What is a Zero Trust Network?
A zero trust network protects critical systems and assets such as data and infrastructure by verifying all users and devices regardless of their location or identity—no one is trusted by default, and everything is verified.
Zero Trust Network Definition
The term zero trust refers to a general perimeterless security strategy. John Kindervag, a prominent figure in cybersecurity and former Forrester Research analyst, introduced the Zero trust approach challenging the traditional security access model for network security in 2010.
By focusing on users, assets, and resources rather than static, network-based perimeters, a zero trust network supports digital transformation, protects critical systems and assets such as data and infrastructure by verifying all users and devices regardless of their location or identity.
Zero Trust Network FAQs
How Does a Zero Trust Network Work? A Zero Trust Network Explained
What does zero trust network mean? A zero trust network is a security framework that operates on the principle of not trusting any user or device, regardless of their location, whether they are inside or outside the network perimeter. It assumes that all users, devices, and network components could potentially be compromised or malicious, and thus it verifies and validates every access request before granting access to any resource.
Once a user or device gains access to a traditional network, they are often granted extensive privileges and “trusted” access to various network resources. This approach poses a significant security risk because a compromised user or device offers an attacker the opportunity for lateral movement within the network and access to sensitive resources.
Zero trust networks, in contrast, adopt a “never trust, always verify” approach. They enforce strict access controls and strong authentication in several ways.
Here are some of the key ways that zero trust networks offer greater security and granular control over network resources, minimize the potential attack surface, limit lateral movement within the network, and protect sensitive data in the event of a breach:
Identity and access management (IAM). Zero trust networks uniquely identify and authenticate users and devices before allowing access to resources using tactics such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and strong authentication tools.
Micro-segmentation. Zero trust networks are divided into smaller segments or zones, each with its own security controls. Access between them is strictly controlled based on policies and the principle of least privilege.
Network visibility and monitoring. Implements comprehensive monitoring and logging for visibility into network traffic, user behavior, and device activities to detect and respond to any potential threats or anomalies.
Continuous authentication and authorization. The zero trust network continuously monitors access requests throughout sessions, and dynamically adjusts access privileges based on context and risk level gleaned from user and device behavior, for example.
Encryption and data protection. Employs end-to-end encryption to secure data in transit and at rest. Implements data loss prevention (DLP) measures to prevent unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of sensitive information.
Security analytics and threat intelligence. The network uses advanced analytics and machine learning techniques to analyze network traffic, user behavior, and system logs, to identify potential threats, anomalies, or suspicious activities.
What is zero trust network access? Is it the same?
Zero trust network access (ZTNA) is a specific implementation or subset of the broader zero trust security framework. While a zero trust network is a comprehensive approach that encompasses various zero trust security measures and principles, ZTNA focuses on providing secure access to a particular set of resources, applications and services for users and devices, regardless of their location or network environment.
Traditional remote access to corporate resources was often facilitated through virtual private networks (VPNs), which would grant users full access to the network once connected. A ZTNA uses a more fine-grained and context-aware access control model.
ZTNA enforces the principle of least privilege, providing users/devices with the minimum level of access necessary to perform their tasks. Instead of granting broad network access, access is tightly controlled and limited to specific applications, services, or data.
ZTNA solutions often use secure access brokers, which act as intermediaries between users/devices and the resources they want to access. These brokers verify user/device identity, evaluate contextual factors, and enforce access policies before allowing access.
Benefits of a Zero Trust Network
Implementing zero trust network design offers several benefits in terms of security, agility, and risk reduction:
Enhanced security. Zero trust networks significantly improve security by trusting no users, devices, and network components and enforcing strict authentication, access controls, and continuous monitoring. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access and lateral movement within the network.
Granular access controls. Zero trust networks enable fine-grained access controls based on the principle of least privilege. Users and devices only receive access to the specific resources they need to perform their tasks, reducing the attack surface and limiting the potential damage of compromised credentials or devices. This enhances data protection and mitigates risk.
Improved compliance. By implementing strong authentication, encryption, data protection, and access controls, zero trust networks help organizations align with regulatory and compliance frameworks such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and avoid potential penalties and reputational damage resulting from non-compliance.
Flexibility and agility. Zero trust networks support cloud services, remote work, mobile devices, adoption of new technologies, scaling infrastructure, and other modern requirements.
