What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)? 

As cyber threats become more sophisticated, organisations across various industries are adopting the Zero Trust security model to protect their networks and data. This identity-based security model is based on the principle of “never trust, always verify”. This means that all network access requests must be authenticated and continuously verified before access is granted to ensure security.  

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a practical implementation of the Zero Trust security model. It provides a framework for organisations to effectively manage the authentication and authorisation of users, devices, or services seeking access to network applications and data. 

But what does Zero Trust Network Access mean for your organisation? In this guide, we explain what ZTNA is, how it works, and the benefits it offers to organisations that want to enhance the security of their network and data. 

What is a Zero Trust Network? 

To understand the Zero Trust Network, it is essential to know what the Zero Trust security model entails. Zero Trust is a cybersecurity model where every user and device, whether inside or outside the network, must be authenticated and continuously validated before being granted access to data and applications.  

Zero Trust Network is the application of Zero Trust principles specifically to network security. It involves creating a network architecture where access to network resources is governed by strict identity verification, least privilege access, and micro-segmentation. This approach ensures that only authenticated and authorised users and devices can access network applications and data. 

What is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)? 

ZTNA is a security solution that controls and manages access to the network, aligning with Zero Trust principles. It ensures that every access request is fully authenticated, authorised, and encrypted before granting access to the network applications and data. This is achieved through technologies like multi-factor authentication (MFA), identity and access management (IAM), and context-aware access policies.  

An essential aspect of ZTNA is that it functions as a software-defined perimeter (SDP). This means that ZTNA creates a virtual boundary around network resources, controlling access based on identity and context rather than traditional network location-based perimeters.  

How ZTNA works 

ZTNA works according to a systematic process to ensure that only authenticated and authorised users can access network resources. This process includes a layered approach of identity verification, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and micro-segmentation to provide secure and controlled access.  

Here we outline the key components and steps in the ZTNA process:   

Identity verification and access management 

Identity verification and access management are critical components of ZTNA. The process starts when a user or device requests access to a network resource. The ZTNA will then verify the identity of the user or device by cross-referencing credentials against the organisation's user database to confirm authenticity.  

The ZTNA systems will also determine the appropriate level of access according to the principle of least privilege. This pre-determined principle outlines the necessary resources that users and devices can access to complete their tasks. This step ensures that once users or devices are granted access, they can only access essential resources.  

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and contextual analysis  

Following the initial identity verification, ZTNA employs multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA requires users to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to a resource, adding an additional layer to secure the network against unauthorised access. MFA can include a variety of methods, such as a one-time PIN (OTP) sent by SMS, an authentication app, biometric verification, smart cards, and more.  

Once identity is confirmed, the system conducts a contextual analysis of the access request. It evaluates factors like the user's location, the time of the access request, and the device's security status. This analysis ensures that the access attempt aligns with typical user patterns and poses no security risks. 

Micro-segmentation and continuous monitoring 

Micro-segmentation is another key feature of ZTNA. It involves dividing the network into smaller, controlled segments, each with its own set of access rules and controls. Users are granted access only to the specific segments of the network that are necessary for their roles.  

Continuous monitoring and regular updates are also key aspects of this phase. ZTNA systems constantly monitor user activity within the network, detecting and responding to any unusual behaviour. All actions performed within the network are logged for future audit and compliance purposes. Access policies and network configurations are then periodically reviewed and updated to adapt to any changes in the organisation or new threats. 

Benefits of ZTNA 

ZTNA offers a more flexible and secure framework for managing access to network resources. 

We outline the ways that organisations can benefit from ZTNA:  

Enhanced security and reduced attack surface 

Implementing ZTNA enhances security by minimizing the network's attack surface. ZTNA continuously verifies user or device identity and limits access to necessary resources with micro-segmentation and least privilege access. This constant validation of trust limits the potential for internal and external threats to access the network, making it effective against sophisticated cyber threats that exploit traditional security gaps. 

Improved data protection and compliance 

ZTNA also contributes significantly to improved data protection and compliance. By controlling access based on strict user verification, sensitive information within the network is better safeguarded. This aspect of ZTNA is particularly beneficial for organisations handling sensitive data, helping them comply with industry regulations.  


ZTNA solutions can easily scale up or down to accommodate the changing size and complexity of a network. This flexibility makes ZTNA a viable option for organisations of all sizes and types, including those expanding their operations or adopting remote and hybrid work models.  

How to implement ZTNA 

To start benefiting from the enhanced security of ZTNA, you need to know how to implement Zero Trust. Implementing Zero Trust security in your organisation requires a comprehensive strategy and a phased approach.  

The first step in this process is to conduct a comprehensive network assessment. This involves mapping out your network's assets and data flows to gain a deep understanding of how data is stored and accessed within your organisation. You also need to identify sensitive data and critical systems during this phase, as it forms the foundation for following security measures. 

Once the network assessment is complete, the next crucial step is the development of a Zero Trust policy. This policy serves as a set of guidelines for authentication and authorisation, laying the groundwork for your entire Zero Trust architecture. With the policy in place, you can proceed to implement the ZTNA framework, including Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and context-aware access control technologies.  

Incorporate Nexus Smart ID into your ZTNA strategy to maximise the effectiveness of your ZTNA implementation. This identity management solution streamlines user identity management and reinforces access control, seamlessly aligning with the principles of Zero Trust security. By following these steps and embracing tools like Nexus Smart ID, you can successfully implement ZTNA to secure your organisation's critical assets and sensitive data. 

What is the difference between ZTNA and VPN? 

Understanding the distinction between ZTNA and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) is essential.  ZTNA employs strict access controls, dynamic security checks, and application-level access, reducing the attack surface. In contrast, VPNs create secure tunnels for network-level access and assume a higher level of trust based on network proximity. 

ZTNA provides a user-friendly experience by granting access to specific resources without connecting to the entire network, whereas VPNs can be less user-friendly due to network-wide connections. ZTNA also excels in scalability and cloud compatibility, adapting well to distributed workforces and modern cloud architectures. Traditional VPNs may face challenges in these areas. 

FAQs about Zero Trust Network Access 

How do I set up Zero Trust Network Access? 

To set up Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), you need to integrate advanced security tools, develop a strict access policy, and continuously monitor and adapt to evolving threats. It's essential to plan carefully and consider the unique requirements of your organization to establish a robust Zero Trust Network Access strategy. 

Can Zero Trust Network Access be integrated with existing security systems? 

Yes, Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) can be integrated with existing security systems. The integration process may involve upgrading current systems to support Zero Trust principles or adding new layers of security controls. This integration is to ensure all components of the IT infrastructure work together seamlessly to protect against threats. 

Is Zero Trust network access suitable for remote and hybrid work models? 

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is well-suited for remote and hybrid work models. Its focus on verifying every access request makes it adaptable to environments where users access network resources from various locations and devices.