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Why Firewalls and VPNs Give You a False Sense of Security

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SID BHATIA
February 05, 2024 - 5 min read

Firewalls and VPNs were once hailed as the ultimate solutions for robust enterprise security, but in today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations face a growing number of breaches and vulnerabilities that are outpacing these solutions. Today, the world we work in looks very different from the on-premises era as industries transform how and where work gets done. Firewalls and VPNs are crumbling pillars of a bygone era. They provide a false sense of security because they come with significant weaknesses that put companies at risk—weaknesses that are only realized when embracing digital transformation.

Innovation in generative AI, automation, and IoT/OT technologies across industries is set to continue breaking barriers in 2024. This innovation also opens the door for attackers to automate phishing campaigns, craft evasive malware, reduce the development time of threats using AI, and even sell Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS).

With the growing severity and number of breaches, there’s a heightened concern that VPN vulnerabilities will leave the door open for attackers. According to a Cybersecurity Insider survey, nearly 50% of organizations experienced VPN-related attacks from July 2022 to July 2023, and 90% of organizations are concerned about attackers exploiting third-party vendors to gain backdoor access into their networks through VPNs. 

It’s becoming clear that even the largest organizations with advanced firewalls still fall victim to breaches. Curious to know some of the reasons that firewalls and VPNs are letting organizations down? Read more below.

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A thinner sheet of protection across a larger attack surface

VPNs and firewalls extend the network, increasing the attack surface with public IP addresses as they connect more users, devices, locations, and clouds. Users can now work from anywhere with an internet connection, further extending the network. The proliferation of IoT devices has also increased the number of Wi-Fi access points across this extended network, including that seemingly harmless Wi-Fi connected espresso machine needed for a post-lunch boost, creating new attack vectors to exploit.

ImagePerimeter-based architecture means more work for IT teams

More doesn’t mean better when it comes to firewalls and VPNs. Expanding a perimeter-based security architecture rooted in firewalls and VPNs means more deployments, more overhead costs, more time wasted for IT teams - but less security and less peace of mind. 

Pain also comes in the form of degraded user experience and satisfaction with VPN technology for the entire organization due to backhauling traffic (72% of organizations are slightly to extremely dissatisfied with their VPN experience).

Other challenges like the cost and complexity of patch management, security updates, software upgrades, and constantly refreshing aging equipment as an organization grows are enough to exhaust even the largest and most efficient IT teams. The bigger the network, the more operational complexity and time required.

VPNs and firewalls can’t effectively guard against today’s threat landscape

VPNs and firewalls deployed to protect and defend network access behave a lot like a security guard who sits at the front of a store in order to stop theft. 

Security Guards

Firewalls and VPNs

Stationed at the front door of a valuable store - tasked with identifying and stopping attacks. Can’t monitor all entrances at the same time.

Deployed at key access points to an organization’s network. Can’t stop all the threats across every access point.

Once an attacker gets in, they get access to the entire store.

Permit lateral threat movement by placing users and entities onto the network.

1:few threat detection can’t scale unless you hire a lot of security guards to monitor all entrances.

Can’t inspect encrypted traffic and enforce real-time security policies at scale.

Can be slow, tired, expensive to hire, late for their shift and present a number of other issues that allow threats to go undetected and unanswered.

Suffer from a variety of other challenges related to cost, complexity, operational inefficiency, poor user experiences, organizational rigidity, and more.

 

 

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Much like a lone security guard, VPNs and firewalls can help mitigate some risk, but they can’t keep up with the scale and complexity of the cybercrime of today. Your network is extending exponentially as you digitally transform your organization. With constant attacks on the horizon and a thinner cover of protection, how many million security guards can you hire?

The Zero Trust Exchange delivers on the promise of security

Unlike network-centric technologies like VPNs - zero trust architecture minimizes your attack surface and connects users to the apps they need directly—without putting anyone or anything on the network as a whole.

Zscaler delivers zero trust with its cloud native platform: the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange. The Zero Trust Exchange starts with the premise that no user, workload, or device is inherently trusted. The platform brokers a secure connection between a user, workload, or device and an application—over any network, from anywhere by looking at identity, app policies, and risk.

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As threats grow more dangerous, we can’t rely on a single security guard to keep everybody out anymore. VPNs and firewalls were designed to make organizations feel secure, but with all the evolving threats of today highlighting the cracks in these technologies, IT and security teams are left with a false sense of security.

Truly secure digital transformation can only be delivered by implementing a zero trust architecture. The Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange is the comprehensive cloud platform designed to keep your users, workloads, IoT/OT, and B2B traffic safe in an environment where VPNs and firewalls can’t. 

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If you’d like to learn more, join our webinar that serves as an introduction to zero trust and provides entry-level information about the topic. 

Or, if you’d like to go a level deeper, consider registering for one of our interactive whiteboard workshops for free

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