Zero Trust Data Access as a VPN Alternative

A VPN alternative based on Zero Trust Data Access architecture delivers cutting-edge security, simplified access management, IT-controlled chain of command, file sharing/collaboration functionality, and with Windows integration, enhanced user experience to meet the demands of modern remote work, complex multi-domain hybrid storage structures, data sharing and the proliferation of unstructured data.

19 Advantages of the Zero Trust Data Access VPN Alternative

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What is the Role of the VPN in Modern Business Operations?

VPN Alternative Infographic In the realm of modern business operations, the Virtual Private Network (VPN) has become a widely used tool and enabler for remote work, offering connectivity for employees working from home or offsite locations.  In fact, according to Cybersecurity Insiders, 93% of businesses use VPNs and 41% use 3 or more VPN server gateways.*

The VPN is a network technology that establishes encrypted connections between remote employees’ devices and a centralized corporate network.  It has played a pivotal role in empowering remote work and facilitating the work-from-home (WFH) model for businesses.  With a VPN, employees can connect to their corporate networks from anywhere with internet access. This capability has been particularly crucial during the pandemic, as it allows employees to work from the comfort of their homes.  It ensures that remote workers have the same level of access to resources, applications, and data as they would if they were in the office. This consistency is vital for maintaining productivity and business continuity.

What are the Issues and Challenges of Using VPNs?

Despite their widespread use VPNs have issues and challenges such as increased latency, jitter, packet drops, and are rich targets for cyber attacks. Due to the lack of better alternatives, organizations have accepted these compromises.  Some issues and challenges include:

Outdated Perimeter-Based Access Control Model

  • VPNs rely on a perimeter-based security model, where users connect to the corporate network by tunneling through a secure gateway. Once inside the network, users often have broad access privileges based on their network location or role, assuming that anyone inside the network can be trusted.

Lack of Access Granularity

  • VPNs grant access at a network level, meaning once a user is connected, they have access to the entire network as if they were physically present in the office. This lack of access granularity can pose significant security risks, as users may inadvertently or maliciously access sensitive resources.

Inadequate Security Posture

  • VPNs primarily authenticate users during the initial connection, but they may not continually assess the security posture of connected devices or users. Once a user is authenticated, they can potentially move laterally within the network without further scrutiny, making it challenging to detect and respond to security threats effectively.

Ineffective Network Architecture

  • VPNs are deployed within a traditional network architecture, where the corporate network is often considered a trusted zone, and security controls are concentrated at the perimeter. This approach can leave organizations vulnerable to insider threats and may not adequately protect against advanced cyberattacks.

Weak User Experience

  • VPNs lead to a less user-friendly experience due to the need to establish and manage connections. Users may encounter configuration issues, connection drops, and latency, which can impact productivity and frustrate remote workers.

Lack of File Sharing Capability

  • VPNs do not provide file-sharing capability. Additional products and solutions are needed, leading to additional costs and potential complexity in providing file-sharing capability.

High Costs

  • Costs are not just for the VPN service purchased by also include the management challenges associated. VPNs require ongoing effort to maintain their security and functionality, which can add significantly to the overall cost of using this technology.

Ongoing Management Challenges

1. Constant Maintenance and Patching

      • Since they are a rich target for malicious actors, VPNs require constant patching, updates, and maintenance to address security vulnerabilities. This ongoing effort incurs costs in terms of both financial resources and human resources, as IT teams must dedicate time and effort to ensure the VPN infrastructure remains robust and resilient.

2. Excessive Complexity

      • Setting up and maintaining a VPN can be complex. This complexity can result in a higher likelihood of configuration errors and support requests.

3. Sluggish Performance

      • VPN connections introduce latency, impacting the real-time performance required for tasks like CAD work. Sluggish connections can lead to delays and decreased productivity.

4. Less Effective Scalability

      • VPNs become less efficient as the number of remote users increases. Managing a large number of concurrent VPN connections can strain network resources and lead to performance bottlenecks.

