stay clear of any potential security threats, enhancing the user experience to a great extent. Additionally, implementing practices such as single sign-on and multi-factor authentication not only simplifies the login process for remote users, but also does so in the most secure manner. Most importantly, it is extremely critical for organizations to continuously monitor all devices that connect to the network remotely and allow access to only those devices which have all updated security patches and antivirus software.

 Be it for a SaaS application or a cloud environment, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) improves access and security for remote users across all end points, further easing the identity management process for the organization. Controlling the access at the application level is crucial for implementing a zero trust model. Additionally, SASE also integrates various security measures such as secure web gateway, Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), cloud firewall and ZTNA to create a unified cloud based security service.