6 Network Access Control best practices

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Network Access Control (NAC) manages network access via the centralized enforcement of security policies. With NAC, security teams can control every device and user connecting to the network. NAC systems block unauthorized actors while allowing access to legitimate users.

NAC emerged as a response to changes in business networks that challenged previous network security approaches. Remote working, sprawling IoT connections, and reliance on cloud computing make network access control more critical than ever.

A robust NAC setup contributes to network security and compliance strategies. It also forms part of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions that protect data in complex network settings. But how should you implement NAC to reap maximum benefits?

Read on to learn more about the benefits of network access control and 6 best practices to make it work for you.

Why does a business need Network Access Control?

NAC makes it possible to protect dynamic network perimeters. It represents an evolution of existing network standards like IEEE 802.1X and WPA, adding new authentication and authorization tools for contemporary settings.

Change is a constant in modern networks. And change results in critical security risks.

  • Endpoints constantly change as BYOD devices come online or employees shift to remote working. Workers may install IoT equipment without the knowledge of IT teams.

  • Workers move from offices to public wifi and from laptops to mobile devices.

  • Unsecured devices can transmit malware to network resources.

  • User credentials may be stolen and used to steal data.

  • Unauthorized users may roam freely across network assets, putting them at risk.

That’s a lot of risks. But NAC helps to solve these issues through what is known as the AAA model. This model comprises three processes: authentication, authorization, and accounting

1. Authentication

NAC systems use client software to verify the identity of every user connecting to a network. Verification measures usually include usernames and passwords. But they can also include MAC address scanning and digital certificates. The aim is to identify every user and device at the network edge before establishing a connection.

2. Authorization

The next step in NAC is determining access levels for users and devices. NAC solutions apply various criteria when deciding which resources to make available. For instance, the NAC system may provide groups of users with similar privileges. Alternatively, each individual may have specific permissions for their role.

NAC solutions may also restrict access by time zones, service, or network type. In-depth filtering methods like this make it easier to block illegitimate access requests.

3. Accounting

NAC systems keep a record of user access requests. This information can be used in security auditing and makes connected devices visible to security managers at all times.

NAC systems monitor network activity to ensure that users follow security policies. If users violate security policies, the access control software may revoke their privileges and quarantine the user’s device. Agents installed on endpoints can monitor hardware continuously, blocking connections when violations occur.

Issues addressed by NAC

NAC is not an abstract set of principles. Network access controls have a wide range of practical use cases in business settings. This makes them a vital addition to security armories. 

Here are some critical security concerns that NAC addresses:

1. Protection against unauthorized intruders

NAC provides a fortification against unauthorized devices and users. Without access control policies, attackers can easily breach networks. Any connected devices or wireless access points could allow access.

Attackers can succeed even if passwords and MFA are in use. Workers can still add new endpoint devices, posing a malware risk. NAC uses device scanning to ensure this doesn’t materialize.

2. Precise user identification

With NAC, security teams can track the identity of every user wherever they roam across the network. User tracking can be problematic when changing IP addresses are in use. NAC works around this by tracking all connected devices continuously. Continuous monitoring provides much more information about how users interact with network resources than simple IP tracking.

3. Visibility and asset management

NAC technology allows network managers to track and record every connected device. Managers enjoy complete visibility, even when BYOD and remote working are common. NAC tools can scan newly connected devices and refuse dangerous connections. Audit trails also make it easier to comply with data regulations while allowing flexible device usage for workers.

4. Secure access points

In an age of remote work and global travel, employees could use many types of network access points. Many public access points are insecure. Using these access points may increase the risk of data theft. NAC systems detect the use of unsafe access points and block connections from high-risk endpoints. Managers can approve specific external access points to facilitate remote working.

5. Robust endpoint security

Users may fail to follow security policies as off-premises personal devices and mobile devices proliferate. Workers may not install appropriate security software. They could also misconfigure virtual private networks or encryption systems. NAC is part of our recommended endpoint security best practices. With NAC in play, managers can detect poorly configured endpoints and deny access accordingly.