5. Poor IT Granularity and Governance


      • VPNs allow access as if the user were in the office on the network without granular control over what can and cannot be accessed. This lack of fine-grained control makes it challenging to restrict access to specific files or folders.

6. Poor Management Controls Over Contractors

      • It is difficult to manage, control, and limit contractor access through VPNs.


A Better VPN Alternative – Zero Trust Data Access

VPN Alternative infographic Due to the issues and compromises of VPNs, 15% of organizations have already moved to a zero trust-based VPN alternative, and another 59% plan to do so in the next 12 months.

What is Zero Trust Data Access?

Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) is a VPN alternative that provides secure access to files and folders for authorized users in a zero-trust environment. The fundamental principle of Zero Trust Data Access is that access to data should be granted only on a need-to-know basis, and every access request should be authenticated and authorized against policy before granting access. Under the Zero Trust Data Access model, every data access request is verified against a set of rules that dictate what data can be accessed, and by whom.

A zero trust data access architecture is designed to:

  • Protect access to a network segment, application, or data without providing access to the organization’s network infrastructure
  • Provide IT the tools they need to control that access
  • Protect the transfer of information and communications
  • Allow for only authorized access and,
  • Protect user credentials.

Like a VPN zero trust data access establishes encrypted connections between remote employees’ devices and a centralized corporate network over the Internet, however, the connection is made through a zero trust architecture that does not allow direct access to resources.  It goes beyond a VPN in that it also provides access to cloud-hosted repositories, FTP repositories, SharePoint repositories, and on-premises storage over multiple domains.  Like a VPN, employees can connect to their corporate resources from anywhere with internet access, however, their access can be controlled and restricted by management according to Least Privilege Principles and IT chain-of-command.  It also provides file-sharing capability and because all actions are controlled by a zero trust server, all actions are recorded for forensic investigation and for output to the SIEM to detect ransomware attacks in process.

ZTDA Architecture

Diagram 1
The Zero Trust Data Access Architecture


19 Advantages of the Zero Trust Data Access VPN Alternative

Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise offers a modern and superior VPN alternative. By rethinking the way organizations grant access to their data and resources, ZTDA provides solutions that mitigate the complexities and limitations associated with VPNs:

What are the Benefits of Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) as a VPN Alternative?

There are several benefits to an organization of adopting Zero Trust Data Access as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise as a VPN alternative, including:

1. Brings Cutting Edge Security

  • Zero Trust Data Access provides a more comprehensive and adaptive security approach than traditional perimeter-based models, by ensuring that every access request is authenticated and authorized before granting access. This can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and cyber-attacks.

2. Reduces the Risk of Ransomware

3. Delivers Regulatory Compliance

  • Zero Trust Data Access can help organizations comply with data privacy regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, CIRCI, CMMC, ISO 27001, DORA and ENISA (European Union Agency for Cybersecurity), ensuring that only authorized users can access sensitive data.

4. Eases the Risk of Insider Threats

  • Insider threats, such as employees or contractors accessing data without proper authorization, can be difficult to detect and prevent. Zero Trust Data Access can help mitigate these risks by ensuring that users are only given access to the files and folders they need to perform their job duties.

5. Simplifies Management

  • Zero Trust Data Access can simplify security management by providing a single, unified security approach that applies to all users.

6. Improves User Experience

  • While prioritizing security, by federating storage and integrating into Windows, Zero Trust Data Access as implemented by FileFlex provides a seamless and user-friendly experience that is part of their already established workflows, ensuring that legitimate users can access data efficiently.

7. Expands Data Governance

  • Zero Trust Data Access enforces granular access controls and policies based on user roles and permissions. IT managers can define and enforce data access policies consistently across various data sources, promoting effective data governance.

8. Microsoft ecosystem Federates Disparate Storage Repositories in Windows

  • By providing a unified access control solution federated across on-premises, cloud-hosted and SharePoint storage in Windows, Zero Trust Data Access as implemented by FileFlex simplifies and unifies access and sharing management across diverse data repositories. IT managers can centrally manage access and sharing permissions, reducing the administrative burden and improving operational efficiency.

