What Is Network Access Control (NAC)?
A Beginner’s Guide to Network Access Control
A network access control (NAC) system is a network solution that allows only authenticated, compliant, and reliable endpoint nodes, users, and devices to gain access to corporate networks and otherwise restricted access areas. Once devices are connected, these systems provide visibility into what is on the network, on both managed and unmanaged devices.
NAC systems also control where users may go on a network once they have been granted access. This process is also known as segmentation, which takes larger networks and compartmentalizes them into smaller pieces or networks.
Why We Need Network Access Control
It is always important to know who or what is accessing the network in a corporation and how that access is being used.
Over the past decade, the number of devices within any organization has risen sharply, whether company-issued or unmanaged BYOD devices. Businesses must account for so many more devices seeking network access. As many of these devices unmanaged, they present additional security risk which is why we call on NAC to keep networks safe from unauthorized, non-compliant devices from connecting.
With the right implementation, businesses can also experience important device visibility and compliance capabilities essential to strengthening network security.
When a NAC system denies access to non-compliant devices and users, it places them in a quarantined area or only allows them restricted access to computing resources. This keeps insecure devices from entering, infecting, and compromising the network.
Here are additional reasons network access control is vital:
- Protects employees with a safe working environment.
- Reduces potential for data theft by restricting and monitoring access.
- Allows for an easier method of granting access to visitors and contractors, ensuring everyone using the network is logged and recorded.
What Network Access Control Does for Businesses
Here are some capabilities of network access control solutions:
- Manages guest networking access via customizable self-service portals, such as guest sponsoring, guest registration, and guest authentication.
- Offers visibility by profiling, identifying, and recognizing users and their devices before there is any chance of encountering a malicious code that can cause damage.
- Evaluates and performs security posture check to ensure security and policy compliance according to the user, device, and operating system type.
- Mitigates network security risks by instantly enforcing company-designed security policies that block, isolate, and repair non-compliant devices without administrator attention.
- Creates segments in networks, known as network segmentation, through VLANs and subnets. VLANs, or virtual local area networks, construct smaller network segments that virtually connect the hosts. Subnets use IP addresses to separate a network into smaller subnets, connected through networking devices.
Why Network Access Control Is Still Important
Network access control has existed since the early 2000s, building and evolving over the years to accommodate equally evolving technologies. Its protocols, tools, and features have served as the foundation for fortifying and centralizing network security.
Originally used to block unauthorized devices from an internal or data center network, these control systems are rising to meet the security challenges that accompany an ever-increasing digital age.
As medical and IoT devices and BYODs become an increasing presence in everyday and business environments, they also become crucial security risks. A robust NAC solution is essential.
The healthcare industry is at the forefront in adopting and implementing a broad array of technological advances, including medical devices for patients. They are IP-enabled and coming online at a rapid pace, making it critical for hospital network administrators to identify every device that is active on the network. These control solutions make this effort quick and efficient to identify devices from potential threats. Healthcare organizations take their NAC responsibilities seriously to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations.
IoT technology includes the billions of IoT devices connected to the internet, like the medical devices mentioned above, without any type of human action. These devices can serve as an additional entry access point for attackers to infiltrate a network.
Industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and many others recognize that IoT is becoming more and more important to their business.
With adequate network access control, businesses can reduce IoT-specific security risks by providing visibility, profiling, and access management for optimal control over network access.
Most important, network access control solutions continually monitor IoT activity to ensure compliance with the business’s security and policies.
Bring your own device (BYOD) has become a powerful force behind remote work capabilities. Employees and management can use their own mobile devices, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets to work from any location, inside or outside the office. Since BYODs access company resources such as printers and shared files from home or wireless networks, NAC ensures compliance for all BYODs before reaching and entering the network.
All Businesses Need Network Access Control (NAC)
Although each business is unique and approaches NAC individually, it is important to keep the various users and devices in mind and accounted for at all times.
Most businesses do have a few key requirements when choosing NAC, which include preventing unauthorized users and devices from accessing the network, creating a log of each access event, and keeping a record of everything in a central and easily accessible location.
It is also important to ensure that remote users understand the company’s security policies and that NAC serves as a backup to enforce those policies. Finally, IT leaders need a solution that quarantines unhealthy or compromised machines.
NAC includes enhanced access controls that minimize the risk of lateral movement, and provides visibility and protection over your network environment.