Network access control is defined as an enterprise security solution used to assess, manage, enforce, and optimize security and authentication policies through different measures like endpoint security, user access authentication, and network security policies. This article explains network access control, its key components, and best practices.
Table of Contents
- What Is Network Access Control?
- Key Components of Network Access Control
- Top 7 Best Practices for Network Access Control in 2021
Network access control is an enterprise security solution used to assess, manage, enforce, and optimize security and authentication policies through different measures like endpoint security measures, user access authentication, and network security policies.
Essentially, network access control aims to build a security fortress through which unauthorized users, illegitimate device activity, and network-based threats cannot penetrate. At one point in time, network access control was all about computer and network security, ensuring that all traffic passing through was legitimate.
However, with the rise of internet of things (IoT), multiple connected endpoints, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, and personal devices that double up for professional use, network access control has a much more vast and significant impact area.
According to a 2020 survey by Nexkey, 44% of respondents felt access control was more important than ever in the aftermath of the pandemic. In the same year, Gartner announced that it would start to report on network access control as part of its forecast, also assessing revenue share by vendors in its Gartner Market Share reports. This indicates that network access control is poised to become an enterprise staple.
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Several drivers are encouraging the adoption of network access control strategies and solutions:
- Strengthening security after an audit: As digital transformation accelerates, security audits are bound to reveal unmapped infrastructure, vulnerable access points, and IoT devices like wearables or building automation that leave enterprises exposed. Network access control can be an answer to this challenge.
- Coping with the rise in third-party vulnerabilities: Corporate network access by different types of stakeholders and devices, including guests, partners, contractors, consultants, etc., increases your security exposure. Network access control helps manage third-party access and keep data flow secure.
- Quarantining devices without interrupting business as usual (BAU): With a growing reliance on technology, it isn’t always possible to immediately retire a system once a vulnerability is detected. Network access control offers temporary solutions like sandboxing or a quarantine virtual local area network (VLAN) to carry on business operations until the issue is remediated.
- Integrating with other security essentials: Most network access control solutions come with extensive interoperability so that they can “play nice” with existing infosec components. This is a major driver for mature organizations with a well-established digital footprint. Also, it makes network access control easier to scale, adding to the overall security posture as the organization evolves.
An associated concept that infosec professionals should remember when exploring network access control is zero-trust network access (ZTNA).
ZTNA is a type of network access control policy that applies an identity and context-based access boundary around single or multiple applications. To the typical user, ZTNA-protected applications would remain hidden. A designated trust broker will verify the user against a list of named entities, based on identity and context, before allowing access to the applications. Zero Trust was a key network access control capability in 2020, prioritized by 72% of respondents in the 2020 Zero Trust Progress Report by Cybersecurity Insiders and Pulse Secure.
Let us now look at a typical network access control architecture and the components that make up network access control.
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Network access control oversees a vast expanse of computing systems, both on-premise and remote. As a result, it comprises a carefully designed solution architecture with each component playing a role in security enforcement, maintenance, and remediation. Following are the components of an industry-standard network access control solution:
Key Components of Network Access Control
Endpoint systems or the clients are one of the key components of network access control. These are the most common windows for network access, data exchange, and generally any kind of computing activity. Endpoint vulnerabilities could cripple the entire enterprise network, as there are deep connections between devices and on-premise servers if you have them. Apart from physical endpoints like computers, laptops, connected printers, IP phones, etc., virtual machines where you could be hosting a workstation also count as clients.
2. Client software
Sometimes, it is a specific application or set of applications that are identified as an access gateway, in addition to the entire computing system. In these cases, the client’s software application is also considered part of the network access control architecture, actively participating in authentication and security enforcement processes.
3. Authentication server
The authentication server is one of the core components of network access control. It is typically a physical server of the remote authentication dial-in user service (RADIUS) variant that validates the credentials of the client device or client software requesting access. In most network access control solutions, these credentials are validated based on a list of named entities like usernames, passwords, and digital certificates. More advanced solutions apply context and behavior-based authentication as well. For a cloud-based network access control solution, this component is hosted on a public cloud.
The authenticator is responsible for facilitating the authentication between the client (device or software) and the authentication server. It comprises a managed switch or access point that securely relays credentials between components 1 or 2 and 3, ensuring that a port continues to be labeled as an unauthorized state until the authentication occurs. The authenticator is also responsible for changing the port’s state to “authorized” once the server has given a greenlight.
