The Rise of Universal ZTNA

By Jaye Tillson, Field CTO, Distinguished Technologist, HPE Aruba Networking [ Join Cybersecurity Insiders ]

The way we work has drastically changed over the last few years. Our data, users, devices, and applications are now everywhere. Just look at the hybrid workforce. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, by next year, 82% of businesses worldwide will have implemented a hybrid work model.

When you consider that number alone, it’s clear that traditional, office-centric models are no longer fit for purpose. In their place is a new hybrid landscape in which employees seamlessly access resources from anywhere and on multiple devices, including personal and corporate-owned phones, laptops, and more.

This digital transformation, coupled with the aforementioned explosion of hybrid work, the continued growing use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and Operational Technology (OT) systems, demands a comprehensive security overhaul, and this is where Universal ZTNA steps in.

The Genesis of Universal ZTNA

While ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access) has been around for some time, Universal ZTNA represents a more holistic approach. Its roots lie in the limitations of traditional network security. Perimeter-based defenses, designed for a centralized workforce and static infrastructure, are struggling to adapt to the dispersed nature of today’s work environment and the ever-growing number of connected devices, which is leaving businesses susceptible to potential cyber-attacks.

A key turning point came in 2022. That’s when Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner authored a blog post titled “ZTNA Anywhere (Re-thinking Campus Network Security).” In his article, Lerner exposed the disparity between security solutions for traditional networks and those needed for the modern, remote-access world dominated by ZTNA.

This sparked a conversation within the industry, highlighting the need for a more unified ZTNA approach that could secure not just remote users but the ever-increasing attack surface of devices.

Universal ZTNA: A Unifying Force for a Connected World

Universal ZTNA builds upon the core ZTNA principles of least privilege access and continuous verification. However, it extends these principles to encompass all users, devices, and applications, regardless of location or type. Imagine a single, unified security policy governing access for a marketing team member in New York, an engineer working remotely in London, a fleet of delivery vans with route optimization software, and even industrial robots on a factory floor – that’s the power of Universal ZTNA.

Use Cases: Unleashing the Power of Universal ZTNA

Universal ZTNA goes beyond securing just remote users and their devices. Here are some compelling use cases that showcase its versatility in today’s interconnected world:

  • Securing IoT Devices in Manufacturing: Factory floors are teeming with sensors, controllers, and robots that collect and transmit critical data. The impact of these IoT devices is significant, helping address everything from quality control and asset tracking to product optimization and worker safety, all while reducing downtime and increasing efficiency. But they can also introduce security concerns. Universal ZTNA ensures that only authorized devices can access essential systems, reducing the risk of unauthorized modifications or data breaches that could disrupt production.
  • Protecting OT Systems in Critical Infrastructure: Power grids, water treatment plants, and other OT systems offer greater operational flexibility and worker safety but, among other things, introduce new entry points for hackers. Universal ZTNA provides granular access control, ensuring only authorized personnel can manage these critical systems, preventing cyberattacks that could cripple infrastructure.
  • Enabling Secure Remote Maintenance for Industrial Equipment: Field technicians often need to remotely access industrial equipment for maintenance purposes, which can reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Naturally, this can come at a price, including new vulnerabilities. Universal ZTNA allows secure remote connections, eliminating the need for teams to physically visit each site, which can help to reduce downtime.

The Benefits of a Universal Approach

Universal ZTNA offers a compelling value proposition for organizations navigating the complex world of IoT and OT security:

  • Enhanced Security: Least privilege access and continuous verification significantly reduce the attack surface and potential breaches, even for non-traditional devices.
  • Improved Operational Efficiency: Rather than having multiple entry points, it delivers a single, secure remote access point to industrial equipment and systems, streamlining maintenance and troubleshooting processes.
  • Simplified Management: A unified ZTNA policy simplifies security administration for a vast and diverse device landscape by eliminating the need to manage separate policies and utilize multiple enforcement mechanisms and tools for different user groups.
  • Future-Proof Scalability: As your digital ecosystem expands with more connected devices, Universal ZTNA easily scales to accommodate them, which, among other things, delivers significant cost savings.

Universal ZTNA: Building a Secure Foundation for the Future of Work

It’s no surprise that the way people and businesses operate today has changed dramatically, and in this ever-evolving work environment, Universal ZTNA is vital. With Universal ZTNA, organizations can secure their digital assets effectively, encompassing not just employees but the ever-growing web of devices. By adopting a zero-trust approach that transcends location and device type, you can empower your workforce, streamline security operations, and build a robust foundation for a secure digital future in the age of IoT and OT.


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