VPN vs. Zero Trust: What to Know

    The coronavirus pandemic has had long-lasting and perhaps permanent changes in many parts of how we live and work. One such change is implementing more remote work, and in some businesses, hybrid work environments.

    While there are advantages to a hybrid work approach on the part of employers and employees, it’s not entirely smooth sailing.

    According to new research, around 66% of SME IT professionals say they feel overwhelmed by remote work. More than half say they’re going to spend more on remote management security and technology. In the same survey, more than half of SMEs said they planned to have Zero Trust security architecture implemented by the end of 2021.

    Zero Trust takes a very different approach to cybersecurity in the traditional sense, where the focus was on securing the perimeter. With remote and hybrid workspaces, there is no perimeter.

    At the same time, some employers may be wondering why they can’t just rely on a VPN to keep their network safe when employees are working remotely.

    With those concepts in mind, the following breaks down some of the things to know about a VPN versus Zero Trust and why they aren’t interchangeable with one another.

    What is a Virtual Private Network?

    A virtual private network or VPN has been the core of remote access for years at this point. With the use of a VPN, individuals and employees have online anonymity and privacy from a public connection. When you use a VPN, it masks your IP address, making your actions untraceable. More relevant from a corporate cybersecurity perspective is that when employees, including remote employees, are using a VPN, there are secure, encrypted connections.

    Otherwise, when employees are working on unsecured networks, which they often do, they could be exposing their employer’s network to massive risks.

    VPN is something IT teams understand well, which represents one of the benefits. It’s not necessarily always simple to deploy, but again, since it’s not new and it is understood, that’s not a huge issue.

    The pandemic has exposed some of its more significant shortcomings.

    A VPN, first of all, doesn’t tend to scale as well as is needed to meet demand. Organizations, since COVID-19 started, have realized VPNs are fast to get to capacity. When the VPN is at capacity it means users can’t create new sessions. The users who are already connected are likely to have a poor experience.

    Cyberattacks now tend to focus on remote workers, knowing that’s such a significant point of weakness.

    When you’re providing what is sometimes referred to as all-or-nothing access to a corporate network, you’re increasing risk, particularly when it comes to those accounts with privileged access.

    Teams have to stop seeing hackers as being on the outside and whatever is on the inside as being protected.

    What Is Zero Trust Security?

    Zero Trust security is a comprehensive architecture that helps address the challenges of not only remote and hybrid workers but also mobile devices and cloud services. These factors have made the traditional model of network security obsolete.

    Zero Trust security frameworks have a framework that starts with trusted identity, meaning the user is confirmed. From there is the concept of a trusted device, which is protecting devices. Securing the network path is next, and authorization policies are part of Zero Trust to ensure least-privileged authorization to access any resources.

    What all this means is that when you’re using a Zero Trust security strategy, every user, no matter what, has to demonstrate they’re trustworthy in terms of their identity, device, and connection before they get access to any resources.

    Identity and access management and multi-factor authentication are needed in a Zero Trust security architecture to manage the complexity of identities.

    Which Is Better For Remote Work?

    As you might have guessed, a VPN isn’t cutting it for cybersecurity in the remote work era. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still uses for a VPN, but it’s certainly not in and of itself a security strategy that’s going to be effective.

    VPNs are a fast, easy answer, but they weren’t designed with the cloud-based infrastructure in mind. VPNs are currently used for purposes they weren’t designed for because they hit the market nearly 20 years ago before we used cloud infrastructures. VPNs are focused more on protecting a perimeter that doesn’t necessarily exist anymore.

    Organizations should work toward a Zero Trust architecture than try and use various bits and pieces of a security strategy independently of one another.

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