SASE vs. ZTNA: Which One Do You Need?


It’s easy to get lost among all the new cybersecurity approaches developed in recent years. All have specific use cases and purposes, and there is no one great choice for all businesses. 

Rather, they need to evaluate their options and decide based on their business needs. Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) are two of the most popular frameworks we have now; but what is the difference and which one do you need? 

The difference is actually much more subtle thank you think. More than a versus, it’s better to say SASE and Zero Trust, since these two are closely related. One is just a step to achieving the other one. But still, depending on your business requirements, the answer to which one you need may vary. Let’s talk about both of these and then compare so you can decide the best option for your company. 

What is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)?

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is a complete cybersecurity framework that aims to provide secure access to digital resources and business applications based on real-time context-based verification. More than being a product, SASE is a package of network and security services. 

SASE converges network connectivity and network security together. It uses SD-WAN for networking to ensure it is free from hardware-related restrictions and utilizes cloud-based security solutions such as CASB, SWG, FWaaS, and ZTNA. 

Yes, ZTNA can be implemented separately, but ultimately, it is a part of a SASE architecture that is used to ensure network security and effective validation in a SASE environment. By converging connectivity and security, SASE manages to simplify network protection and eliminates any locational downsides of legacy solutions. 

When considering the modern IT infrastructures that are diverse, mostly cloud-based, and including remote end-users; SASE offers a flexible way to bring security to the doorsteps of the users and protect the network as a whole. Unlike traditional security frameworks, SASE requires no expensive hardware, reduces additional costs by being operated from a single point, and provides unmatched benefits thanks to its flexible and dynamic structure. 

One of the best properties of the SASE framework is the ability to provide security based on identity rather than a set perimeter. Since today’s IT structures include mobile devices, third-party apps, BYOD computers, IoT devices, and much more components, the perimeter is almost non-existent. 

By focusing on the identity of the end-user who is within the network and accessing the resources, SASE enables contextual verification, real-time evaluation of access requests, and the protection of the communication between the host and the user. 

Briefly, SASE is the ultimate security framework for flexible networks with multiple components or maybe those migrated to the cloud. It enables secure remote access with software-defined networking and cloud-native solutions such as CASB or FWaaS. Providing edge-to-edge protection regardless of the location, SASE shines as the perfect choice for remote working models. 

What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a modern network security solution that offers continuous verification and secures remote access. The main principle behind ZTNA is not trusting anyone or anything and enforcing verification on all steps within the network. 

Zero Trust assumes that there is always a risk for private networks, and controls access constantly. This is also true even when a user is already connected to the network; ZTNA requires verification before granting access to the user. 

One of the main differences between the ZTNA approach and VPN is that VPNs provide unlimited access to corporate resources after the user is verified once when connecting, and assumes that it is now a trusted component. ZTNA, on the other hand, follows strict security policies to decide whether a specific access request within the network is approved or not. 

What ZTNA solves in network security is the threats associated with insiders and remote workers. When you have remote working employees, identity verification can be challenging and resources are at risk. Zero Trust eliminates this risk by using modern verification methods in addition to passwords to bring a new way to authenticate users. 

Inside a ZTNA framework, there are several useful practices such as network segmentation or the use of multi-factor authentication. Network segmentation is a crucial part of Zero Trust. It allows IT admins to break their network into smaller components to control access and achieve granular security.

By segmenting networks, they have the ability to assign specific access permissions based on roles, company policies, and the users’ needs. They then verify these permissions using robust authentication methods (such as MFA) which are operated by the company’s security policies. If a user is not allowed into one of these segments, ZTNA immediately rejects the access request. 

In general, ZTNA is implemented to prevent insider risks resulting from attacks targeting authorized users. Using Zero Trust, companies can first verify their users in every step with something other than passwords and contain a cyberattack before it is unmanageable. Since every user has only limited access to the network, the extent of the attack is smaller than legacy solutions. 

SASE vs. ZTNA: Which is Better? 

ZTNA and SASE work together to achieve the same goal; ultimate network security and user authentication. Both approaches understand the risks associated with authorized users, and how vulnerable they are to malicious actors online. 

While SASE is a broader framework consisting of several security and connectivity solutions, ZTNA is a critical piece of every SASE architecture. They are not conflicting security solutions, but partners working together. 

If you are migrating to the cloud or have remote users, consider adopting ZTNA as the first step in building your cloud-native cybersecurity structure. ZTNA will offer huge benefits to control access on your remote work model and prevent insider threats, as well as reduce the attack surface. 

However, it is important to note that you should always aim to adopt SASE to ensure uninterrupted network connectivity and edge-to-edge security. In other words, ZTNA should always be your first step to migrating to SASE, and should not be viewed as a separate solution. 

SASE will unlock the true benefits of Zero Trust thanks to its comprehensive structure achieved by the use of software-defined networking and the ability to monitor all the traffic. SASE will see what ZTNA cannot, and provide valuable information for Zero Trust to execute. 

For these reasons, please consider Zero Trust as a small step toward optimal cloud-based network structure, and build your way through by following a proper SASE architecture and needed tools. Fast and secure connection in networks with remote users is possible with SASE, but ZTNA is also a vital component in that architecture. 

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