The emergence of zero trust network access in remote and hybrid work

Nov. 15, 2023
New innovative technologies in remote and hybrid work have fueled the need for ZTNA to ensure a secure and productive work environment.

Over the last five years, we have witnessed a transformational shift in the way we work and how we secure our digital environments. Central to this transformation has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which, as we all know by now, has had a massive impact on the makeup of our current remote workforce. 
Research on this “new-look” workforce is everywhere. I recently read a study from Stanford University. According to its research, 12 percent of workers are fully remote, roughly 60 percent entirely in-person, and 28 percent hybrid. Numbers like this are catalyzing new innovative technologies, with the biggest and most high-profile example being video conferencing services like Zoom. 
However, the impact of this shift can also be seen through the many new advancements in IT and security technologies. In this article, I will explore the rise of remote and hybrid work models and the critical emergence of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) in ensuring a secure and productive work environment.

The Remote Work Revolution

The onset of the pandemic forced organizations worldwide to not only shift to remote work but to act and then adapt in the blink of an eye. What was once considered a nice-to-have, flexible work option available to the few suddenly became a mandated work requirement that affected us all. In doing so, it immediately put the spotlight on the critical role technology plays in enabling remote work.

Remote work saw a massive surge in the utilization of collaboration tools such as video conferencing, team messaging, and cloud-based document sharing. Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Slack became essential tools for seamless communication and collaboration. Just think about how often you used these tools three or four ago versus the role they play in your everyday work.

With the remote work transition came brand new challenges in terms of networking and security, with a large focus being on employee well-being. Now in unchartered territory, IT professionals worked tirelessly to ensure secure remote access while troubleshooting any issues that arose.

The Rise of Hybrid Work

While remote work offered a newfound flexibility and efficiency, it also highlighted the value of in-person interactions. Consequently, we began to witness the emergence of hybrid work models, the blending of remote and on-site work. As you can see from the Stanford research, these models are gaining momentum.

Hybrid work models allow employees to enjoy the benefits of remote work while fostering collaboration through periodic in-person meetings. This approach seeks to strike a balance between productivity and human connection.

On its surface, hybrid work seems like a huge win for everyone. But let's not forget that under the hood, it introduces new complexities. Specifically with regard to IT infrastructure. Now, organizations need to maintain secure, seamless connectivity for both remote and on-site employees. It also necessitates advanced solutions to ensure data privacy and security.

The Emergence of ZTNA

As remote and hybrid work became the new norm, the limitations of traditional network security models took center stage and for all the wrong reasons. That’s because teams realized that in the hybrid era, they were no longer sufficient. This has spurred the emergence of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) as a game-changing security paradigm.

  • Zero Trust Principles: ZTNA operates on the principle of "never trust, always verify." It assumes that no one, whether inside or outside the organization, should be automatically trusted. Instead, access to resources is granted based on strict identity verification and continuous monitoring.
  • Secure Access Anywhere: ZTNA ensures secure access to corporate resources from anywhere, regardless of the user's location or device. It leverages strong authentication methods and granular access controls to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Adaptation to Changing Threats: ZTNA's dynamic approach continually assesses the security posture of devices and users. It then adapts to evolving threats in real time. In today's threat landscape, where cybercriminals are evolving in sophistication and constantly shifting tactics and targets, this agility is essential.

The Future of Work and Security

As we move forward, the convergence of remote and hybrid work models with advanced security technologies like ZTNA will shape the future of work and security. This evolution presents opportunities and challenges that organizations must embrace.

  1. Continuous Innovation: The pace of technological innovation will continue to accelerate. In fact, I’m willing to wager that this speed of innovation will reach entirely new levels. This will create greater urgency for organizations to stay updated with the latest IT and security solutions. Businesses that can’t keep up with them will become less competitive and more vulnerable to cyberattacks. 
  2. Resilience and Adaptability: Resilience and adaptability will be key and essential organizational traits. That’s because together, this one-two combination will allow businesses to navigate uncertainties while maintaining productivity and security.
  3. Investment in Human Capital: Equipping employees with the skills and knowledge to work securely and do so in remote and hybrid environments will be essential. Training and awareness programs will play a crucial role in ensuring that, for example, employees are aware of the latest cyber threats and know what to look for, how to act, and more. Based on recent research, companies are doing an excellent job–research from the Farmer School of Business at Miami University found that remote employees demonstrate higher levels of cybersecurity awareness than their colleagues who work primarily in the office. The key will be for businesses to maintain these efforts.

A Seismic Shift

The last five years have witnessed a seismic shift in how we work and secure our digital environments. The rise of remote and hybrid work models, along with the emergence of Zero Trust Network Access, has redefined the landscape of work and security, and one thing is clear, this new way of working is not going away.

That means businesses must continue to adapt to the evolving world of work or else suffer the consequences. This means they must be committed to innovation, resilience, and security. In fact, I’m willing to wager that these three elements will be the cornerstones of success for organizations in this new era.

About the Author: Jaye Tillson is a Field CTO at Axis Security and has 20+ years of experience implementing strategic global technology programs, helping organizations achieve digital transformation, and guiding businesses through their zero-trust journey. Jaye is passionate about working with large enterprises on their strategic journey towards zero trust, where he can bring forth real-world experience on issues and problems.

About the Author

Jaye Tillson

Jaye Tillson is a director of strategy at Axis Security and has more than 20 years of experience implementing strategic global technology programs, helping organizations achieve digital transformation and guiding businesses through their zero-trust journey.