Simplified security management. Zero trust architectures centralize security management and policy enforcement within a unified security framework, offering organizations better visibility and control over user access, device compliance, and network traffic.
Resilience and containment. Zero trust networks contain potential threats using segmentation and isolation techniques to localize threats, preventing lateral movement and minimizing overall damage. This improves network resilience and reduces the blast radius of security incidents.
User experience. Zero trust networks enhance user experience, offering seamless yet secure access to resources. Users can authenticate once and access the applications and data they need from various devices and locations without VPNs or complex network configurations. This improves productivity and facilitates collaboration in distributed environments.
By adopting a zero trust network model, organizations can significantly strengthen their security posture, reduce risks, and adapt to the evolving threat landscape. It enables a proactive and layered defense approach, focusing on verifying and validating every access request, resulting in a more secure and resilient network infrastructure.
Zero Trust Network Access vs VPN
An overview of the differences between zero trust network vs vpn are as follows:
- While VPNs provide network-level access to the entire network, a zero trust network focuses on granular access controls, continuous verification, and the principle of least privilege.
VPNs establish a secure encrypted tunnel between a user/device and the corporate network. Once connected, users typically have full access to the network, as if they were physically present in the office. The trust is placed in the network perimeter.
However, VPNs often require users to establish a connection to the corporate network before accessing resources, which negatively affects the user experience. This also leads to security failures caused by users.
A zero trust network offers a more flexible and scalable approach to secure resource access, especially in distributed and cloud-based environments. ZTN operates on the principle of “never trust, always verify.” It places emphasis on user/device trust rather than network perimeter trust, enhancing overall security and reducing potential risks.
A zero trust network can provide a more seamless user experience, granting direct access to specific resources without an unnecessary full network connection. Users can securely access the necessary applications and data without being tied to a specific network location, improving productivity and flexibility.
Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) vs Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)
Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) are closely related concepts but differ in their scope and focus.
SASE is a network architecture framework designed to provide secure and reliable access to applications and data for users, regardless of their location or the devices they are using. It aims to simplify network and security management by consolidating multiple networking and security services into a unified cloud-based platform.
SASE offers the capabilities of wide area networking (WAN) along with cloud-native Security as a Service (SECaaS) tools, including zero-trust network access (ZTNA).
So while SASE includes aspects of ZTNA as part of its security services, it is a unified platform that integrates networking, wide area networking (WAN), and security services, while Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a specific implementation or technology that aligns with the principles of Zero Trust and focuses on securing access to applications and resources, typically over the internet or cloud environments.
Zero Trust Network Use Cases
There are various use cases across different industries and organizational environments in which the implementation of a zero trust network model is beneficial:
Remote workforce industries. Zero trust networks provide secure access to applications, data, and other services and resources for employees working from various locations and devices without relying on a traditional network perimeter.
Cloud environments. Zero trust networks enable secure adoption of cloud services and migration of workloads to the cloud. ZTNs ensure continuous secure access and monitoring for cloud-based resources such as infrastructure, platforms, and software-as-a-service (SaaS).
Third-party access. Zero trust networks offer limited access to specific resources for third parties who collaborate with the organization—while maintaining control and reducing risk of unauthorized access and breaches. This is critical for organizations who need to work with external partners, vendors, contractors, and other third party collaborators securely.
Bring your own device (BYOD). A zero trust network architecture ensures that only authorized and compliant devices can access the network and restricts access to specific applications and data based on user privileges and contextual factors.
Privileged access management. A zero trust network model ensures strict enforcement and verification of privileged accounts and administrative users with elevated access rights, reducing the risk of unauthorized use or misused privileges.
Compliance and data protection. A zero trust network may assist organizations in verticals with a strong need to meet regulatory requirements such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and others, such as finance or healthcare.
Critical infrastructure protection. Industries such as energy, healthcare, and transportation rely on critical infrastructure systems that require the robust security measures a zero trust network offers. By implementing stringent access controls, continuous monitoring, and segmentation, a ZTN can help prevent unauthorized access and potential disruptions.
These are just a few examples of common use cases for implementing a zero trust network model.
Zero Trust Network Best Practices
Here are some additional best practices for implementing and maintaining a zero trust network security model:
Zero trust network segmentation. Implement thorough network segmentation to divide the network into smaller segments or zones based on sensitivity and risk. Apply zero trust network access controls between segments to restrict lateral movement and contain potential breaches.
