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Network Access Control

Network Access Control (NAC) is a computer networking solution that uses a set of protocols to define and implement a policy that describes how to secure access to network nodes by devices when they initially attempt to access the network. NAC might integrate the automatic remediation process (fixing non-compliant nodes before allowing access) into the network systems, allowing the network infrastructure such as routers, switches and firewalls to work together with back office servers and end user computing equipment to ensure the information system is operating securely before interoperability is allowed.

Network Access Control aims to do exactly what the name implies—control access to a network with policies, including pre-admission endpoint security policy checks and post-admission controls over where users and devices can go on a network and what they can do.

Goals of NAC

Because NAC represents an emerging category of security products its definition is both evolving and controversial. The overarching goals of the concept can be distilled as:

  • Mitigation of non-zero-day attacks.
  • Authorization, Authentication and Accounting of network connections.
  • Encryption of traffic to the wireless and wired network using protocols for 802.1X such as EAP-TLS, EAP-PEAP or EAP-MSCHAP.
  • Role-based controls of user, device, application or security posture post authentication.
  • Automation with other tools to define network role based on other information such as known vulnerabilities, jailbreak status etc.
    The main benefit of NAC solutions is to prevent end-stations that lack antivirus, patches, or host intrusion prevention software from accessing the network and placing other computers at risk of cross-contamination of computer worms.
  • Policy enforcement
    NAC solutions allow network operators to define policies, such as the types of computers or roles of users allowed to access areas of the network, and enforce them in switches, routers, and network middleboxes.
  • Identity and access management
    Where conventional IP networks enforce access policies in terms of IP addresses, NAC environments attempt to do so based on authenticated user identities, at least for user end-stations such as laptops and desktop computers.
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