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SASE vs. Zero Trust: How do they compare?

By NordLayer
17 Nov 2021
7 min read
SASE vs. Zero Trust

SASE vs. Zero Trust

In the digitized world, the importance of cybersecurity is on the verge of becoming an intense rat race. With $190,000 damages suffered every second, organizations and cybercriminals are constantly competing against those looking to succeed by either hacking or securing sensitive data. 

Companies already spend billions to enforce security measures — compared to 2021, the investments will almost double, reaching nearly $460 billion in 2025. The priorities surrounding the management of risks are clear, as major surveys conducted by Gartner and KPMG represent. 

Collected answers of CEOs and CIOs point to a heavy focus shift to security and cloud service solutions, increased by 61% and 53%, respectively — as a cyber security risk is seen as the greatest threat of the organizations over the next three years.

Organizations seem to have acknowledged this issue and are going in the right direction. However, according to an estimate by Cyber Security Ventures, by 2025, cybercriminals will drain $10.5 trillion from companies annually. And this is a global count, including any big corporate and small company, no matter the industry. What are the checkpoints we have now, and what are the possible exits in this situation?

The bad news is that the legacy perimeter network was here for so long that it’s barely an obstacle for cybercriminals to overcome nowadays. Organizations struggle to keep up with the pressure put on them — especially after a significant transition to remote work. Internally, organizations still lack effective procedures to minimize cyber threats caused by human error or insufficient security policies. Unmitigated external and internal risks expose organizations to financial losses and reputational damage.

On the other hand, the modern world is generally switching gear in its mindset and approach to security. More gadgets, wires, and micro schemes aren’t the ultimate answer to all cyber problems anymore. Putting a secure mindset — philosophy, even — in the spotlight made SASE and Zero Trust approaches the new stars of the cyber security world. What are they, and how do they work with each other?

What is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)?

SASE is one of the most recent significant innovations in cloud-delivered networking security. Its importance skyrocketed during the pandemic when solid and consolidated organizations burst into single endpoints worldwide, which became less resistant to threats and much harder to control and manage from a distance. 

SASE aims to minimize complexity — it creates sufficient optimized connectivity for remote users to reach organizational cloud resources by replacing data centers with cloud network security infrastructure. Moreover, it aims to maximize efficiency by implementing a more layered yet unified system of security measures.   

How does Secure Access Service Edge work?

These five core components of SASE describe its fundamental concept — the principle is to combine best in practice network security components:

SD-WAN Service (SD-WAN)

A cloud-adopted network connectivity service for traffic distribution. It increases application performance, levels up network and security quality for lower maintenance costs.

Firewall as a Service (FWaaS)

An element between the network and security layers ensures filtered and monitored user-created traffic flow to the enterprise network. It accomplishes this by eliminating any detected threats created by users that may negatively impact company security.

Secure Web Gateway (SWG)

By tracking down any incoming user-triggered cyber threats that circulate in the traffic — it alerts defense systems to enforce security policies and prevent any incoming risks.

Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)

A secure connection tool for applications and users placed on the cloud, with the ability to constantly monitor the exchange of services and, if required, a Cloud Application Security Broker activates security and data protection policies to ensure organizational compliance.

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)

Embodying the idea of Zero Trust principles, a “trust none, verify all” approach to cybersecurity that controls user access and availability to company resources — lowering exposure to insider threats.

The advantage of the SASE is not only its capability to perform as a cloud-based service, focused on re-enforcing the security and accessibility of the network from any point in the world. It also is flexible enough to allow for the combination of different network security features, as long as it fits into the general framework of the SASE.

The principal goal of SASE in the network

The SASE framework is a cloud-delivered solution that optimizes (let’s be frank, clunky) hardware infrastructure by making it more easily accessible to a remote workforce. It provides more effortless scalability adhering to business needs and helps manage organization security policies at different levels. Infrastructure created on the fundamental structure of SASE requires fewer network resources and investments in the long run and,  most importantly, actually makes an input to cybersecurity effectiveness by binding together data protection and information security from various angles.

Want to find out more about Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)? Read our What is SASE article.

