What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a network security framework that focuses on maintaining strict access controls and authentication mechanisms, regardless of whether a user or device is located inside or outside the network perimeter.

How ZTNA Works

Not long ago, most employees worked almost exclusively on-premises, in an organization’s facility, and most computer hardware was located there, too. For these reasons, network security models historically relied on perimeter-based security measures, which assumed that any device or human user that was trying to connect from inside the network perimeter could be trusted.

However, with the increasing adoption of cloud services, mobile devices and remote work, modern networks no longer have “perimeters.” Users and devices can now access networks from virtually anywhere.

ZTNA assumes that no user or device should be inherently trusted, even if they are already inside the network. It operates on the principle of "never trust, always verify." This approach ensures that every access request is authenticated and authorized, regardless of the user's location or the network they are using. ZTNA shifts the focus from securing the network perimeter to securing individual resources and data.

By implementing ZTNA, organizations can minimize their attack surface, improve visibility and access controls, and enhance their overall security posture. ZTNA also allows users more flexible and secure remote access, supports the adoption of cloud services and provides a more effective security model for modern cloud-based data environments.

The Benefits of ZTNA

ZTNA is a modern, robust security framework that aligns with today’s hybrid workforces and data environments, providing far better protection than antiquated perimeter-based access models.

Here are the key advantages of implementing ZTNA:

Enhanced security

Instead of verifying where a user is connecting from, ZTNA verifies that they are who they claim to be. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access and helps prevent lateral movement within the network, in the event of a breach.

Reduced attack surface

With ZTNA, the network perimeter becomes less relevant as the focus shifts to securing individual resources and data. By implementing access controls and micro-segmentation, organizations can limit access to specific resources based on user identity, context and other factors. This reduces the attack surface, making it more difficult for attackers to move laterally within the network.

Improved visibility and control

ZTNA solutions offer greater visibility into user activities and network traffic. Access controls and policies are enforced at a granular level, allowing organizations to monitor and track user behavior more effectively. This helps organizations detect and respond to potential security threats in real time.

Simplified compliance

ZTNA solutions typically include features such as user authentication, device validation and audit logs, which can help organizations meet regulatory compliance requirements. By implementing ZTNA, organizations can enforce access controls, track user activities and demonstrate compliance more easily.

Flexible and secure remote access

ZTNA enables secure remote access to resources, regardless of the user's location. Employees can securely connect to the network and access necessary resources from anywhere, using various devices. ZTNA solutions often include secure access brokers or gateways that provide encrypted connections, ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of data transmitted over the network.

Seamless adoption of cloud services

As organizations increasingly adopt cloud services, ZTNA can provide a secure and scalable solution. It allows organizations to authenticate and authorize users accessing cloud-based resources, ensuring that only authorized users can access sensitive data and applications.

Improved user experience

ZTNA can improve the user experience by providing seamless and convenient access to resources. With ZTNA, users can access the resources they need and maintain a high level of security without complex and time-consuming authentication processes.

ZTNA vs VPN: What’s the Difference?

ZTNA and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are both used for secure remote access, but their implementation and use cases differ significantly.

Here are the main differences between ZTNA and a VPN:

Product vs. framework

A VPN is a specific type of product – typically a client application installed on an end user’s device – that establishes a secure encrypted tunnel between a user's device and the corporate network.

ZTNA focuses on validating user and device identities, regardless of their location or network. ZTNA applies access controls at a granular level, securing individual resources and data rather than relying solely on network-level security.

Security model

VPNs rely on the concept of a trusted network perimeter. Once connected to a VPN, a user is treated as if they are part of the trusted network.

ZTNA focuses on validating user and device identities, regardless of their location or network. ZTNA applies access controls at a granular level, securing individual resources and data rather than relying solely on network-level security.

Access control

A VPN typically grants users access to the entire network once the connection is established. Users can access all resources and services available within the trusted network perimeter.

ZTNA enforces access controls based on user identity, device posture and other contextual factors. It provides more granular access control, allowing organizations to limit access to specific resources or applications, reducing the attack surface and preventing lateral movement within the network.

User experience

When using a VPN, the user's device is virtually connected to the corporate network, making it appear as if they are physically present within the network. Theoretically, this is supposed to provide a seamless user experience. However, because all traffic is routed through the VPN, connections are notoriously sluggish.

ZTNA provides a more user-friendly experience by allowing users to access specific resources directly, without requiring a full network connection. ZTNA solutions often employ Just-In-Time (JIT) access, granting temporary and limited access based on specific requirements, resulting in a more streamlined and efficient user experience.

Network architecture

A VPN typically requires IT administrators to install a client application directly on the user's device, establishing a direct connection to the corporate network. If the user will be connecting from more than one device, the application must be installed on each one, creating more work for busy IT teams. Additionally, end users often find VPN applications to be clunky and difficult to work with.

ZTNA solutions usually leverage secure access brokers or gateways that act as intermediaries between the user and the resources. ZTNA can utilize a variety of network protocols and transport mechanisms to securely connect users to specific resources, reducing the reliance on routing all traffic through a central network. Users can connect to the network from any device, running virtually any operating system.

Cloud readiness

VPNs were initially designed for securing relatively short-term connections between remote offices or connecting remote users to a central network. They weren’t designed for giving large numbers of users direct access to cloud-based resources and services, nor are they meant to be left on throughout a user’s workday.

ZTNA, conversely, is well-suited for the cloud era. The model scales very well, and it can provide large numbers of users with secure access to organizational cloud resources and services. ZTNA allows organizations to authenticate and authorize users accessing cloud-based applications, ensuring secure connectivity and data protection.

How to Implement ZTNA

Because ZTNA is a framework and not a product, implementing it will look a bit different for every organization. While the specifics differ according to an organization’s specific needs and data environment, here’s a general outline of the process:

Assess your environment

Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of your existing network infrastructure, including network topology, applications, resources and user access patterns. Identify potential vulnerabilities and areas that need improvement in terms of security.

Define access policies

Define access policies based on the principle of least privilege. Determine which users or groups should have access to specific resources or applications and the conditions under which access is granted. Consider factors such as user identity, device posture, location and contextual information.

Implement Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions

You’ll need software solutions that can handle IAM processes such as password management, user authentication and MFA. Consider factors such as ease of implementation, scalability, integration capabilities, user experience and compatibility with your existing infrastructure.

Implement secure remote access solutions

ZTNA implementations typically include secure access brokers or remote connection gateways to enable IT and DevOps personnel to securely connect to internal machines and systems.


Implement micro-segmentation to divide your network into smaller segments and enforce access controls at a granular level. This helps contain potential security breaches and limits lateral movement within the network. Segment your resources based on sensitivity and the principle of least privilege.

Monitor and audit

Implement monitoring and auditing mechanisms to track user activities, access attempts and potential security incidents. Use logs and analytics to identify anomalies or suspicious behavior. Regularly review and update access policies based on changing requirements and threat landscapes.

User education and training

Educate users about the ZTNA implementation, its benefits and how to securely access resources. Provide training on best practices for secure remote access, password hygiene and recognizing potential phishing or social engineering attacks.

Continuous improvement

ZTNA is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your access policies, monitor security controls and stay updated on emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

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