Before 2020, there were signs of a growing — albeit slow — shift to remote work. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations were forced to quickly adopt hybrid or remote work policies to keep operations running and protect their workforce. Since then, IT teams have continued to deploy corporate applications and desktops in the cloud while allowing remote employees to use unmanaged devices and unsanctioned networks to do their jobs. Consequently, this has opened the door to a plethora of inherent network security risks.

IT teams have traditionally relied on virtual private networks (VPNs) to provide secure remote access to distributed workforces. But with increased scalability demands from remote users, and new security architecture demands of software-as-a-service (SaaS), and web-based apps — as well as advanced cyber security threats in the cloud — VPNs and the traditional network security tools simply can’t keep up.

To help boost user productivity and granular security in remote work environments, many organizations are turning to more modern cloud-native security solutions such as zero trust network access (ZTNA). For example, Citrix Workspace combined with Citrix Secure Private Access gives organizations access to end-to-end attack surface protection, adaptive authentication based on user identity, location, and device posture, and single sign-on (SSO) to not only Citrix VDI or DaaS workloads, but to all other non-VDI applications sanctioned by IT.

If you’re unfamiliar with this approach, this guide will help you compare ZTNA vs. VPNs, as well as demonstrate how Citrix can help you secure your remote workforce with a zero trust framework.

ZTNA: Advantages in user productivity

Because VPNs are appliance-based solutions that are deployed in customer managed datacenters, they are limited in scope for scalability.

  • ZTNA provides direct breakout of cloud and SaaS traffic: As ZTNA is primarily a cloud native solution, it does not require backhauling of any traffic and provides a great end-user experience
  • ZTNA is auto-scale: With most of the workers remote, and continuing to stay hybrid, they may not be in locations close to headquarters or the datacenters. Because ZTNA is cloud-native, it is available across all geo locations and scales automatically based on the number of users. This allows users to get excellent performance without any bottlenecks on scalability.
  • ZTNA provides flexibility: With more workers than ever being remote and in a hybrid work environment, ZTNA offers flexibility to support those using their BYO devices, enabling the security controls an organization needs.

ZTNA: Advantages in Access Security

ZTNA and VPNs take two very different approaches to securely accessing corporate applications from remote locations. VPNs are appliance-based, customer-managed solutions that establish a private and encrypted tunnel between a remote employee and a corporate network. This datacenter-based security solution gives authorized users full access to the corporate network — regardless of their location and state of the end-user device.

While VPNs provide a broad approach to security and do not offer much flexibility, ZTNA provides granularity and flexibility with adaptive security policies, and is primarily a vendor managed, cloud service. With a zero trust security approach, users and devices are verified not only at the time of login, but are continuously verified and validated throughout the user session. In addition, ZTNA uses the principle of least privilege (PoLP) that automatically defaults to the lowest level of access for all users and does not connect users or end-user devices to corporate network.

How to Boost User Productivity with ZTNA

As application workloads are continuously moving to cloud and users adopting personal devices to access their applications, a ZTNA solution needs to provide security that is closer to the applications and closer to the users. Some of the benefits of a zero trust architecture, as it pertains to improving user productivity, include:

  • Closer to the apps: Because ZTNA is primarily a cloud-delivered service, the security controls can be applied inline and in real time. This allows for a much better performance and improved user experience, as opposed to backhauling all the cloud-based traffic to a datacenter.
  • Flexibility to use BYO devices: A ZTNA service allows access to certain applications if using a BYO device that does not have a ZTNA plugin. This is very helpful for situations where you have contractors and partners who are looking at access intranet or corporate SaaS apps from their unmanaged devices. This also allows employees with access to their browser-based apps from their personal devices, and they stay productive, even while they are traveling.

How to boost security with ZTNA

When you implement ZTNA, you can provide your remote employees with secure, VPN-less access to only the corporate applications and resources they need to get their jobs done. This ensures your entire network remains secure, no matter what devices or internet connections are being used. Some of the key benefits of a zero trust architecture include:

  • Real-time verification: When you deploy ZTNA, you can ensure your remote employees are continuously verified in real time. A true ZTNA solution provides authentication policies based on parameters like user location, device posture, and more and integrates with all the identity-provider solutions a customer may have already invested in.
  • Adaptive access: ZTNA establishes the principle of least privilege (PoLP) and defaults to the lowest level of access for all employees — which ensures adaptive access control. With ZTNA, employees are given access to corporate applications and resources based on things like identity, user location, device posture, and the risk profile of the user.
  • Minimized attack surface: As remote workforces grow, more corporate apps are deployed in the cloud, more unmanaged and BYO devices are being used, and attack surfaces are expanding. With ZTNA restricting access to your corporate network, your organization’s attack surface is minimized and continuously safeguarded from advanced cyber threats, data breaches, or other network vulnerabilities.

ZTNA provides a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to security that helps keep your organization’s network and digital landscape safe in remote-work environments. You can learn more about how ZTNA can replace VPNs by reading the New Tech: Zero Trust Network Access, Q2 2021 report from Forrester.

Zero Trust: The Way Forward

As workforces continue to move to remote environments, security risks are also spreading out along with them. It’s important that your organization addresses these risks and adapts to new security challenges, especially as remote work becomes more permanent. By adopting a zero trust approach to security with Citrix, you can put your company in the best position to remain protected.

With Citrix Secure Private Access, you get a cloud-delivered, VPN-less access management solution that protects your organization from browser-based threats and deploys granular application security controls for all end users and devices.

For example, when HDI — an international insurance company — deployed more remote employees than ever before, Citrix was able to help. After implementing Citrix Secure Private Access, HDI was able to provide security controls like browser isolation that let their remote workforce employees use personal devices to securely access corporate apps and resources.

To learn more about how Citrix Secure Private Access can help your organization, you can schedule a one-on-one informative meeting with a Citrix expert.

FAQs

Does zero trust replace a VPN?

Zero trust is a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to network security, especially in remote-work environments. VPNs don’t address network security as deeply as zero trust network access (ZTNA), relying mostly on broad network-based protection. This means zero trust can be an excellent and more secure replacement for a VPN.

Why would zero trust network access be a better choice than traditional VPN?

VPNs don’t provide granular network protection. On the other hand, zero trust network access (ZTNA) offers a much more stringent approach to security by providing adaptive access based on things like identity, time, and device-posture assessments. This gives end users isolated access to applications and data they need to effectively do their jobs, as well as significantly minimizes the risk of cyber threats, data breaches, or other network vulnerabilities.

What is the difference between SDP and VPN?

The main difference between a software-defined perimeter (SDP) and a virtual private network (VPN) is how each grants users network access. A VPN typically grants authorized users access to the entire corporate network regardless of the device they are using. An SDP only grants authorized users limited access to the corporate applications or resources they need to use.

How is zero trust different from traditional VPN?

Zero trust takes a much more holistic approach to security than virtual private networks (VPNs). Zero trust network access (ZTNA) continuously verifies and validates users in real time based on identity, time, and device posture assessments. In addition, Zero trust establishes the principle of least privilege (PoLP) that automatically defaults to the lowest level of access for all users. A traditional VPN, on the other hand, blindly trusts authorized users and gives them broad access to the entire corporate network.