CompTIA CSA+ Study Guide. Mike Chapple
require special software.
In-Band vs. Out-of-Band In-band (or inline) NAC solutions use dedicated appliances that sit in between devices and the resources that they wish to access. They deny or limit network access to devices that do not pass the NAC authentication process. The “captive portal” NAC solutions found in hotels that hijack all web requests until the guest enters a room number are examples of in-band NAC. Out-of-band NAC solutions, such as 802.1x, leverage the existing network infrastructure and has network devices communicate with authentication servers and then reconfigure the network to grant or deny network access, as needed.
NAC solutions are often used simply to limit access to authorized users based on those users successfully authenticating, but they may also make network admission decisions based on other criteria. Some of the criteria used by NAC solutions include:
Time of Day Users may be authorized to access the network only during specific time periods, such as during business hours.
Role Users may be assigned to particular network segments based on their role in the organization. For example, a college might assign faculty and staff to an administrative network that may access administrative systems while assigning students to an academic network that does not allow such access.
Location Users may be granted or denied access to network resources based on their physical location. For example, access to the datacenter network may be limited to systems physically present in the datacenter.
System Health NAC solutions may use agents running on devices to obtain configuration information from the device. Devices that fail to meet minimum security standards, such as having incorrectly configured host firewalls, outdated virus definitions, or missing patches, may be either completely denied network access or placed on a special quarantine network where they are granted only the limited access required to update the system’s security.
Administrators may create NAC rules that limit access based on any combination of these characteristics. NAC products provide the flexibility needed to implement the organization’s specific security requirements for network admission.
You’ll sometimes see the acronym NAC expanded to “Network Admission Control” instead of “network access control.” In both cases, people are referring to the same general technology. Network Admission Control is a proprietary name used by Cisco for its network access control solutions.
NAC solutions are designed to manage the systems that connect directly to an organization’s wired or wireless network. They provide excellent protection against intruders who seek to gain access to the organization’s information resources by physically accessing a facility and connecting a device to the physical network. They don’t provide protection against intruders seeking to gain access over a network connection. That’s where firewalls enter the picture.
Network firewalls sit at the boundaries between networks and provide perimeter security. Much like a security guard might control the physical perimeter of a building, the network firewall controls the electronic perimeter. Firewalls are typically configured in the triple-homed fashion illustrated in Figure 1.6. Triple-homed simply means that the firewall connects to three different networks. The firewall in Figure 1.6 connects to the Internet, the internal network, and a special network known as the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Any traffic that wishes to pass from one zone to another, such as between the Internet and the internal network, must pass through the firewall.
Figure 1.6 A triple-homed firewall connects to three different networks, typically an internal network, a DMZ, and the Internet.
The DMZ is a special network zone designed to house systems that receive connections from the outside world, such as web and email servers. Sound firewall designs place these systems on an isolated network where, if they become compromised, they pose little threat to the internal network because connections between the DMZ and the internal network must still pass through the firewall and are subject to its security policy.
Whenever the firewall receives a connection request, it evaluates it according to the firewall’s rule base. This rule base is an access control list (ACL) that identifies the types of traffic permitted to pass through the firewall. The rules used by the firewall typically specify the source and destination IP addresses for traffic as well as the destination port corresponding to the authorized service. A list of common ports appears in Table 1.1. Firewalls follow the default deny principle, which says that if there is no rule explicitly allowing a connection, the firewall will deny that connection.
Table 1.1 Common TCP ports
Several categories of firewalls are available on the market today, and they vary in both price and functionality:
● Packet filtering firewalls simply check the characteristics of each packet against the firewall rules without any additional intelligence. Packet filtering firewall capabilities are typically found in routers and other network devices and are very rudimentary firewalls.
● Stateful inspection firewalls go beyond packet filters and maintain information about the state of each connection passing through the firewall. These are the most basic firewalls sold as stand-alone products.
● Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) incorporate even more information into their decision-making process, including contextual information about users, applications, and business processes. They are the current state-of-the-art in network firewall protection and are quite expensive compared to stateful inspection devices.
● Web application firewalls (WAFs) are specialized firewalls designed to protect against web application attacks, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting. WAFs are discussed in more detail in Chapter 13, “Cybersecurity Toolkit.”
Firewalls use a principle known as network segmentation to separate networks of differing security levels from each other. This principle certainly applies to the example shown in Figure 1.6, where the internal network, DMZ, and Internet all have differing security levels. The same principle may be applied to further segment the internal network into different zones of trust.
For example, imagine an organization that has several hundred employees and a large datacenter located in its corporate headquarters. The datacenter may house many sensitive systems, such as database servers that contain sensitive employee information, business plans, and other critical information assets. The corporate network may house employees, temporary contractors, visitors, and other people who aren’t entirely trusted. In this common example, security professionals would want to segment the datacenter network so that it is not directly accessible by systems on the corporate network. This can be accomplished using a firewall, as shown in Figure 1.7.
Figure 1.7 A triple-homed firewall may also be used to isolate internal network segments of varying trust levels.
The network shown in Figure 1.7 uses a triple-homed firewall, just as was used to control the network perimeter with the Internet in Figure 1.6. The concept is identical, except in this case the firewall is protecting the perimeter of the datacenter from the less trusted corporate network.