3 Campus WiFi Challenges That Can be Solved Using NAC

Written by Danny Mareco Danny Mareco | September 30, 2016 | Read Time: 4 mins

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Increasing numbers of mobile devices, outdated wifi infrastructure, BYOD and the IoT, obsolete RF designs, new security threats; these are just some of the challenges that college and university IT departments are facing every day. Deploying and managing wireless in higher education has become increasingly more complex to manage over the last 5 years.

The average student attending college today typically owns 3.5 mobile devices, however, we've seen this number jump to as high as 12 devices in a single dorm at one time. Students rely on mobile devices, not only for their education but for their everyday personal lives.  

This change in how students learn and interact with one another through mobile has taken campus wifi requirements and extended them beyond the classroom and learning environment. With things like bring your own device and the internet of things almost everyone and everything requires access to the modern-day campus wifi network.

Having the necessary visibility and control of who, what, where, when and how your end-users, their devices and applications are accessing your network is critical for everyone's success and safety.

So what systems do you need in place in order to be successful? Who and/or what has access? What level of access do they have? How do you keep everyone and every point of entry to your wireless network secure? 

A big piece of the access puzzle is deploying a network access control solution or NAC. 

Here are three common WLAN challenges in higher education today and how network access control can help you overcome each one. 

What is Network Access Control? 

Network access control at its simplest definition is a security solution that allows you to define and create rules to manage devices and/or users when they access your campus wifi network

Think of it this way, NAC allows you to identify, assign and enforce pre-determined rules or polices to manage the access to your WLAN. 

Challenge 1 – Managing your end-users 

College campuses support a large variety of users, all requiring different levels of access. From students and guests, to professors, administrators and contractors, everyone needs access to different resources.  

Network access control allows you to create policies or rules based on various different sets of criteria. At the minimum you will need to define these three things: 

  • Role – Who the end-user has been identified as (student, faculty etc.) 
  • Device – What type of device the end-user is using (laptop, smartphone etc.) 
  • Location – Where the device or user is accessing the network from on or off campus 

Using this type of data you can not only have clear visibility of the 5 W's but equally as important, enable secure access to your network based on context and the criteria or rules that make the most sense for your school. 

Challenge 2 – Supporting BYOD 

Bring your own device is not a new concept, however, the challenge is still the same. How do you safely manage devices you don't own? 

Again, this is where NAC can have a big impact. 

With network access control you can use the same information (who, what, when, where, how) to set-up rules that allow you to better manage the BYOD devices trying to access your campus wifi network.  

You can set-up rules that enforce things like: 

  • Who can access the network through BYOD 
  • How many devices can they connect using BYOD 

Utilizing the right NAC solution doesn't stop there. You can also create a safer and more enjoyable experience for your end-users by simplifying processes like not having to remember passwords and enhancing your network's security posture by using certificate-based authentication authentication

Some network access control products also allow you to integrate with other third party security platforms such as mobile device management (MDM) and firewalls. This is a must-have feature that strengthens your ability to provide secure access.  

Challenge 3 – Safely allowing the Internet of Things 

The internet of things has and continues to impact every industry and how we think about deploying, securing and using wireless and mobility. 

The IoT has made it possible to connect anything and everything, and while this presents unbelievable opportunities, it's also made it pretty difficult to manage and properly secure. 

One of the reasons for this is visibility. How do you secure what you can't see or didn't realize was even there?

Using custom fingerprints, network access control lets you define your IoT devices and assign proper rules for granting access to your network, just like you would do with a smartphone or laptop. 

The goal is to give your users and devices everything they need, nothing more, and nothing less.

For example, why would your HVAC system need access to your accounting resources? It wouldn't, and failing to properly identify this point of entry and define it's level of access could leave you wide open to malicious attacks. 

Getting Started 

Network access control is an incredibly powerful tool that all colleges and universities should consider as they work towards providing secure access for their students, staff and guests.  

These were just a few of the challenges that NAC can play a positive role in solving, if you're not sure if NAC is right for your campus wifi network, answer these 10 questions. If you answer "yes" to any one of them, you're probably ready to take a closer look at NAC. 

At SecurEdge Networks, it’s our mission to help you create an affordable, robust, secure, and easy to support wireless network platform. If you have any questions about network access control or would like to discuss an upcoming project, please contact us here today.

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