Least privilege access. Adhere to the principle of least privilege by granting users and devices the minimum level of access required to perform their tasks. Regularly review and update access privileges based on changing roles, responsibilities, and business needs.
Continuous monitoring and analysis. Deploy robust monitoring and analysis tools to collect and analyze network traffic, user behavior, and security logs. Advanced analytics, machine learning, and threat intelligence tools can help detect anomalies, identify potential threats, and respond or mitigate threats in real-time.
User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA). Monitor and analyze user and entity behaviors with UEBA solutions that detect abnormal activities, identify insider threats, and trigger appropriate actions based on deviations from normal behavior patterns.
Multi-factor/Two-factor authentication (MFA/2FA). Enforce MFA or 2FA for user authentication, requiring multiple independent factors such as biometrics, smart cards, or mobile tokens rather than passwords.
Patch and vulnerability management. A robust patch management process ensures all devices and software components are up to date with the latest security patches. Regularly scan for vulnerabilities, prioritize remediation efforts, and apply patches promptly to minimize exploitation risks.
Incident response and recovery. Establish a clearly defined incident response plan that outlines procedures for identifying, responding to, and recovering from security incidents. Regularly test and update the plan, and conduct simulated exercises to ensure readiness in the event of a security breach.
How to Implement a Zero Trust Network
There are several key steps to implementing zero trust network solutions and ensure a successful transition to a zero trust security model. A quick overview of implementation involves these basic five steps to a zero trust network:
- Identify and categorize assets
- Implement strict access controls
- Establish strong authentication mechanisms
- Employ network segmentation and microsegmentation
- Monitor and analyze network activity
Here is a more detailed discussion of the steps involved in building a zero trust network:
Assess current infrastructure. Conduct a comprehensive assessment of existing network infrastructure, security policies, access controls, and user permissions. Identify any potential vulnerabilities, areas of high risk, or outdated security measures.
Identify critical assets and dependencies. Identify critical assets, systems, and applications within the network that require protection. Understand their dependencies, interconnections, and the potential risks associated with their compromise.
Define security objectives. Clearly define the security objectives and goals for the zero trust network. Consider factors such as data sensitivity, compliance requirements, remote access needs, and the overall organizational risk appetite.
Develop an access control strategy. Develop a comprehensive access control strategy based on the principle of least privilege. Define access policies, authentication mechanisms, and authorization rules for different user roles, devices, and resource types.
Strong authentication. Use strong authentication such as multi-factor or two-factor authentication (MFA or 2FA) to verify user and device identities with a combination of passwords, biometrics, tokens, or certificates.
Contextual access controls. Apply contextual access controls that evaluate factors such as user identity, device posture, location, time of access, and behavior to help determine the appropriate access levels and enforce policies dynamically.
Implement micro-segmentation. Implement network segmentation and micro-segmentation and enforce access controls between segments to isolate critical assets, reduce the attack surface, and prevent lateral movement in case of a breach.
Establish monitoring and logging. Implement robust real-time monitoring, security information and event management (SIEM) systems to detect anomalies, potential threats, and security events, and monitor network traffic and user activity.
Implement encryption. Utilize encryption protocols and technologies to secure data in transit and at rest. Apply encryption to sensitive data, communications channels, and remote access connections to ensure confidentiality and data integrity.
Continuous testing and improvement. Conduct security assessments, penetration testing, and vulnerability scanning regularly to identify weaknesses and gaps in the zero trust network implementation. Continuously refine and improve security controls and access policies based on insights from testing.
Employee training and awareness. Provide comprehensive training and awareness programs for employees on zero trust principles, security best practices, and their role in the zero trust network environment. Ensure your team understands how any implemented zero trust network access solutions function and how to use them.
Regular audits and compliance checks. Perform regular audits to evaluate the effectiveness of the zero trust network implementation and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. Review and update policies, access controls, and security measures based on audit findings.
Does Yubico Support a Zero Trust Network?
Yes. Yubico is among the top zero trust network companies on the market. Offering a range of strong authentication keys that build out zero-trust architecture effortlessly, Yubico keys validate users using strong authentication so organizations can provide secure access to applications, networks, information and services. Yubico’s zero trust tools operate on the foundational never trust, always verify model of zero trust security.
Learn more about Yubico’s Zero Trust Network here.