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust, very similarly to SASE, is a network and security solutions framework based on a set of principles regarding how trust levels in an organization are interpreted. The idea of the approach is to stop assuming that anyone who has once entered the network is forever trustworthy. 

Such blind reliability has caused data and security breaches occasionally. However, the great migration to remote work and increased number of cyberattacks provided a reality check to businesses on just how vulnerable this lazy and outdated security model is. 

The mindset of the Zero Trust approach helps crystalize and address the red flags of centralized on-premise perimeter security. The new reality is much more distributed as the mobile perimeter is now created by users and devices attempting access from all over the world. This means that access authentication has to be continuously performed throughout the network since all endpoints are displaced — we can only allege that users with access rights are who they claim to be. Is it worth risking a crisis of insider threats and data leaks instead of simply double-checking?

How is Zero Trust built?

As soon as the concept of Zero Trust becomes a mantra, “trust none, verify all,” there are categories of tools that help successfully implement a Zero-Trust security strategy into the organizational architecture in a consistent way:

Users & devices

Workforce management is a starting point to bring order to the identity verification process — boosting network visibility and security controls on traffic flow. Tools such as MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication),  SSO (Single Sign-On), or IP whitelisting help establish a more layered validation system to provide secure access with extra blockers in the event of phishing or lost credentials. 

Network & applications

The Zero Trust model is not only about not trusting anyone and anything trying to access the network but also questioning the environment where internal and external data is flowing. Splitting and isolating the workplace into smaller segments, and introducing ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access) or 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) enables governance and compliance requirements to use more centralized risk management over access control. 

Automation & analytics

To minimize the potential for human error and improve the effectiveness of taken actions, the automation of a Zero Trust system is a no-brainer. It supports admins in detecting any incoming threats, alerting security protocols in time, and preventing any undesired network intervention. The constant analysis identifies any deviations from standard user patterns and highlights the potential need for improvement.

The right combination of tools allows IT admins to perform a security routine: supervise user and device behaviors, continuously audit compliance to security policies, lower potential breaches, and protect sensitive data. Network traffic becomes more distributed, controlled, and segmented — users can access only what and as much they need to — according to their defined roles. The potential of a breach is low but never a zero; thus, it can be identified and controlled more efficiently as activity logs help identify any irregularities more operatively.

The key role of Zero Trust in the network

Daily tasks are impossible without granting access to an internal company network, applications, or knowledgebase. Zero Trust solutions maintain access control and bring order to essential processes by confirming on users, devices, networks, or applications on case-by-case requests. Proper tools, solutions, and mindsets put an additional lock on the overall security architecture more conveniently and valuably.

Want to find out more about Zero Trust? Read our What is Zero Trust article

Forget SASE vs. Zero Trust — these are two pieces of the same puzzle

Both Zero Trust and SASE are security-targeted infrastructure systems that were created to fulfill the same objectives — to better secure and protect organizations from cyber threats. Neither of these architectures provides a ready-made solution as a platform — they have to be perceived as a mindset on how to modernize the way of thinking to overcome outdated network perimeter solutions and understanding of security. Even though these approaches take angles from different perspectives, Zero Trust and SASE complement each other and are prominent takes on the cybersecurity future.

How do they support each other?

SASE as infrastructure is a security model giant that takes time and resources to be properly integrated. Hence, implemented elements work like a well-oiled machine, establishing improved security measures throughout a company. 

Meanwhile, the Zero Trust approach is relatively simpler to establish but requires more engagement from organization members day-to-day. Improving security levels and protection is why Zero Trust-based tools are often seen as essential parts of SASE — the latter, in return, becomes the environment to accomplish the idea of Zero Trust.

The benefits of implementing SASE and Zero Trust together

Either architecture offers security by design — complex and broad coverage of different components of an upgraded network. These most contemporary, cost and design effective security solutions unify utilization convenience, increase accessibility to more distributed organizations, and enhance application performance quality to the remote perimeter. Zero Trust and SASE bring everything to the cloud and optimize the procedures to enable improved security levels by layering compliance policies in the network. 

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