NordLayer - Network Security

Beyond the VPN — What is Secure Network Access?

By NordLayer
21 Jun 2021
7 min read
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You’ve probably heard of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) before, and it’s likely you’re aware of the benefits this security software offers. For a while now, VPNs have been a staple of a standard security setup for individuals and businesses alike. But in a shifting climate, especially in the world of business, VPNs are becoming less fit-for-purpose than they once were — and we’ll elaborate on this shortly. 

But before we do, let's refresh our memories for a second. A cloud-based VPN provides an encrypted tunnel from an employee’s endpoint — be it a mobile phone, laptop, or any other device. You can connect them all to your corporate network while ensuring your resources and data aren’t open and available to the broader internet, keeping them safe and secure. 

VPNs themselves are nothing new; in fact, they’ve been around since 1996 when Microsoft created a point-to-point tunneling protocol, also known as peer-to-peer tunneling protocol or PPTN. These protocols are also widely used for torrenting, and other file-sharing systems but primarily for data privacy and security purposes. 

Why you need more than a VPN — data security explained

While VPNs are great at what they do, their scope is limited in the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape. However, the role of a decentralized workforce is evident in 2021 — it’s essential. 

With the rise of remote work, employees have seen some significant benefits, such as working flexible hours, spending more time with their families, and being able to work more comfortably at home. 

However, there is a downside – the risks associated with such decentralization are greater than ever before. Unencrypted networks, unlisted websites, and slow speeds, even unauthorized users continue to access confidential corporate data. In fact, global losses from cybercrime now total over $1 trillion. In addition, the rise in ransomware and malware attacks targeted at unprotected corporate networks in recent years has also proved to be a significant threat to today’s distributed workforces.

Even before 2020 brought the world to a standstill, the office environment has become less centralized than ever, with the rise of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications for businesses. Since then, though, this decentralization has accelerated to the point where it’s unlikely we’ll ever go back to working the way we did before. 

The notable shift towards cloud-based environments has seen businesses choose to migrate their network complexities to a central space — one that widens previously restricted perimeters and accommodates distributed endpoints on the network. As such, the safety of company data is just as important as protecting the company network.

Business owners now require more advanced solutions than a VPN alone to have the visibility and control needed to manage their access permissions on the company network. 

Secure Network Access

When businesses need to adopt new ways of securing their data and environments, no stone should be left unturned. That’s why NordLayer is expanding beyond being just a Business VPN and shifting to align with SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) network capabilities.

What is Network Access Security?

Traditional IT network security is based on the castle-and-moat concept. It isn’t easy to gain entry from outside the network in simple terms, but everyone inside the perimeter is already deemed trustworthy. The problem with this approach is that once an attacker gains access to the network, they have free reign over everything inside.

Suppose you’re in a leadership position in your company. In that case, you want your employees (whether permanent, contracted, or freelance) to be able to access the applications and resources they need to do their job. At the same time, you’re probably conscious of how far their reach within your network should be. If everybody has access to your most valued assets, by default, you are compromising their safety with such frivolous freedoms. 

This is where Network Access Security comes in. Modern solutions such as NordLayer are built with the ‘Zero Trust’ principle in mind — ‘deny all, permit some.’ In other words, every user should not be trusted until their identity is verified. As a result, secure access security solutions make it much easier and safer to provide employees with the exact resources and applications they need. At the same time, they ensure that employees don’t access data or assets that are confidential to the company.

How does it work?

Secure network access lets you determine the permission boundaries of every resource on your network. Every user or device attempting to access resources on a private network also goes through a strict identification check, whether they sit inside or outside of the network.

That way, should a user be granted access, they’re still only limited to the specific areas of the network that you assign them to. Paired with authentication methods such as 2FA and ensuring everyone follows security best practices for business, it can vastly reduce the potential for damage from a data breach (or a breach even occurring).

While VPN technology still has its place in a robust security setup, Secure Network Access is central to the gold-standard Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) model, with which modern businesses should be aligning themselves.

What does NordLayer Secure Network Access offer businesses?

As we know already, businesses working with third parties, freelancers, or specialists face a serious security risk when company resources are readily available on the network. NordLayer enables you to control access to dedicated servers with fixed IPs — allowing you to set up secure access to cloud resources.

NordLayer also allows for the creation of private gateways and IP allowlists (whitelists) to combat such situations. Managing and changing the permissions of team members is very simple — it’s all done through one easy-to-use, centralized Control Panel, where you can manage user accounts, create custom gateways, and track activities like connections/disconnections to the network.

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