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5. Authentication framework
The authentication framework can be considered as the language in which credentials are shared among the client device, the client software, the authentication server, and the authenticator. It differs from one solution to another – for example, extensible authentication protocol (EAP) or EAP over LAN (EAPoL) can be used as the framework if you need to configure multiple authentication methods into the system.
Quarantine is a sandbox environment where traffic carrying non-authenticated credentials is placed, awaiting remediation. Note that quarantine is a network access control component only in post-admission network access control, where authentication and security policies are enforced within the network once the user or device has already obtained access. The quarantine allows for business activity within the environment without interacting with or damaging external files.
7. Guest networks
Organizations might implement a dedicated guest network to isolate all third-party traffic. This is relevant for enterprises operating with a large non-payroll workforce and multiple third-party stakeholders such as regulatory bodies, consultants, vendors, etc., from the same enterprise premise. Guest networks are a common component of cloud-hosted network access controls governing remote access by third parties.
8. Corporate networks
This is the primary channel for communication in the enterprise, allowing authorized traffic as validated by the authentication server. The corporate network could be secured by additional intermittent security policies such as time-bound access that revokes authorization once a specific time or access threshold is reached. Therefore, corporate networks are in no way outside the ambit of network access control or a security-policy-free zone.
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9. Public internet
In addition to guest networks and corporate networks, the public internet can also be used to access enterprise assets, subject to certain constraints and authentication protocols. Typically, public internet traffic flows only through guest gateways and not via the corporate network.
10. Management console
Network access control can be managed through a security dashboard hosted either on-premise or on the cloud. The dashboard enables device visibility, allows for security policy configurations, maps trends or analytics, displays security alerts, and essentially acts as an all-in-one governance hub for your infosec manager. The management console can be accessed as a web portal, a desktop app, a mobile app, or on a virtual machine, as required.
11. Client agent
Client agents are an optional component of network access control. If you want to empower employees to self-assess their security posture, act on vulnerabilities, and bring anomalies or suspicious behavior to your notice, you can install a network access control agent on the client device. But keep in mind that this isn’t a replacement for the centralized management console.
At a high level, your network access control architecture will include some or most of these components – of which components 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 10 are mandatory, which can be considered as core components of network access solutions. The remaining components add extra value and align network access control for a diverse variety of implementation scenarios.
Given this complexity of architecture, you might be wondering if there is an alternative to network access control.
Network access control is typically recommended for multi-environment, on-premise digital ecosystems that regularly receive access requests from users or devices of different personas, identity privileges, contexts, data requirements, and network backgrounds, with a largely equal mix of IoT and traditional endpoints.
On the other hand, if you have a growing reliance on IoT only, cyber-physical security solutions that focus on edge devices could be more suitable. For organizations looking to secure their remote ecosystems, secure access service edge (SASE) is an emerging solution, which is entirely cloud-based.
Keeping these alternatives in mind, if network access control is what your organization requires, remember these seven best practices for getting started.
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2021 will be an important year for enterprise security, as you will have to take stock of your bring-your-own-device (BYOD) footprint, SaaS reliance, and unmapped access points, all the while focusing on minimizing touch-based access controls. The following best practices can help you maximize network access control solutions and fortify your enterprise perimeters.
Network Access Control Best Practices
1. Couple pre-admission network access control with post-admission
Network access control can be broadly classified into two types: pre-admission and post-admission. In the former, authentication policies are enforced before network access is granted, right at the moment when a user or device requests access. The network access control then assesses the origin of the request, its behavioral pattern, and the origin’s credentials to allow or deny access in compliance with corporate security policies.
In contrast, post-admission network access control takes place within the enterprise perimeter once the user or device has gained preliminary access and is looking to venture inward further – for example while accessing a privileged data asset. Post-admission network access control policies can kick in to stop lateral movements inside the perimeter and mitigate the damage. The user or device must obtain fresh authentication every time they try to access enterprise assets protected by post-admission policies.
Together, these two network access control types provide an end-to-end solution against cybersecurity threats. Unauthorized users are prevented from gaining access in the first place. Threats that penetrate pre-admission through some form of deceit must go through another authentication cycle before accessing your most sensitive information. This tactic is also effective against insider attacks.