6. Automated software patching

NAC tools can detect issues with poorly updated operating systems and core applications. Access control software provides notifications if users fail to update software properly. NAC software can then limit access until users apply patches.

Network Access Control best practices

When implementing network access controls, it helps to follow industry best practices. Insecure access controls are worthless and may pose a security risk. These best practices will help you create a network access control setup that combines security with ease of use.

1. Know your network control needs before starting out

Companies should map which assets require protection and what degree of protection they need before sourcing any NAC tools.

Over time, corporate networks become more complex. Employee devices, IoT devices, and storage hardware rapidly expand the attack surface. NAC must encompass every endpoint to work effectively. Before applying NAC you must thoroughly map all connected devices

Create separate inventories for IoT devices, BYOD, remote access laptops, and endpoints accessed by partners or customers. Take care when inventorying devices. It’s easy to overlook accessories like biometric scanners. All devices connected to the network must come under your network access control system.

2. Create a dedicated network access control team

It’s a good idea to create a separate team to maintain and monitor NAC systems. This team should focus on:

  • Updating software

  • Ensuring employees follow security policies

  • Checking for vulnerabilities and threats.

Train team members on how to use your specific network access control solution. Don’t rely on existing IT skills. Use any training materials provided by your vendor, and ensure all team members update their knowledge regularly.

For instance, staff should be experts in reading alert data and managing responses. They should be able to visualize and act on security data. That way, you can extract maximum value from advanced network access control tools.

3. Assign privileges to suit your organization

Every business has its own unique structure of departments, teams, and individual roles. Properly assigning privileges is a critical component of effective network access controls.

Every individual must possess sufficient access privileges to use the workloads they require. But under the Zero Trust model employees should only have essential privileges. Security planners need to find ways to balance access and data security.

One option is adopting role-based access control (RBAC). Permissions fit different roles based on job descriptions or projects. When employees assume a new role, they automatically receive privileges suitable for that position.

RBAC takes planning and judgment. There may be grey areas where employees receive excessive privileges or lack access to core resources. Stay flexible and monitor user activity, fine-tuning roles as your network layout changes.

4. Use strong controls to authenticate connections

NAC can be loose or strict depending on how system configurations. However, using strong controls like multi-factor authentication is an NAC best practice.

MFA requires users to submit multiple authentication factors before gaining access. Methods could include one-time passwords or biometric data. With extra factors in use, hackers will find it harder to breach the network perimeter. MFA results in a much more robust setup than relying on passwords alone.

5. Use deep controls to protect assets inside the perimeter

MFA and role-based privileges protect the perimeter, screening out users without proper credentials. But network access control allows you to extend authorization deep inside the network. Post-admission controls determine how users access network assets. This includes on-premises data centers and cloud applications.

Post-admission controls can work alongside RBAC, and they can also be contextual. Internal controls can deny access to devices that fail to meet security criteria. Device profiling and post-admission tracking make it possible to protect confidential data. Companies can control access to critical apps with robust security barriers.

Network segmentation supplements post-admission controls. Segmentation quarantines sensitive assets, preventing east-west movement inside networks. Segmentation combined with NAC controls is a reliable basis for Zero Trust configurations.

6. Take care when choosing an NAC vendor

Selecting a third-party NAC vendor you can trust is absolutely essential. And it’s also important to source products that fit your business needs.

For example, some network access control vendors offer controls that interface with existing network infrastructure. Other vendors provide dedicated NAC solutions that operate independently. Stand-alone solutions make sense if you need more control. But adding controls to existing infrastructure can save time and money.

When choosing a vendor, ask whether the supplier optimizes products for cloud security. Check that network access control systems are compatible with existing identity and access management (IAM) setups. And make sure any controls are compatible with critical endpoints.

Secure your network with NordLayer solutions

NordLayer offers a range of network access control solutions to secure perimeters and protect network assets.

Our network access control tools make it possible to apply Zero Trust principles while ensuring critical apps are available to users at all times. Clients can tailor access control to their network architecture. And users can integrate cutting-edge encryption and authentication technologies.

To find out more, get in touch today. With NordLayer’s help, you can balance access control and ease of use. Find the right setup to protect your data with network access solutions.

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