9. Improves Data Visibility and Control

  • Zero Trust Data Access as implemented by FileFlex produces a detailed activity log over all access and sharing activities of unstructured data. When imported into the SIEM this offers visibility into data access and sharing patterns, allowing IT managers to monitor user behavior and detect unusual activities. This helps identify potential security threats and ensures that data is accessed only by authorized individuals.

10. Reduces Complexity

  • Zero Trust streamlines access management by providing a unified approach to authentication, authorization, and access control. IT managers can simplify their access management strategies, reducing complexity in managing diverse access methods.

11. Enables Secure Collaboration

  • Zero Trust Data Access enables secure data sharing and collaboration by implementing access controls based on user roles and needs. This facilitates teamwork while ensuring data security.

12. Reduces Infrastructure Load

  • Zero Trust Data Access can scale to accommodate the growing volume of unstructured data and diverse storage locations. IT managers can implement a consistent access control framework that adapts to changing data requirements. Since it allows sharing from a centralized location it reduces the need to make copies for sharing and decreases the requirement to scale infrastructure, storage and bandwidth.

13. Supplies Granular Control Over Contractor Access

  • Organizations can grant contractors and gig-based workers access to specific resources based on micro-segmentation and least privilege principles without exposing the entire network. Access can be easily revoked when it’s no longer needed, reducing the risk associated with providing access to external parties.

14. Provides Centralized Control with Decentralized Administration

  • The zero trust and management console allows IT administrators to provide subsidiaries, partners and supply chains to add their own storage repositories and users as siloed tenants while the centralized IT administrator maintains control, visibility and access over all tenants.

15. Provides Granular File and Folder Micro-Segmentation

  • Zero Trust Data Access micro-segmentation to the file and folder level offers several benefits and plays a crucial role in strengthening network security with strong user and device authentication, least privilege, and activity logging. It improves network security, aids defense against advanced threats, strengthens compliance and data privacy, facilitates incident containment and response, and provides scalability and flexibility in securing modern network architectures.

16. Does Not Permit Direct Access to Infrastructure

  • Users and share recipients cannot access the storage infrastructure. All requests are sent to a zero trust server, which authenticates the user, checks the request against permissions for that user and then contacts a connector agent. That connector agent fulfills the request, encrypts it, and sends it back to the user via the server thereby abstracting the user from the infrastructure.

17. Delivers Secure File Sharing

  • Unlike the VPN which cannot provide file-sharing capabilities, zero trust data access as implemented by FileFlex includes secure file-sharing capabilities, eliminating the need for additional products and purchases. Users can securely share files and collaborate without relying on separate file-sharing platforms. This not only simplifies the technology stack but also enhances security by ensuring that file-sharing activities are aligned with Zero Trust principles.

18. Creates an IT Controlled Chain-of-Command


  • The management console allows IT administrators to control access to the storage users can access with granular control over permission levels micro-segmented down to file level to protect PHI, PII and confidential data.

19. Low-Cost Model

  • Based on a low-cost subscription model, it saves on VPN, maintenance, upgrading and patching costs, bandwidth and duplication of files and cloud storage costs.


Conclusion: A Transformative Shift from VPN to Zero Trust Data Access

In response to the challenges and limitations of traditional Virtual Private Networks, businesses are increasingly turning to VPN alternative solutions that are based on Zero Trust architectures. Zero Trust Data Access as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise offers cutting-edge security, simplifies access management, provides an IT-controlled chain of command, adds file sharing/collaboration functionality, and with Windows integration, enhances user experience while addressing the challenges, issues and complexities associated with VPNs. It’s a strategic shift that empowers organizations to navigate the evolving landscape of remote work and data security with confidence.

For further information, read What is Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA)?,  How Zero Trust Data Access Addresses the Problems Created by the Proliferation of Unstructured Data, or Why replacing FTP with ZTDA is a No-Brainer.


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Tom Ward is the VP of Marketing for Qnext Corp. He is an expert in the technology industry with a history of achievement. Tom holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University.