Data breaches are on pace to reach an all-time this year, and the rising frequency of these incidents is driving organizations to increase spending on IT security measures. Gartner analysts predict worldwide spending on IT security will reach $124 billion this year. Network access control (NAC) technologies rank among the top spending priorities.

NAC technologies help organizations manage and control which users and what devices can access corporate networks based on policies, including endpoint configuration, authentication and user identity. According to eSecurity Planet’s 2019 State of IT Security survey, NAC ranks as the most-trusted security technology on the market today.

Although NAC is already one of the most widely used cybersecurity technologies, adoption rates are expected to rise significantly. The eSecurity Planet study found that about 54 percent of organizations already use NAC, but another 20 percent plan to implement the controls this year.

Who Goes There?

NAC solutions provide role- and location-based user authentication and require a minimum acceptable security posture for all devices using the network infrastructure. Before allowing a user to access the network, NAC asks who they are, where they are located and what device they are using. Based upon the answers to those questions, the NAC solution authenticates the user, determines the user’s access permissions, determines what endpoint security policies are applicable, and ensures that the policies are enforced through quarantine or remediation. All this activity is tracked through an audit trail.

Network-based policy enforcement can take many forms, including dedicated gateway, DHCP manipulation, 802.1x authentication, and port- and VLAN-based enforcement on switches. In addition to ensuring that the right users have access to the right data, NAC solutions also verify that unauthorized individuals cannot access sensitive data. If a security breach is detected, NAC solutions can notify the appropriate individuals and use self-remediation and automated remediation to help contain the damage.

NAC is not a particularly new security measure, but it is continually evolving. A few years ago, it was primarily seen as a tool for controlling BYOD in the workplace through device authorization. However, today’s NAC solutions deliver far more robust capabilities such as granular network segmentation, user behavior monitoring, enhanced visibility, and security automation and orchestration capabilities for automated threat detection and response.

Boosting IoT Security

NAC has also become a fundamental technology for securing Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices. A combination of factors makes these devices highly vulnerable — they have minimal embedded security features, yet they require persistent network connectivity. In addition to providing traditional authentication for these devices, modern NAC solutions enable “fingerprinting” of all known and unknown devices — a process that captures a device’s IP address and checks it against a list of approved addresses.

Additionally, NAC’s network segmentation capabilities ensure that IoT and IIoT devices have restricted network access. This prevents outsiders from taking control of an IoT device and using it to gain unfettered access throughout the network.

Controlling who and what can access the network is a high-stakes job for IT organizations. Data breaches are becoming more frequent, sophisticated and expensive, and the risks are enormous. Increasingly formidable NAC solutions should be an essential element of every organization’s security environment.