What is NAC? Network Access Control Explained
Network access control (NAC) is a security software that businesses can use to control the amount and level of access to their networks.
According to WiFi engineers and IT security professionals, NAC is the most recommended solution to solve the security challenges of today’s BYOD and IoT-filled network environments.
The top benefits of network access control include increasing network visibility, reducing cyber threats, and drastically improving network performance.
So, whether you are worried about your next big network security audit or IoT devices overrunning your network, network access control can help.
How Does Network Access Control work?
To understand how it can help, we first must understand how it works.
The license of the NAC solution that you bought would be uploaded on to either a physical server or a virtual machine (aka a virtual server).
However, you will need a professional certified in the implementation of that product to get things rolling—NAC isn’t something that you can just download and carry out yourself.
Then, network access control works by utilizing your Active Directory (or other directory system/multi-authentication platforms) and allows you to create a list of rules—or policies— that it enforces on each device that attempts access to your network.
That way you can provide different levels of access to the network based on who you are and what you need.
For example, if you work at a college and you’re a network admin, you would have the most access to the network, while a CMO would have less access but still more than a college student, and a college student would have more access than a guest to the network.
Think of NAC as your bouncer and your network is the nightclub that everyone wants to get into. The bouncer is looking at your ID, making sure that you’re on the list, seeing if your outfit adheres to the dress code, etc. Then, depending on your level of celebrity status, determines what level of the club you’re allowed to go to—all the way up to the VIP lounge.
Why Invest in a NAC Solution?
Many organizations tend to tackle network security in pieces—a firewall here and an anti-virus solution there. However, using completely separate systems for managing access permissions creates mass disorganization and a lot of administration overhead.
Network access control allows for a complete centralized approach to the security of your network.
In the old days of wired connections and computer labs, security policies were strict and easy to maintain. You knew what devices you had to support and where they were because you purchased them, and they never moved.
However, with the increase of IoT and BYOD initiatives, the increase of security and cyberthreats have also increased.
And with great technological power comes great network responsibility.
IT teams now have a great challenge: “How can I monitor network traffic for malicious behavior and still provide scalable access to the network?”
NAC is the best answer and should be the security solution that is at the top of everyone’s security must-haves list.
Here are the 3 top reasons why you should invest in a network access control solution:
- To gain visibility on the network
- To reduce cyber threats
- To improve network performance
1. To Gain Visibility on the Network
Managing access to your network starts with having proper visibility.
If you can’t see who or what is accessing your network and where they’re trying to go, then it’s going to be difficult to deliver a reliable and secure network experience.
Network access control allows you to identify who, what, where, when, and how an end-user or device is accessing your network.
- Who: Who is the end-user and are they a known user inside of your active directory?
- What: What is the end-user trying to access on your network?
- Where: Where are they connecting to the network?
(The office, the cafeteria, hotel room, dorms)
- When: When are your end-users or IoT devices accessing the network?
Knowing this will also give you insights into when they are most active and least active, helping you to distribute bandwidth more efficiently.
- How: How your end-users are accessing your network (smartphones, laptops, tablets)?
This also includes what IoT devices/systems are accessing your network (security cameras, vending machines, HVAC, scanners, printers, POS systems, etc.)
With each employee bringing on average 3 mobile devices with them—not to mention all the IoT devices that your business might have—it’s critical to have as much visibility on the network as possible.
2. To Reduce Cyber Threats
Cybercrime is up 600% due to the COVID pandemic, according to Purplesec’s 2021 trend report.
Any network security vulnerabilities that can be easy-picking for a malicious actor. Network access control helps reduce cyber threats in two ways: role-based access control and limiting the scope of malware.
A feature of NAC is role-based access control, which assigns the correct corresponding role for each user/device.
Role-based Access Control ( also known as RBAC) is a security model where users are given assigned roles based on their role in the company.
If you’ve ever used parental controls for monitoring a child’s internet use, RBAC is similar but on a more finite and larger scale.
With pre-determined policies and assigned roles, role-based access control allows you to customize the right wireless experience for each type of end-user/device accessing your network.
When reducing cyber threats, NAC consists of two key steps: authentication and authorization.
Authentication is when the system verifies the based on credentials, while authorization is when the system accepts or denies access based on the policies in place. A user needs to pass both steps in order to achieve the access requested to the network.
The process of assigning and enforcing security policies based on those roles (aka endpoint integrity) , allows you to control the behaviors of all of the devices trying to access your network.
The second way that network access control increases security is by limiting the scope of malicious behavior.
According to Kaspersky: 360,000 new malicious files are being downloaded accidentally by employees everyday! So even an authorized user can accidentally have turned their device rogue by opening up a bad email, which can spread throughout the network without proper access controls.
Network access control can ensure intellectual property and sensitive data are protected from unauthorized use, capture, or modification. In other words, even if the device/user has access to a certain piece of information inside the network, if they are prevented from “acting improperly” with it (for example, copying and pasting that information to another device).
So network access control ensure that your end-users are adhering to the terms of service, as well as making sure that viruses aren’t being unintentionally (or intentionally) spread across your network.
3. To Improve Network Performance
A benefit of network access control that is not often thought about is how it can improve the performance of your network.
Oftentimes, businesses add multiple SSIDs for staff as a way of getting around implementing a NAC tool. It can do the job at a basic level (without the granularity of NAC), however, every SSID that you put into the air takes up bandwidth. So each time you give out a different password for a different end-user on your network, you’re severely crippling the performance of everyone.
With the role-based access control feature of a NAC solution, you can have all staff be on the same SSID because you have policy enforcements based on their role within the company. For example, you can give the IT team more access to the network than the Chief Marketing Officer.
Each SSID that you reduce will give you, roughly, a 10% of bandwidth back. In instances of more complex environments—a hospital, for example— might use up to 7 or 8 SSIDs. But by implementing a NAC solution, we’ve given some companies 40-50% bandwidth back just by taking out the overhead created by those additional SSIDs.
You can also create role-specific bandwidth contracts that will limit or reserve rates depending on your role. This is used to give certain applications or certain users priority over your traffic over others, like an employee over a guest or a business application over iTunes or Snapchat.
Network access control is not only a security enhancement, but also a performance enhancement.
Network Access Control Solution Checklist
When it’s time to purchase a NAC solution and you are discussing your options with multiple vendors, here’s a list of question you should have handy:
- What kind of network visibility does the solution offer my business?
- Can it integrate with my existing infrastructure?
- How adaptable is it for future infrastructure changes?
- How much does it enforce?
- Does it fulfill my compliance needs?
- How complex is the deployment process?
- Does the solution offer real support and not just community-based support?
- How much will the complete NAC solution cost?
- Are there any proactive tools included?
If you have questions about NAC or would like to discuss implementing your security strategy with network access control, feel free to give us a call: 205-987-8711