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The Ultimate Guide to NAC (Network Access Control) in 2022!

Network Access Control (NAC) solutions support organizations to manage endpoint and user access provision using a set of policies or protocols and authentication mechanisms to secure organizational networks and data. Organizations can control endpoints (otherwise known as nodes or devices) at the pre-and post-admission stages, implement security compliances, and create resource usage policies based on various factors such as location or user authority.

Wired networks generally have different kinds of security measures in place. However, with wireless networks, where endpoints are connected merely through the internet or via a common router, the security of data and devices becomes much more complex. The authentication of users in large organizations with wireless networks, especially with data increasingly being moved to the cloud, becomes a major concern since sensitive data must be protected at all costs. Traditionally, NAS (Network Access Server) was used to ensure that people without visibility rights would not be able to access resources by blocking off access based on the confirmation of login details. However, amidst the digital shift, NAS is no longer usable unless an organization maintains a rigid user environment.

This means that unless an organization has
1) a small number of employees, and
2) a fixed number of devices that can be monitored,
it most definitely needs more security than a log-in password. This is where NAC comes in to save the day.

NAC solutions are extremely important in situations where employees or guests are allowed to bring their own devices to the workplace, sign into the network, and access information from multiple devices simultaneously.
Nowadays, most organizations have moved to cloud-based storage, and allow their employees to access files remotely. With BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and Remote-Access becoming more widely accepted as the norm, understanding, and adopting NAC becomes vital.

So, let us dive into what NAC is –

4 major concepts act as a foundation for NAC–

IDS/IPS (Intruder Detection Systems/Intruder Prevention Systems) – These are put in place to identify and contain breaches and attacks.

User Authentication – This involves the correct identification and verification of users/devices attempting to access a network.

Endpoint Security – Endpoints or devices need to remain secure once access has been granted. This is what is known as post-Admission security.

And finally, Network Security – This concept focuses on ensuring the security of the network environment.

We talk more about Identity and Access Management, User Authentication, Unified Endpoint Management, Zero-trust Network Security, and IDS/IPS in our other insights.

Coming back to Network Access Control Solutions, some of the most basic actions that they help organizations carry out are –

1) Create user profiles based on identity and role to detect trusted users. This method of identification steers away from IP address-based verification.
2) Restrict non-compliant, unverified users from utilizing the corporate network and accessing data.
3) Monitor user activity once admitted and control continuation of access provision.
4) Remove any unidentifiable or suspicious users, devices, or applications to prevent data misappropriation or malicious attacks.
5) Provide different levels of access to endpoints based on a profiling engine. This engine can discover, monitor, and/or quarantine endpoints based on user behavior or role in the organization.
6) Put firewalls, spyware detection, malware detection, anti-virus software, and intrusion detection systems into place.
7) Create a baseline for endpoint security and monitor all devices that request access for compliance/non-compliance.
8) Help administrators create and implement security policies based on user data, user roles, and network complexity to govern internal and external activity, as well as reduce security risks by controlling access for devices. This involves temporarily blocking or isolating devices until administrator intervention takes place.
9) Create and manage a guest network, which can be used to provide limited access to guest users. This involves the creation of a guest portal that is capable of authenticating, registering, and managing access for guest users.
10) Integrate with other access control tools and security applications to secure vulnerabilities, contain attacks, and restrict unprotected devices from contaminating other devices on the network.

Network Access Control Solution – Points to consider before buying

Network access control regulates network security by prohibiting network resource accessibility to endpoint devices built on a defined security policy.

Enterprise modern networks support a wide range of traditional and new devices, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones, IoT devices (smartwatch), as well as industrial controls, servers, wireless access points. The organization’s network access control (NAC) solution must handle both business, staff and clients’ devices. NAC solutions automatically detect all devices connected to a network, classify them by type and as per configured compliance rules defined by the security team respond to them.

Factors to consider when choosing a NAC system include:

  • Level and Variety of Configuration Options – Qualitative NAC solutions offer a good number of configurations options for perfect network control. Authentication types, Time, location, path, endpoint, OS type, user groups are among the configuration options. Businesses can create and enforce policies that grant a specific level of network access depending on the type of system trying to connect, a staff member’s role in the organization, time of day, or person’s location. In organizations where clients or staff bring their own devices, device and OS type rules are especially important (BYOD). The company can grant these devices network access that differs from that granted to corporate devices. A company’s network is now more secure because it has greater control over when access is granted, to whom and from where. These configuration options’ level of detail also allows for efficient implementation in large infrastructures.
  • Dashboard and Reporting – The NAC has a lot of features and it integrates with the operations of other alerting systems with other existing systems. Endpoint additions or device state changes, guests signup, any custom field modification, and endpoint status results in all trigger notifications. System logs, email, and a web service are all used to send notifications. The alert system can run a program in response to a warning incident. NAC notification can be used to map modifications in the network. With NAC’s web-based network and endpoint data views reporting is easy. NAC provides simple dashboards and thorough insights into the health of endpoints that are connected to the network or are attempting to connect. Network Analysts in charge of compliance can easily customize the views to provide information in the style they desire. 
  • Cost – The cost of NAC varies depending on the size and capabilities of the network, it’s worth remembering that a significant portion of the expense may be for basic handholding. How much money business is ready to spend? Does the company think that whether it is receiving benefits?
  • Support – Following the selection of a NAC product, the second step is to implement and support it. NAC must be administered by dedicated skilled employees or should be added to professional employee’s responsibility, in order to be effective. In terms of prices and degrees of service assistance, there are differences. It’s crucial to examine what kind of help the specific vendor provides, as well as whether or not that support is available in your region. In all circumstances, thorough technical support is an optional addition that might significantly raise the implementation costs. NAC products have an expiration policy, which means the vendor will no longer maintain them, therefore the pricing and frequency of system upgrades will have to be factored in.
  • Integration – One of the most important aspects of selecting a proper NAC system is verifying that it integrates with current systems. Mobile Device Management (MDM), endpoint solutions, and Web-Application firewalls, Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), Security information and event management (SIEM), vulnerability assessment, are just a few of the solutions that many enterprises have already paid extensively in. If NAC products cannot integrate with these other security solutions, they will be less beneficial. Creating a list of all the current systems that are used on the organization’s network which will need to integrate with before looking for NAC systems, and then narrow search accordingly.
  • Addons – Is the basic price sufficient to provide firms with all the information and control they require? NAC products contain small hidden expenses because the base package does not include all of the essential features. What are the additional features that the NAC product will require in order to give all of the desired benefits? On a major network, the additional expense of addon modules can go above thousands of dollars. Check what the basic NAC product offers, as well as how the organization intends to use NAC. 
  • Compliance – Many various regulations, such as International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Payment Security Regulations, Health care regulations, can be fulfilled with the use of NAC. Each of these legislations specifies network access controls that must be enforced, particularly in the case of BYOD and random devices. Many of these standards can be aided by NAC, which continuously monitors network connections and takes measures based on an organization’s policy. In many circumstances, these policies can be adjusted to suit the compliance regulations mentioned. While purchasing NAC products, considering compliance and choosing a vendor that can assist the company in this process, whether it’s through support service or established policies that can be changed to give the compliance your organization requires.