BYOD & NAC Go Hand-in-Hand

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 6/14/2012 | 4 comments

Andrew Froehlich
BYOD (bring your own device) might be the top buzzword of 2012. To average employees, the acronym means the freedom to use noncompany devices on company networks to perform their duties. For network and security professionals, the acronym often provokes a much different reaction. Instead of the feeling of freedom, BYOD raises all kinds of red flags as IT professionals try to keep internal resources safe from the foreign devices being allowed to roam freely on the network. And for many, the answer to BYOD is yet another acronym: NAC (network access control).

NAC is not a new security concept, but it's also not widely implemented. It essentially revolves around performing four tasks.

  • Identification: You need to understand what types of devices are trying to connect to your network. Before BYOD, the only allowed devices were company-owned PCs and such. Now you can get anything from an Android phone to an iPad or even a personal laptop. The ability to identify the hardware and software of the device attempting to connect helps to control the information moving to and from that device.
  • Authentication: You must be able to identify the user attempting to gain access. Authentication is nothing new in most corporate environments. However, the difference with BYOD is that now you have to authenticate all kinds of devices running different hardware and operating systems. A far more robust solution is needed to handle them.
  • Authorization: Once a user is authenticated, it's becoming increasingly important to be able to permit/deny access to company resources based on both the user and the device that user is using. If Jane Doe, an accountant, logs in with her company-provided laptop, she has access to several financial applications and shared storage to do her job. If Jane logs in with her iPad, the only access she gets is to corporate email.
  • Posture checking: Since IT administrators have no control over user-owned devices, it's important to check the posture of the hardware/software being used to access the network. This means being able to scan a foreign device to check for things such as the latest updates for the OS and AV software. Devices that fail this posture check are quarantined and allowed to access only locations to update the software that failed the inspection. Once a device passes the posture check, it is allowed on to the network.

Even though NAC has been around for years, many companies have yet to implement it, in part because of the cost and complexity and in part because there really was no need for such measures when only company devices were permitted. BYOD has changed all that, and NAC is becoming a necessity. Fortunately, vendors have made tremendous strides in the past few years in making NAC easier to implement and manage. Getting everything to work properly used to be a pain, but these days NAC plays very nicely with 802.1x, active directory, and AV software.

If your IT organization hasn't looked at NAC yet, or it looked a few years ago and decided it was too difficult to implement, give it another shot in 2012. You'll be surprised how much NAC has changed -- and just how much you actually need it.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Andrew Froehlich   BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand   6/18/2012 10:28:55 PM
Re: BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand
@singlemud -- It depends on who you talk to.  I'm looking at Cisco ISE right now.  It's light years ahead of their old offering but there is still room for improvement IMHO.
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singlemud   BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand   6/18/2012 10:23:23 PM
Re: BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand
BYOD will be the trend. Is there any comprehensive and affordable NAC solutions?
tekedge   BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand   6/14/2012 3:12:57 PM
BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand
"the acronym means the freedom to use noncompany devices on company networks to perform their duties"

The above statement suggests that employees would be allowed to do their personal duties on company time and that is enough to deter companies from allowing their employees to connect their own devices to the company network.
Damian Romano   BYOD and NAC Go Hand-in-Hand   6/14/2012 1:18:53 PM
Authentication: "...A far more robust solution is needed to handle them."

It's for this very reason I believe the organization I work for hasn't given the BYOD concept a second glance.

Either way, very good summary of the considerations that come along with BYOD Andrew. Working in security myself the very concept sends shivers down my spine. :)

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