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Exploring the Key Components of a Zero Trust Network Access Architecture

Jasper Bragg

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Zero Trust Network Access

As users connect to the enterprise with personal devices and other non-enterprise resources, Zero Trust solutions help organizations protect sensitive data. These solutions rely on five technology components to make remote access secure. They follow the principle of least privilege and require that end user, workload, and IoT/OT device identities and context are continuously verified and validated. They also use micro-segmentation to limit lateral movement by attackers.

Adaptive Access Control

In a Zero Trust Network Access architecture, users must be authenticated and authorized before connecting to a network. This process combines adaptive access control with analytics, filtering, and logging to verify behavior. It also continually assesses risk and watches for signs of compromise. Adaptive access control focuses on the least privilege principle, limiting the permissions granted to users. This is a crucial step in reducing the attack surface. Traditional firewall policies have relied on VLAN segmentation to grant access to resources based on where the devices and users connect from. However, this approach is problematic because it is challenging to keep up with the dynamic nature of workloads and users. To implement adaptive access control, a Zero Trust model must terminate every connection to allow an inline proxy to verify identity and context and evaluate the requesting user’s security posture, device, and location. It also requires multifactor authentication, requiring more than just the username and password to prove the authenticity of the person or device trying to access data. This is a significant change from the firewall models most organizations are familiar with.

Network micro-segmentation

One of the critical components of a Zero Trust Network Access Architecture is network microsegmentation. This technique divides a network into multiple security zones and assigns different security policies to each zone. The result is that threats cannot move between zones and access sensitive information, reducing the risk of data breaches. Traditionally, this was accomplished through internal firewalls or Access Control List (ACL) and Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) configurations on networking equipment. However, these technologies are expensive, difficult to maintain, and do not scale for large networks. Software-defined access technology simplifies the process by grouping and tagging network traffic, which enables granular segmentation to meet the specific needs of an organization or business application. For example, a company can create a separate segment for its development, testing, and production environments and apply a different security policy. This can prevent unauthorized access to the DevOps environment and reduce the likelihood of a security breach that could result in the loss of sensitive data. In addition, micro-segmentation can help strengthen regulatory compliance by separating duties and limiting access to systems subject to rigorous standards. Regular access reviews can also identify and remove unnecessary permissions that could increase the risk of a security breach. Micro-segmentation can also implement API security by creating segments dedicated to APIs and deploying security policies limiting access.

Behavioral Analytics

Behavioral analytics is a critical element of zero-trust network access. By continuously monitoring every aspect of a user’s experience, the system can authenticate and verify that they are who they say they are. This is done in the background using non-identifiable factors ranging from mouse movements and typing speed to login history and network details like IP address and browser. The system can also validate the context of a connection. This means it can determine whether the requested destination is a valid part of the enterprise and that all credentials are being verified. This could prevent data exfiltration, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and other threats. It can also determine if any devices or users exhibit suspicious behavior and deny access to the network accordingly. With traditional networks and security models becoming ineffective as work moves to the cloud and the workplace becomes more dispersed, Zero Trust is an essential solution for advanced threat protection. The combination of adaptive security controls, micro-segmentation, and the principle of least privilege all work together to prevent attackers from penetrating a company’s systems and stealing sensitive information. By adopting Zero Trust, companies can become more productive and minimize risk while enabling a more collaborative workforce.

Policy Enforcement Point

A Zero Trust architecture uses a wide range of preventive security controls. These include Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) technologies like a secure web gateway, firewall as a service, and cloud security access broker to enable a zero-trust environment. A SASE solution can help enterprises implement the critical principles of Zero Trust, including a robust authentication framework and dynamic policy generation based on risk assessment. The security platform should also include a continuous monitoring capability to detect and alert when suspicious activity occurs. Another critical component of a Zero Trust network is network micro-segmentation, which helps to create isolated perimeters that allow connections from specific locations but block traffic between them. This reduces the ability for threat actors and malicious insiders to move laterally across the enterprise, which makes it difficult for them to access sensitive information. It is also crucial for a Zero Trust network to use multifactor authentication (MFA), which requires users to provide more than one method to verify their identity, such as security questions, email verification, text messages, and the use of security tokens or biometric ID checks. The security platform should be configured to apply MFA both for ingress and egress to the network and during connections between systems inside the network. This will ensure that only authorized devices and people can access sensitive data.

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