2. Choose your network access control solution wisely
When it comes to choosing a solution partner, you have several options. Pure-play network access control vendors have a dedicated solution for network access control, utilizing both open source and proprietary technologies. Network infrastructure providers offer network access control as an add-on to networking products, adding to the value proposition with seamless consolidation and tight integration.
Apart from this, there are cyber-physical security solutions and SASE for IoT and remote environment security, respectively. In this market landscape, one must choose their network access control partner wisely, in sync with current use cases and future projections:
- Focus on vendors targeting enterprises of your size and complexity, and if possible, your industry vertical. After all, access requirements in a digitalized healthcare scenario will be very different from a connected factory.
- Align network access control implementation with any zero-trust identity and access management (IAM) policy that is already active at your enterprise. Network access control can enable a “deny by default” approach that reinforces your zero-trust capabilities.
- Take stock of your endpoints and existing endpoint security to select a solution that is interoperable. Network access control must have a native integration with your unified endpoint management tools for cohesive visibility.
- Conduct a network inventory exercise before selecting a vendor. This will not only surface any unmapped endpoints, undetected access gateways, existing network switches, etc., but also give you an IP volume estimate for network access control budgeting.
These four steps can help you make the right call when assessing network access control and implement a solution that’s the best fit for your enterprise.
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3. Train IT staff in network access control
Network access control comes with its own technical lexicon, and an IT generalist may not be able to maximize its value to the fullest. Even if a vendor takes full or co-ownership of network access control implementation and maintenance, its on-premise nature means that your IT staff will have to get involved in day-to-day maintenance and upkeep.
Further, interpreting network access control alerts and data trends is another important skill. Reading network access control alerts in time and acting on them can prevent severe security damage caused by unauthorized access. As network access control covers the entire gamut of your on-premise device and user footprint, there’ll be a wide variety of alerts to assess and interpret.
Depending on the number of endpoints, you might want to appoint a dedicated network access control administrator to keep a watch on alerts, filter out false positives, and keep the enterprise secure without interrupting workflows or inconveniencing legitimate users.
Some of the key skills in which IT staff might require training are:
- Data analysis, interpretation, and trends mapping
- Familiarity with cyber-physical systems and non-traditional endpoints
- Security integration and interoperability for end-to-end visibility
- User experience and technology dependencies in workflows
Apart from IT staff, you might want to inform guest users and third-party stakeholders about network access control implementation.
4. Watch out for prime use case candidates
In a digital enterprise, there are many use cases ideal for network access control implementation – but they frequently pass under the radar. If you have any of the following scenarios at your enterprise, consider implementing network access control:
- A large third-party ecosystem: Third-party users and non-employees are regularly present on your enterprise premises. Some even have access privileges to the corporate network.
- Bring your own device policies: Employees bring their personal laptops to work or take their work devices home, interchangeably using them for personal and professional purposes.
- Internet of things (IoT): There are several connected endpoints on your premises, ranging from biometric-enabled smart doors to IP-enabled printers.
- Sensitive data stored on edge: Distributed devices like healthcare wearables or manufacturing sensors constantly collect sensitive data and relay them to your network.
Network access control can help address the above issues, which are becoming increasingly common across enterprises and verticals.
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5. Adopt network segmentation for post-admission security
Network segmentation lets you bucket users and devices dynamically and automatically, based on pre-configured security policies. An infected or illegitimate asset is isolated via segmentation, which reduces your attack surface.
There are several ways to customize network segmentation – based on the identity of users or the device, their risk levels, the location of access requests, time of connection, or any other business rule. Devices prioritized as high-risk within your network environment can be isolated and placed in quarantine until further approval.
It is also advisable to centralize your network segmentation policies so that the same protocols are followed across the organization, with a consistent response to threats. This will help standardize your security posture and ensure that no errors slip through the gaps amid fragmented security policies, different ways of segmenting, etc.
6. Break down the network access control implementation process into simple, manageable steps
Network access control architecture can seem overwhelming at first, as there are several components and close dependencies with existing IT infrastructure. That’s why it is so important to break down network access control implementation into five simple steps:
- Assess endpoints: Conduct an exhaustive endpoint inventory to surface every hardware device, virtual appliance, server, networked equipment, and digital interface with access to your digital resources.
