Accessing Networks Using NAC Systems

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NAC provides a measure of control for other computers. It ensures that clients meet predetermined characteristics prior to accessing a network.  If you’re planning to take the SY0-501 or  SY0-401 Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of installing and configuring network components to support organizational security. This includes using NAC systems to isolate computers that don’t meet preset conditions.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Your organization recently implemented a BYOD policy. However, management wants to ensure that mobile devices meet minimum standards for security before they can access any network resources. Which of the following agents would the NAC MOST likely have?

A. Permanent

B. Health

C. RADIUS

D. Dissolvable

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

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Host Health Checks

Administrators set predefined conditions for healthy clients and those that meet these preset conditions can access the network. The NAC system isolates computers that don’t meet the conditions. Common health conditions checked by a NAC are:

  • Up-to-date antivirus software, including updated signature definitions
  • Up-to-date operating system, including current patches and fixes
  • Firewall enabled on the client

NAC systems use authentication agents (sometimes called health agents) to inspect NAC clients. These agents are applications or services that check different conditions on the computer and document the status in a statement of health. When a client connects to a NAC-controlled network, the agent reports the health status of the NAC client.

Consider the figure. When a VPN client accesses the network, the VPN server queries the NAC health server to determine required health conditions. The VPN server also queries the client for a statement of the client’s health. If the client meets all health requirements, the NAC system allows the client to access the network.

Using NAC Systems

Using network access control

However, if a client doesn’t meet the health conditions mandated by the NAC server, the VPN server redirects the client to a remediation network (also called a quarantine network). The remediation network includes resources the client can use to get healthy. For example, it would include current approved patches, antivirus software, and updated virus signatures. The client can use these resources to improve its health and then try to access the network again.

While NAC can inspect the health of VPN clients, you can also use it to inspect the health of internal clients. For example, internal computers may occasionally miss patches and be vulnerable. NAC will detect the unpatched system and quarantine it. If you use this feature, it’s important that the detection is accurate. A false positive by the NAC system can quarantine a healthy client, and prevent it from accessing the network.

Similarly, your organization may allow visitors or employees to plug in their mobile computers to live wall jacks for connectivity, or connect to a wireless network. NAC inspects the clients, and if they don’t meet health conditions, they may be granted Internet access through the network but remain isolated from any other network activity.

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Permanent Versus Dissolvable

Agents on clients can be either dissolvable or permanent. A permanent agent (sometimes called a persistent NAC agent) is installed on the client and stays on the client. NAC uses the agent when the client attempts to log on remotely. This is the most common implementation for corporate-owned devices, and for approved laptops and PCs that employees use to connect remotely.

A dissolvable agent is downloaded and run on the client when the client logs on remotely. It collects the information it needs, identifies the client as healthy or not healthy, and reports the status back to the NAC system. Some dissolvable NAC agents remove themselves immediately after they report back to the NAC system. Others remove themselves after the remote session ends.

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Over 300 realistic Security+ practice test questions

All questions include explanations so you'll know why the correct answers are correct,

and why the incorrect answers are incorrect.

Pass the Security+ Exam

the First Time You Take It

Multiple quiz formats to let you use these questions based on the way you learn.
  • Learn mode - randomized. View each of the questions in random order. Learn mode allows you to keep selecting answers until you select the correct answer. Once you select the correct answer, you'll see the explanation. Click here to see how learn mode works.
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Dissolvable agents are often used on mobile devices when an organization has implemented a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. Employee-owned devices are inspected for health, but the organization doesn’t require users to install extra software on their devices. However, these dissolvable agents can detect vulnerabilities on mobile devices, such as a jail-broken or rooted device. A jail-broken Apple device removes software restrictions, such as the ability to install software from sources other than the Apple store. A rooted Android device has been modified, allowing root-level access to, and the ability to modify, the Android operating system.

Many NAC vendors refer to dissolvable agents as an agentless capability, though this is somewhat of a misnomer. The NAC is still using an agent to inspect the client, but it is not installing the agent on the client.

Remember this

Network access control (NAC) includes methods to inspect clients for health, such as having up-to-date antivirus software. NAC can restrict access of unhealthy clients to a remediation network. You can use NAC for VPN clients and for internal clients. Permanent agents are installed on the clients. Dissolvable agents (sometimes called agentless) are not installed on the clients and are often used to inspect employee-owned mobile devices.


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Q. Your organization recently implemented a BYOD policy. However, management wants to ensure that mobile devices meet minimum standards for security before they can access any network resources. Which of the following agents would the NAC MOST likely have?

A. Permanent

B. Health

C. RADIUS

D. Dissolvable

Answer is D. A dissolvable agent is often used on employee-owned devices and would be appropriate if an organization implemented a bring your own device (BYOD) policy.

A permanent network access control (NAC) agent is installed on the device permanently, but this might cause problems for employee-owned devices.

Any NAC agent is a health agent.

Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) is used for authentication, not to inspect clients.

See Chapter 4 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide

or

See Chapter 4 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide 

for more information on securing network.

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