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Identity Based Networking Services (IBNS) December TechChat – Technology Foundation: Part I

November 17, 2008 - 0 Comments

One of our speakers for the “Networks That Know You: Cisco Identity-Based Networking Services” December 11, noon Pacific Cisco Live in Second Life TechChat will be writing a series of blog posts to lay the foundation regarding the relevant technologies for the event. The hope is that this will expedite relevance for all attendees and stimulate a more immersive discussion during the live TechChat.Below is the first in this series focusing on 802.1X.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re visiting a customer or a vendor and the security guard insists that you leave your laptop with him while you’re inside the building. Or perhaps you are allowed to keep your laptop on the condition that you only plug into the yellow wall jacks labeled “Visitor.” In both situations, the end goal is the same: companies are trying to prevent unauthorized access to the network and networked resources. The first solution, though effective, is Draconian in its effect on productivity: why have a mobile device if you can’t get any work done when you’re on the road? The second solution has less impact on productivity, but there’s less security and no visibility. Once you’ve been let loose in the building, the honor system is all that keeps you from plugging into a green wall jack and gaining full access to the corporate network. At that point, there is no way to monitor what you are doing on the corporate network: all the IT administrators know is that you’re”supposed to be” in the yellow jack. Moreover, application level security is not enough to protect corporate assets from such accidental (or deliberate) incursions. Some legacy applications cannot be fully secured at Layer 7 and there are plenty of other vulnerable targets on the network.Fortunately, there is another way: leverage the intelligence of the network to identify each user as they come onto the network and dynamically grant the appropriate level of access to that user. This is the founding premise of Identity-Based Networking Services (IBNS), a Cisco solution for identity-based network access control. IBNS starts with 802.1X, an IEEE specification that describes how to authenticate users and devices in order to provide port-based access control. An 802.1X-enabled port drops all traffic until the connected device provides valid credentials. The only traffic allowed through the port is Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP). EAP is a layer 2 protocol that allows devices to send passwords, certificates or tokens to authenticate themselves to the network. Once authenticated, the port is opened to other kinds of traffic, subject to the dynamic security policy that has (optionally) been applied to the port. image If it’s that effective, you may ask, why isn’t everyone doing 802.1X? The answer is -they are-on wireless networks. The adoption of 802.1X on wired networks has been slowed by several factors, not the least of which is that many legacy devices assume network connectivity at link-up and/or cannot support an 802.1X client (also called a”supplicant”). In a pure 802.1X environment, these devices would never be able to gain access to the network. Talk about a productivity hit! Asking visitors to leave their laptops with the security guard looks like small potatoes if the alternative is having all printers offline. Therefore, IBNS starts with 802.1X but it cannot end there. Deploying 802.1X in real-world wired networks requires a rich set of features that allows the network to enforce identity-based access control for all devices: printers, PCs, IP phones, guests, and so on. IBNS is an end-to-end solution that provides these features, making 802.1X a reality for wired networks. In future blogs, we’ll talk more about these features and how to deploy them to make any 802.1X implementation faster and simpler. We’ll also discuss new ways to control and customize users’ access to the network.Written by Shelly Cadora, PhD**Shelly will be one of our speakers during the December Cisco Live in Second Life TechChat. She is a technical marketing engineer for Identity-Based Networking solutions. She is a 10 year Cisco veteran with a CCIE in Routing and Switching (#16318). Prior to becoming involved with Identity and 802.1X, she was involved in the development of the ASA firewall and Cisco IP Telephony solutions.

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