- Isolate identities: User identities and profiling are central to authenticating and authorizing access. List all relevant identities based on your existing directory systems and then progress to the next step.
- Personalize permissions: Based on endpoint characteristics and identity details, configure access policies tailored to an individual’s unique duties, workflows, and access requirements. Factor in guest permissions as well.
- Initiate execution: Register user directories, apply permission systems and integrate network access control components within your existing IT landscape. The solution vendor will oversee the execution to ensure that the network access control aligns with your business requirements as specified in the service level agreements (SLAs).
- Update regularly: Aided by internal training, your IT staff must look after day-to-day operations, tweak permission policies, and request vendor intervention as your organization evolves. The hardware components of network access control might also require changing due to wear and tear.
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7. Explore optional integrations for value addition
In addition to core capabilities like network visibility, guest access management, compliance, and device security, you can also explore integrations with your network firewalls, security information and event management (SIEM), IAM, and advanced threat prevention systems. This consolidates your security posture into a unified whole, establishing a single line of accountability and control.
As your enterprise perimeter stretches outwards, network access control will prove vital to maintaining visibility into user and device activity on corporate and guest networks. The advent of cloud-based network access controls is the next frontier, simplifying its management and enabling opportunities for remotely managed network access control services.
Network access control is the act of keeping unauthorized users and devices out of a private network.What is the best practices for using access control system? ›
- A User for Everyone! First and foremost: make sure there is a distinct user for every person who uses your product. ...
- Less is More. The principal of least privilege is the cornerstone of a good security policy. ...
- Keep it Current. ...
- Keep it Simple. ...
- Get some help!
- Discretionary Access Control (DAC) A discretionary access control system, on the other hand, puts a little more control back into the business owner's hands. ...
- Rule-Based Access Control. ...
- Identity-Based Access Control.
- Put time into your existing work and social relationships. The best way to build a network is to start by putting time into your existing relationships, both at work and beyond. ...
- Follow up new contacts straight away.
- Adopt a formal information security governance framework.
- Prevent data loss.
- Perform regular data backups.
- Watch out for social engineering attacks.
The four central components of access control are users, assets, actions, and features. Standard methods used to identify a person to a system embrace username, sensible card, and biometrics.What are the six 6 benefits of access control? ›
- Increase Ease of Access for Employees. ...
- Get Rid of Traditional Keys. ...
- Save Money and Energy. ...
- Keep Track of Who Comes and Goes. ...
- Protect Against Unwanted Visitors. ...
- Give Employees the Freedom to Work When They Need To. ...
- Prevent Against Data Breaches.
- Mandatory Access Control (MAC) ...
- Discretionary Access Control (DAC) ...
- Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) ...
- Rule-Based Access Control. ...
- Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) ...
- Risk-Based Access Control.
There are two types of access control: physical and logical. Physical access control limits access to campuses, buildings, rooms and physical IT assets. Logical access control limits connections to computer networks, system files and data.What are the seven functions of access control? ›
- security policy enforcement tools.
- reporting and monitoring applications.
- identity repositories.
- password management tools.
- Limit network access to users and specific network areas;
- Prevent data access by unauthorized employees and cybercriminals;
- Block access from endpoint devices (e.g., mobile phones) that don't comply with enterprise security policies;
- Know Your Endpoints. ...
- Check and Update your Directory System. ...
- Determine and Apply Permissions. ...
- Keep Everything Updated.
NAC plays several important roles in human health. Renowned for its ability to replenish levels of the antioxidant glutathione, it also regulates the important neurotransmitter glutamate. Additionally, NAC helps your body's detoxification system.What are the basics of access control? ›
The basic concept of Access Control is a system that either grants or denies entry to a lock or door by determining the identity of the person; this can be done by biometrics, passwords, key cards, and everything in between.What are the 3 components of a network? ›
The network infrastructure contains three categories of network components—devices, media, and services—as shown in Figure 1-6.What are the 3 basic elements of a network? ›
Basic elements of a computer network include hardware, software, and protocols. The interrelationship of these basic elements constitutes the infrastructure of the network.What is the key of networking? ›
A network security key is the password that protects your network. If you have a Wi-Fi router in your home, you'll need a code to connect your device to it. That Wi-Fi password is your network security key. WEP is an outdated wireless security protocol, which can still be used within older systems.What are the 4 types of networks? ›
There are four types of wireless networks -- wireless local area networks, wireless metropolitan area networks, wireless personal area networks and wireless wide area networks -- each with its own function.What are the 4 critical steps of networking? ›
- Remember that networking is a two-way street. It's important to remember that networking is always a two-way street. ...
