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In today’s digital landscape where cloud computing and remote work have become all but ubiquitous, traditional network security approaches won’t be enough to keep your network secure. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), however, is a method that can mitigate the growing risk all organizations face — which might be why 47% of surveyed IT professionals are looking to apply ZTNA to their end-user experience, and soon. ZTNA is a powerful security architecture that focuses on continuous verification and precise, context-specific access control so you can connect users, applications, and data — even when they don’t reside on your organization’s network. This becomes increasingly important in multi-cloud environments where you may have micro-services-based applications living in multiple places.
While larger enterprises were typically seen as early adopters of ZTNA, the benefits stand for all sizes of businesses across all industries. According to JumpCloud, “In 2020, small businesses experienced about half the number of attacks as large enterprises did. In 2021, that number grew to 86%, creating a percent difference of only 15% between attacks on small and large businesses.” And this gap is shrinking every quarter.
For those new to this strategy, knowing where to begin can feel overwhelming. As you consider how to implement ZTNA in your own organization, remember these seven best practices, and your data security will be more effective than ever.
1. Embrace the Zero Trust Mindset
ZTNA requires a shift in mindset. It’s important to adopt a “never trust, always verify” approach. This means that every individual user and device must prove their identity and be authorized before accessing an organization’s applications, data, services, and other resources. Remember, this isn’t about whether or not you trust your team — the ‘zero’ trust doesn’t refer to them as people, but rather to the authentication process. It’s about keeping bad actors at bay and mitigating the ever-present and ever-growing risk of cybercrime. Just make sure you communicate this new practice to your team accordingly; assure them that it’s not about the people, it’s about access. You can trust your team with your life and still know that zero trust is essential, for their safety as much as yours! Regardless of the user’s location or network, authentication should be established on a per-request basis, providing a higher level of security for everyone.
2. Adopt Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Part of requiring authentication every time means including Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). MFA adds an extra layer of protection by requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification before accessing resources. This means combining different factors like passwords, fingerprints, SMS codes, or mobile apps to verify identity. If a bad actor is able to capture one of your team’s login credentials, that won’t be enough to access your network — not if you have MFA set up. Implementing MFA is one of the simplest, quickest ways to enforce a ZTNA architecture — and significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access. It also typically provides SSO capability, which gives your users access to multiple applications quickly.
3. Implement Micro-Segmentation
Micro-Segmentation involves dividing your network into smaller, isolated segments to contain potential security breaches. This means creating virtual barriers within your network; it even gives you the ability to define application-level security controls. This way, even if attackers manage to gain access to one segment of your network, they’ll have a tough time accessing the remaining parts of your infrastructure. With that in place, you’re also lowering your chance of attack, period — you become a less attractive target if attackers know they’ll have to jump through hoops every step of the way. Micro-Segmentation increases control of your security and limits the impact of potential breaches, safeguarding your network.
4. Utilize Least Privilege Access
For micro-segmentation to be effective, it’s important to minimize the level of access each user in your network has — and this applies not only to your team, but to your applications and IoT devices as well. They should only have the level of access they need to actually complete their tasks. This idea is a fundamental principle of ZTNA, and it minimizes the risk of unauthorized actions. This process also reduces the potential damage caused by compromised accounts — so even if hackers manage to find a way to log in with your user’s password and get through the MFA process, they’ll still only have access to a minimal segment of your network. To maintain this, make sure you regularly review access privileges and promptly revoke unnecessary permissions as the need to do so arises.
5. Employ Continuous Monitoring
In a strong ZTNA framework, it is crucial to monitor the behavior of both devices and users in real time. By making use of the robust monitoring tools available and leveraging analytics accordingly, you’ll be much more capable of identifying any unusual activities that could signify potential security threats. And the earlier you’re able to identify those threats, the better you’ll be at preventing them. This is how you minimize security incidences, if and when they occur.
6. Apply Strong Encryption
Encryption plays a vital role in ZTNA. It ensures that data transmissions are protected using strong encryption protocols like SSL/TLS. Sensitive data at rest should be encrypted, too, as this helps to safeguard it from unauthorized access — even if physical storage devices are compromised. Implementing encryption throughout your network infrastructure ensures data confidentiality and integrity, so it’s essential to find a security tool that can make that happen for you.
7. Regularly Update and Patch Systems
One of the most common ways attackers are able to access otherwise secure data is through delayed updates. If a security bug is discovered in one of your online tools, it doesn’t matter how fast those developers fix that bug — if you don’t implement the update, your network is now exposed. That’s why keeping your software, operating systems, and network devices up to date with the latest security patches is absolutely crucial. Outdated software has vulnerabilities, and you can bet that attackers will exploit those vulnerabilities to make their way into your network. Establish a regular patch management process to promptly address known vulnerabilities and minimize your risk of exploitation.
The fact of the matter is the number of data breaches is increasing every quarter — not to mention the cost of data breaches is quickly approaching $4.5m. It’s clear small businesses need to act. By implementing these ZTNA best practices, small businesses can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and create a more secure network environment for their team and their data. Embracing the zero trust mindset, adopting multi-factor authentication, implementing micro-segmentation, utilizing least privilege access, employing continuous monitoring, applying strong encryption, and regularly updating systems are essential steps toward achieving a robust and resilient network security framework. Remember, in an ever-changing digital landscape, a proactive approach to network security is key. Don’t wait for the worst to happen — make sure your network is ready.
Recommended Reading: How to Create ZTNA with OpenVPN Cloud
Build Your ZTNA Network with CloudConnexa
If you’re looking for a tool that makes implementing ZTNA more accessible than ever, CloudConnexa (previously OpenVPN Cloud) has features that align with all seven of the best practices listed above. Manage access, enforce MFA, encrypt and monitor your data — all from a cloud-based private network hosted by one of the most trusted names in network security. OpenVPN gives businesses of all sizes the ability to expand secure access to protect workers using home and public WiFi networks and SaaS applications outside your network perimeter. With Cloud Connexa, OpenVPN provides all the tools and capabilities necessary for building a strong zero trust network, with a pricing model that grows with your company.
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