Key Criteria for Evaluating Network Access Control Solutionsv1.0

An Evaluation Guide for Technology Decision-Makers

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. NAC Primer
  3. Report Methodology
  4. Decision Criteria Analysis
  5. Evaluation Metrics
  6. Key Criteria: Impact Analysis
  7. Analyst’s Take
  8. About Andrew Green

1. Summary

Network access control (NAC) lies at the intersection of network security and visibility. It offers visibility over all network entities and determines whether a device is compliant and can connect to the rest of the network.

After entering the market nearly two decades ago, NAC has become increasingly important over the past few years because the typical enterprise network perimeter has both enlarged and blurred. Since the adoption of bring-your-own-devices, edge locations, internet of things (IoT) deployments, and a generally more fluid workforce, the attack surface is vastly different than it was in the mid 2000s.

To understand NAC, let’s first look at its sequence of operations:

  1. Identifies and profiles devices: First, as soon as a device requests to connect to the network, the NAC solution must understand what the device is, where it’s coming from, and what operating system it uses. Modern NAC solutions can extract all this information without any agents installed on the device.
  2. Verifies credentials and assigns access rights: Once a device has requested to join the network and is profiled, the NAC solution evaluates its credentials and validates its posture against a list of policies or conditions to determine whether it can be allowed to access the network. Depending on the policies, the device will be granted or denied access to the network segments described by the policies.
  3. Continuously monitors how the device behaves: If the solution detects that the device is behaving in unwanted ways, such as starting to scan ports or disabling the antivirus software, the NAC can terminate access to the network.

NAC is also part of a wider enterprise security ecosystem, which includes solutions such as:

  • Mobile device management (MDM): Data such as the jailbreak status of a device can determine whether or not it can connect to a network
  • Firewalls: These are used to accurately enforce policies based on user, group, and specific device attributes and leverage NAC to remediate a device exhibiting poor behavior.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) tools: These can be set up to store authentication data for all connected devices.
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA): Users can be asked to use MFA to verify their identity when connecting to networks and resources.

This GigaOm Key Criteria report details the criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting an effective NAC solution. The companion GigaOm Radar report identifies vendors and products that excel in those criteria and metrics. Together, these reports provide an overview of the category and its underlying technology, identify leading NAC offerings, and help decision-makers evaluate these platforms so they can make a more informed investment decision.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding, consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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