- Understand the business of those in your network. It's worth your time to understand the business of those in your network. ...
- Prioritize your network. ...
- Don't burn bridges.
- Purpose. ...
- Audience and scope. ...
- Information security objectives. ...
- Authority and access control policy. ...
- Data classification. ...
- Data support and operations. ...
- Security awareness and behavior. ...
- Responsibilities, rights, and duties of personnel.
The day-to-day playbook for security boils down to the 3Ps: protect, prioritize, and patch. And do all three as best and fast as possible to keep ahead of adversaries and cyber threats.What are the five components of a security plan? ›
- Physical security. Physical security is the physical access to routers, servers, server rooms, data centers, and other parts of your infrastructure. ...
- Network security. ...
- Application and application data security. ...
- Personal security practices.
- Authentication: The act of proving an assertion, such as the identity of a person or computer user. ...
- Authorization: The function of specifying access rights or privileges to resources. ...
- Access: Once authenticated and authorized, the person or computer can access the resource.
Reasons to use an ACL:
Traffic flow control. Restricted network traffic for better network performance. A level of security for network access specifying which areas of the server/network/service can be accessed by a user and which cannot. Granular monitoring of the traffic exiting and entering the system.
- Increased network visibility. ...
- Improved cybersecurity. ...
- More effective compliance. ...
- Total network visibility. ...
- Instant user profiling. ...
- Guest networking management. ...
- Internal access management. ...
- Network management.
- Firewall. Firewalls control incoming and outgoing traffic on networks, with predetermined security rules. ...
- Network Segmentation. ...
- Remote Access VPN. ...
- Email Security. ...
- Data Loss Prevention (DLP) ...
- Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) ...
- Sandboxing. ...
- Hyperscale Network Security.
- Tables– Tables are the places where any information is stored. ...
- QUERIES- Queries are statements asking the software to conduct a detailed search from the database. ...
- FORMS– Forms display data from your table itself and help perform the necessary tasks.
Access control is a security measure which is put in place to regulate the individuals that can view, use, or have access to a restricted environment. Various access control examples can be found in the security systems in our doors, key locks, fences, biometric systems, motion detectors, badge system, and so forth.What is the importance of access control? ›
Access controls limit access to information and information processing systems. When implemented effectively, they mitigate the risk of information being accessed without the appropriate authorisation, unlawfully and the risk of a data breach.Why do you need network access control? ›
NAC systems can play a vital role in automatically identifying devices as they connect to the network and providing access that does not potentially compromise security. For example, when a personal mobile device connects, it can be granted access only to the Internet and not to any corporate resources.
An access control list (ACL) contains rules that grant or deny access to certain digital environments. There are two types of ACLs: Filesystem ACLs━filter access to files and/or directories. Filesystem ACLs tell operating systems which users can access the system, and what privileges the users are allowed.What is the main purpose of the ACL? ›
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the key ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint. The ACL connects the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia).What are three types of ACL? ›
What Are The Types of ACLs?
- Standard ACL. The standard ACL aims to protect a network using only the source address. ...
- Extended ACL. ...
- Dynamic ACL. ...
- Reflexive ACL.
An access control list (ACL) is a list of rules that specifies which users or systems are granted or denied access to a particular object or system resource. Access control lists are also installed in routers or switches, where they act as filters, managing which traffic can access the network.What are the two types of access control? ›
There are two types of access control: physical and logical. Physical access control limits access to campuses, buildings, rooms and physical IT assets. Logical access control limits connections to computer networks, system files and data.What are the 3 elements of network security? ›
The CIA triad refers to an information security model made up of the three main components: confidentiality, integrity and availability. Each component represents a fundamental objective of information security.What are the 5 types of security? ›
- Critical infrastructure security.
- Application security.
- Network security.
- Cloud security.
- Internet of Things (IoT) security.