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Network User Authentication by Anthony Sequeira

For security purposes, some switches require users to authenticate themselves (that is, provide credentials, such as a username and password, to prove who they are) before gaining access to the rest of the network. A standards-based method of enforcing user authentication is IEEE 802.1X.

With 802.1X enabled, a switch requires a client to authenticate before communicating on the network. After the authentication occurs, a key is generated that is shared between the client and the device to which it attaches (for example, a wireless LAN controller or a Layer 2 switch). The key then encrypts traffic coming from and being sent to the client.

Figure 11-24 illustrates the three primary components of an 802.1X network, which are described in the following list:

• Supplicant: The supplicant is the device that wants to gain access to a network.

• Authenticator: The authenticator forwards the supplicant's authentication request on to an authentication server. After the authentication server authenticates the supplicant, the authenticator receives a key that is used to communicate securely during a session with the supplicant.

• Authentication server: The authentication server (for example, a Remote Authentication Dial-In Service [RADIUS] server) checks a supplicant's credentials. If the credentials are acceptable, the authentication server notifies the authenticator that the supplicant is allowed to communicate on the network. The authentication server also gives the authenticator a key that can be used to securely transmit data during the authenticator's session with the supplicant.

An even more sophisticated approach to admission control is the Network Access Control (NAC) feature offered by some authentication servers. Beyond just checking credentials, NAC can check characteristics of the device seeking admission to the network. The client's operating system (OS) and version of antivirus software are examples of these characteristics.

About The Author

Anthony Sequeira, CCIE No. 15626, is a Cisco Certified Systems Instructor (CCSI) and author regarding all levels and tracks of Cisco Certification. Anthony formally began his career in the information technology industry in 1994 with IBM in Tampa, Florida. He quickly formed his own computer consultancy, Computer Solutions, and then discovered his true passion-teaching and writing about Microsoft and Cisco technologies. Anthony joined Mastering Computers in 1996 and lectured to massive audiences around the world about the latest in computer technologies. Mastering Computers became the revolutionary online training company, KnowledgeNet, and Anthony trained there for many years. Anthony is currently pursuing his second CCIE in the area of Security and is a full-time instructor for the next-generation of KnowledgeNet, StormWind.com. Anthony is also a VMware Certified Professional.

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