NAC: Now or later?

NAC has grown rapidly as a method for enforcing information security policies, but without a unified standard, there is still uncertainty about how things will shake out

Many network and security administrators have implemented or are considering network access control (NAC) to support corporate security policies, but doubts remain about the technology.

NAC has grown rapidly as a method for enforcing information security policies, but without a unified standard, there is still uncertainty about how things will shake out. Think Betamax and VHS -- or more recently, Blu-ray and HD DVD -- and the "cold feet" effect becomes understandable.

There are three major approaches to NAC standards, with varying degrees of interoperability and development cooperation.

The Trusted Computing Group's (TCG) Trusted Network Connect (TNC) is a full set of standards for NAC developed by member companies.

Network Access Protection (NAP) is Microsoft's entry into computer posture checking and will become fully operational with Windows Server 2008 .

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has been working on a set of NAC standards referred to as the Network Endpoint Assessment (NEA).

NEA is still in the standards process and will likely be there for some time. "The IETF is comprised of [sic] individuals, while TNC was developed by member companies," explains Steve Hanna, co-chairman of both the IETF and TCG NAC working groups. Because contributions to IETF initiatives are often from many individuals around the globe via e-mail, whereas the TNC approach is more streamlined because of limited participation, the IETF process takes longer to produce standards.

Hanna explains that the IETF initiative has been under way for over a year, yet there hasn't been an agreement about what the standard should look like. He says he believes the process could take several more years. But does that imply that those who may be waiting for an IETF standard before deploying a NAC system should continue to wait that long?

Wait or deploy?

Recently, I moderated a NAC panel arranged by a network security consulting company. Potential and current NAC users took this opportunity to grill the panel -- which consisted of representatives from Cisco, Hewlett-Packard's ProCurve unit, Symantec and Juniper Networks -- on NAC product offerings and directions.

Without a doubt, the lack of a single, unified standard was on the minds of many of the attendees. When asked if users should wait to deploy NAC until the standards had settled, however, all representatives were unanimous in stating that if there is an immediate need and a solution exists, then deployment now is preferable.

Still, there is a gamble about whether the standards will converge at all. Hanna has hopes that the IETF will eventually be aligned with the TNC initiative. Cisco Systems may not yet be on the TNC bandwagon, but the company supports the IETF initiative and has partnered with Microsoft to ensure interoperability with NAP. Adding the fact that Microsoft donated a standard (download PDF) for the TNC client and a standard to work with the NAP system, it's clear that there is already movement toward that convergence.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Greg Schaffer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?