The distributed workforce is here to stay. Among the many implications that has, chief among them for security leaders the world over is adapting their security framework to account for the vastness of unmanaged devices and staff requiring access from locations across borders. For those still using VPNs as their primary defence against bad actors, it’s time to find an alternative.
VPN security solutions, while effective in an office-only environment in a pre-hybrid world, have succumbed to the immense rate of change post-pandemic. The workforce and hackers have evolved beyond its capabilities.
In this article, we’ll detail the flaws inherent in even the best VPNs and how they can affect your business. We’ll also present solutions to create a secure hybrid workforce that can scale with freedom, seamlessly.
1. Single Price of Admission
For a bad actor, entering your secure corporate network via a VPN is much like anyone entering a museum. There is a single point of access which, once passed, grants the entrant access to the entire internal structure. No double checking, no special requirements to enter the Jurassic-Period Flying Dinosaurs exhibit. Just unfettered access to anything and everything.
This single point of access inherent in VPNs means once bad actors are in, your entire network is exposed, the attack surface is enormous and bare. As the workforce has moved away from the castle-and-moat structures that made VPNs sufficient, Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions are now distinguishing themselves heavily for their ability to secure organisations in the modern hybrid environment.
ZTNA frameworks grant access at multiple checkpoints on a need-to-know basis, drastically reducing the attack surface of your enterprise at any given moment. Zero Trust’s defining principle of ‘never trust, always verify’ is worth its weight in gold in this case, vastly reducing attack surfaces with automated controls built into the way it grants access for all users, all the time.
2. Security at Speed
Second, let’s talk about backhauling. The necessity for VPNs to have security data inspected, by funnelling data through organisation networks into a data centre, in many instances, requires backhauling to facilitate that. With VPNs being reliant on public internet to work, this mass transfer of data puts immense strain on corporate networks. This compromises the performance of applications and creates an undesirable employee experience as a result.
What ZTNA does, as a primarily cloud-native solution, is negate the need for backhauling altogether. They place less undue strain on a LAN by routing all information through a central server that minimises latency and downtime.
ZTNA solutions also allow for security controls to be applied and adjusted online and in real-time, making adaptation for IT teams and verification for remote staff simple and seamless.
3. Scaling Tradeoffs
When a hybrid organisation grows, the security demands grow with it, and this presents another opportunity for corporate VPN solutions to fall short of the mark. Occasionally, compromise is inevitable. With VPN solutions, businesses are often having to decide between security and performance. If not, they’re looking at a hefty collection of investments to bring their legacy security solution up to scratch in areas including VPN infrastructure, security systems, and system redundancies.
With a ZTNA solution, the redundancies are built-in and scale automatically based on demand. The cloud-based nature of ZTNA solutions mean, by-and-large, the services you require to execute robust, flexible security for your distributed workforce can be switched off and on, or have controls built into them that govern behaviour based on employee activity. The ability to simply add users, partners, and additional devices and connections to a ZTNA framework also strengthen the argument for switching.
While VPN scaling is possible, it’s a costly, bulky exercise that ties up key resources. ZTNA, on the other hand, makes scalability a non-issue for your IT teams.
4. Accountability Isn’t Built In
As touched upon in point one, VPNs allow access to the entire network, its apps, and its resources. This doesn’t change regardless who’s being granted access, and the issue of accountability extends off the back of this central flaw.
Every employee will have access to data, apps, and information they do not need, increasing your risk every time they require network access. This brings us to the issue of granularity, and it’s an issue because there is none. VPNs generally provide little or no granular audit records, making it nigh on impossible to monitor the activity of each entrant. This applies to staff and third-party partners alike.
With no least-privileged access, this means trust is implied, and when trust is implied, human vulnerability can be costly for your business and your partners. Just ask the human whose VPN credentials were stolen to execute the Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021.
With ZTNA, each entity is granted access based, in part, on context. This means that the ZTNA framework protecting your organisation know who is accessing, from which device, where, when, and for how long every single time access is requested. The controls imbedded in the security architecture necessitate knowledge that makes every potential incident trackable and knowable in an instant.
5. Third-Party Vulnerability to Hackers
Third-party access is an inevitability when businesses grow. Partners, vendors, and contractors all need network access to fulfil their duties, and as mentioned above, that means each member of a third-party team will be granted complete access with your traditional VPN security structure.
This means you’re not only protecting your business from the vulnerabilities of your employees, who you can assist through appropriate cybersecurity awareness training, but also the employees of your partners. You are, in essence, creating alternative entrances into your network.
In this case, ZTNA stands apart as a VPN alternative again. It doesn’t matter where access is requested from, a Zero Trust approach demands the same from all potential entrants and restricts access to a least privilege status for everyone. This protects against network level attacks regardless of where a bad actor may have gained access to your network from, mitigating risk and exposure on a massive scale.
ZTNA Is the Answer to Your VPN Replacement Queries
ZTNA solutions like Citrix Secure Private Access (SPA) offer organisations that chance to remain protected throughout the evolutionary period we find ourselves in. As the working landscape changes along with the sophistication of hackers around the world, SPA offers a cloud-delivered, VPN-less access management solution that protects you from browser-based threats and deploys granular application security controls for all end users and devices.
Named a ‘Leader and Fast Mover’ in GigaOm’s Radar report for ZTNA, Citrix has shown to offer the secure, flexible, scalable solutions to modern enterprise security you need to make the switch.
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