Johannesburg, 21 Jun 2023
The past 10 years have witnessed a metamorphosis in the cyber security landscape. The transition from conventional virtual private networks (VPNs) to the zero trust model represents one of the most significant changes. Prompted by the rapid integration of cloud services and the escalation of remote working – particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic – organisations worldwide, including those in South Africa, are questioning the continued relevance of VPNs.
Zero trust is an innovative security concept, underpinned by the 'never trust, always verify' principle. It refrains from automatically trusting any user or device, irrespective of their location in relation to the organisation's network. This approach is especially pertinent in today's world, where the traditional reliance on perimeter-based security measures is no longer enough.
Gone are the days of manually dialling into traditional VPNs, as zero trust keeps the system constantly engaged as long as the user's device meets posture checks. With this approach, users can bid farewell to the hassle of broad network access and instead enjoy the privilege of specific network access tailored to their needs. This makes it an excellent choice for both remote and internal workloads in today's hybrid landscape, with stringent authentication and verification, regardless of a user’s location.
Take the ubiquitous scenario of remote working. A traditional VPN affords employees remote access to the organisation's internal network, typically secured by a username and password. But the risk is evident: once authenticated, the user enjoys broad access – an inherent vulnerability if the credentials are compromised. In stark contrast, zero trust continuously validates identity. Each access request is treated as if it emanates from an untrusted network, irrespective of the user’s location or device. This method minimises potential unauthorised access and obstructs lateral movement within the network.
Third-party access represents another crucial use case. It is commonplace for organisations to provide third-party vendors with network access, a practice fraught with security risk. Zero trust mitigates this risk by deploying a least-privileged access strategy, allowing vendors access only to the specific resources they require.
When it comes to disk encryption, zero trust takes the reins, safeguarding data and ensuring compliance with regulations such as POPIA. It also seamlessly complements multi-factor authentication (MFA) and two-factor authentication (2FA), and ensures the authenticity and integrity of digital certificates. Additionally, outdated or unpatched applications find refuge inside of a zero trust model, preventing unauthorised access and minimising the risks of exploitation.
So, is the VPN dead? Not just yet. However, its relevance is gradually diminishing in light of these contemporary security challenges. While VPNs remain integral to many organisations, the tide is slowly turning towards the adoption of more sophisticated and fine-grained security measures, such as zero trust.
For South African businesses, the embrace of zero trust could represent a wise investment, given the country's digital progression. The rapid expansion of digital enterprises and the movement towards a distributed workforce means that collaboration through platforms like MS Teams and remote access to CRM Tools is elevated with a controlled environment for communication and data sharing.
Zero trust architectures not only deliver the required security, but also provide improved visibility, governance and control over data and systems. They effectively mitigate the risks associated with insider threats and sophisticated cyber attacks.
Furthermore, the financial impact of data breaches in South Africa is escalating. A zero trust model could help lower this financial risk by bolstering preventive measures and rapidly detecting any anomalous behaviour. Yet, the shift demands organisational change and investment. Is it worth it? For businesses aiming to safeguard their digital assets and maintain business continuity, the answer is a resounding yes. A well-implemented zero trust model can provide a competitive edge, fortifying organisations against the evolving landscape of cyber threats.
The decline of VPNs and the rise of zero trust symbolises a paradigm shift in cyber security. It's a transformative journey that South African businesses must undertake to thrive in this digital era. The question isn't whether zero trust is worth the investment. Rather, it's whether businesses can afford not to make that investment.
Speak to Maxtec to see how you can secure your networks with zero trust access.
Maxtec are distributors of market leading data security technologies that are trusted around the globe.We empower our South African and SADC IT Partners with best-in-class solutions, support services, and managed services to enhance their cybersecurity offerings and secure their customers’ data.