With up to 40% of Gen Z employees planning to take “workcations”—fulfilling one’s workplace responsibilities remotely from somewhere other than home—in 2022, companies are working to ensure they can keep their employees’ data secure wherever they travel.
Employers understand it is essential, for both productivity and security, to provide secure access to networks while employees are out of the office or even out of the country. Over the past decade, virtual private networks (VPNs) have gained popularity as a cost-effective solution to remote network security concerns. But as workforce needs continue to change rapidly, VPNs are proving unable to catch up. (Also read: Cybersecurity Concerns Rise for Remote Work.)
So, now is the perfect time for companies to re-evaluate their commitment to VPNs and consider upgrading to a more scalable and secure alternative. The good news is there is a simple solution that can be put in place—or even run alongside—VPNs: the zero trust security framework.
VPNs Versus Zero Trust Models
A traditional VPN works by establishing a perimeter around assets in a network or certain network activity. In turn, VPNs operate within a network—rather than protecting the network itself. Only users who have access to the VPN are able to interact with anything inside the perimeter. This limited access to the entry point acts as the prime security measure. As such, traditional VPNs assume by design that anything that passes through the established boundaries can be trusted. (Also read: Considering a VPN? Make the Right Choice for Your Needs.)
The zero trust approach works in direct contrast to the VPN model. Instead of establishing a small perimeter within the network, zero trust protects the entire network’s security—and, more specifically, the information assets within it—by individually verifying each user and device before granting access to a given application.
Gone are the days of “If you’re inside the network, that means you can be trusted.” With zero trust, everything is based on identity. Only after a user is authenticated can they get access to applications, content or systems—and even then, their identity is continuously authorized to check for unusual behavior or attributes. Each user’s level of access, and the actions they are permitted to perform, is defined and enforced according to the organizational policy.
Why VPNs Are Not Sustainable for Modern Workforce Trends
Though perimeter-based network security was a viable solution in the past, it’s been clear for several years that this approach cannot keep up modern workforce trends—and the pandemic only accelerated this reality.
Today, remote work is at an all-time high, global connectivity is expected and the number of networks and connections that cyberattackers are eager and ready to take advantage of has exploded. At the same time, attacks are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to prevent—another reason to implement strong authentication and identity-based access controls like zero trust. (Also read: The Cyberattacks Pandemic: A Look At Cybercrime in the COVID-19 Era.)
As employees explore alternative work-from-home locations, while diversifying the types of devices and applications they use, VPNs are already proving unable to meet either demand or security requirements. With that in mind, here are three common VPN-related challenges that a zero trust approach can alleviate:
- Limited scope. When it comes down to it, VPNs are inherently insecure: VPNs group all users into one system; and if an attacker gains access the entire system is compromised. With zero trust, by contrast, even trusted identities and devices do not receive full network access. Moreover, strong authentication and continuous authorization keep attackers who would breach the system from accessing the most sensitive assets (or crown jewels).
- Slow performance. VPN performance can lag—especially when seeking access from remote locations. That’s because VPNs work by routing all traffic through a data center to then be decrypted. But ultimately this process can take time and result in slow-moving protection. Because zero trust is primarily cloud-based, connections are quick and efficient. (Also read: The Best Practices for Managing Cloud Applications.)
- Inefficiency. Connecting through a VPN is a bulky, resource-intensive process. Updating VPNs, patching them, and scaling are all processes that require significant IT manpower and budgets. Alternatively, zero trust’s scaling process can be enabled and managed automatically through a web-based user interface; and IT teams can easily adjust security and authorization policies based on real-time needs.
Companies looking to stay ahead of their organizations’ and employees’ ever-changing demands need to take a step beyond VPNs to ensure more comprehensive security. Those who can’t keep up with their employees’ change in work habits will become increasingly vulnerable—as well as under-productive.
While VPNs do offer a level of connectivity, zero trust is specifically designed to meet modern needs for visibility and control as well as critical business demands such as remote work, speed, performance, security and more.
If businesses want to protect themselves going forward, integrating a zero trust approach into their security strategy will be crucial.