What Is Network Access Control, and Should You Implement It?

Network access control is essential for reducing security risks within a company. Learn more about NAC and its implementation here.

Bojan Jovanovic Image
Updated:

November 02,2022

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Many online companies have security protocols and rules protecting their networks from unauthorized access and usage. Network access control, also known as NAC, is a system that helps enforce these security measures by identifying and controlling the devices that can connect to the network.

NAC has many implementation methods and capabilities, so read on to learn more about it and how it can benefit your organization.

What Is Network Access Control?

Network access control is a security strategy that keeps unauthorized devices and users from accessing company networks. It uses authentication and other actions to identify devices and users trying to gain access.

The criteria IT teams use to allow or deny access to the network could be based on:

  • Authentication – authorized users only
  • Security posture – devices with updated antivirus software and operating systems
  • Employee access level – only staff working in finances can access financial data, for example

The main goal of network security access control is the prevention of cyberattacks, which is a genuine concern, as stats show that over a quarter of the entire cyber warfare is directed toward the US. Another important objective is limiting external business partners and employees from accessing unauthorized information within the corporate network.

Network Access Control (NAC) Use Cases

A few typical use cases for network access control are:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Since many employees work remotely using their own devices, it's essential to have a secure NAC that ensures device compliance with the company's security protocols. 

Otherwise, cybercriminals and other unauthorized users can exploit the gaps in traditional security systems to launch phishing attacks, which account for 90% of security breaches within a company, whaling attacks, and other nefarious attempts at breaching company security and stealing precious data.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The exponential growth of devices in various industries, including healthcare and manufacturing, has created different weak points that hackers with malicious intent can use to penetrate corporate networks. 

NAC cyber security can do user and device profiling and apply access policies for employee devices used in the network infrastructure that are physically outside of the company buildings. That way, network administrators can prevent network penetration from external endpoint devices that have not previously been vetted.

Network Access for Non-Employees

Various organizations grant access to individuals who are not part of the enterprise and aren't subject to the same type of control as their workers. For example, vendors, visitors, and contractors may all need access to the corporate network from time to time, but only to specific parts of the network. Thus, NAC must provide controlled internet access to these individuals.

Network Access Control Capabilities

So, how does network access control work in practice, and what are its capabilities?

A well-placed NAC system can reduce the risk of a cyberattack or data breach by limiting access for unauthorized employees or company clients to specific network resources and areas. If the position or role of the worker doesn't require access to certain types of data, the access control in network security won't grant it. 

In the same vein, businesses working with third parties should limit their access so hackers breaching their networks through outside partners can't penetrate the company's system further.

Furthermore, a NAC should block access to any endpoint device not complying with the local security policies. This will prevent software that gathers and steals corporate information from entering the network. To ensure compliance, each IoT, BYOD, or other employee device must adhere to security policies to gain entry to the corporate network access server.

Some common types of NAC capabilities are:

  • Network security enforcement: Security staff identifies devices that do not comply with security policies using NAC.
  • Conventional network visibility: The system identifies devices active on the corporate network and how they share resources.
  • Endpoint security technology: Virtual, physical, and other endpoint resources can use NAC to exchange data over a network securely.
  • Authentication: Network access control ensures that users access appropriate organizational resources when their devices pass the authenticity checks.

Network Access Control Implementation

For NAC solutions, implementation will depend on various factors, and what would work for one company might not work for another. So, it's essential to get through the following steps first:

Data Gathering

You need to know how users access the corporate network to decide what restrictions to impose and which resources to unlock. To make this decision, you need to understand who seeks specific information and the type of device they use. Also, confirm whether a legitimate business requirement exists for the user's current level of enterprise network access. 

Lastly, remember to take into account servers, printers, phones, IoT devices, and any other devices connected to the network.

Managing Identities

When you hire a new worker, make sure to synchronize the HR database with your active directory servers. If you don’t do that, the new hire will be unable to get online using their NAC device. Also, remember to de-provision employees who have left the company to ensure the proper functioning of identity management.

Access Permissions

Applying the NAC solution capabilities is solely at your discretion. Still, consider limiting all users' network resources to the minimum required for their job responsibilities.

The most common types of authentication the network access control system uses are:

  • Pre-admission: This step takes place before the user requesting access to the network receives it. The NAC system checks the user's device for compliance with security policies and determines whether to grant or deny access.
  • Post-admission: Upon giving access, the NAC system continues to monitor the user's activity. Post-admission restricts user access to specific network parts based on various factors. Limiting access within the network prevents further damage if a cyberattack manages to pass the pre-admission check.

Setup Testing

This step allows you to detect any potential problems that might arise in the future. Ensure that you’ve tested your NAC policies before and after making any changes. 

Monitoring

Make necessary changes as your business and related threats develop over time. Ensure you have the resources needed to constantly monitor and improve your NAC solution before implementing it.

Main Network Access Control Benefits

Implementing NAC provides various advantages to businesses, and the most significant ones are:

  • Response automation: Automated responses mitigate real-time threats by resolving security issues and performance. 
  • Multiauthentication process: Another essential advantage is multifactor authentication for users, rather than identification via IP addresses or username and password combinations.
  • Adding extra layers of protection: Limiting access to resources an employee doesn't need for work provides additional security. 
  • Blocking private addresses from accessing: A good network access control policy can help you recognize and block private IP addresses from accessing the network. Furthermore, tools can block every IP address running on multiple devices simultaneously. 
  • Performing interactive search: Network access control solutions simplify monitoring and security management via advanced search, event management, and quick troubleshooting tools. Network administrators can efficiently conduct real-time logging and event data analysis, helping identify and resolve critical network security issues. 

NAC in the Security Structure: Do You Need It?

If you run a business, the short answer is yes. Not only does it protect your company from breaches, but it also keeps data related to your outside partners safe. Moreover, you can monitor your employees' activities and learn if unauthorized access occurs. And if you have a remote workforce, NAC is a must-have since it verifies the security of their devices before allowing them to connect to your network.

Conclusion

Network access control is in charge of providing a safe working environment and keeping company data secure from unauthorized access by external devices. 

NAC has security policies and places restrictions on users, devices, and software. Some of the most significant network access control benefits are automated responses to real-time threats, multiauthentication processes, and the ability to perform advanced searches and real-time event data analysis.

Now that you know the answer to the question "What is network access control?" we hope that we’ve adequately stressed the importance of having a NAC in your company. Thus, if you haven’t already, consider protecting your business and the data related to your company, outside partners, and other parties by designing and implementing a NAC solution.

FAQ
Is a firewall a NAC?

A firewall is not a NAC, but they are on the same mission. A firewall can help control traffic between two networks, while the NAC controls communication between endpoints within the network. 

How does a NAC solution work?

Network access control finds and identifies devices accessing and connecting to the network and conducts pre-admission network control. Once the devices are identified and verified, NAC solutions can grant or deny access to the network, depending on whether they are authorized network devices. Finally, NAC monitors activity within the company's system.

Why is NAC needed?

NAC improves network security by ensuring that only authorized devices can access it. It also helps businesses monitor employee activity and network traffic within the company. 

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