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Crash Course: 802.1X: The Great Authenticator


802.1X is a simple protocol with a high level of responsibility. Built for wired networks, then extended to wireless, it provides network-access controls by ensuring appropriate credentials are received. A fully enabled 802.1X architecture won't allow access to unauthorized users: All communication is blocked. Only after authentication can an end-user device transmit or receive network traffic. The protocol also can limit users to particular VLANs and quarantine users whose devices do not pass security muster.

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802.1X is not a new protocol, so why is it imperative that it be implemented now? Tougher access-level security, native 802.1X support in both wired and wireless infrastructure, and developments in applications that ensure end-user device integrity make considering a full-scale 802.1X implementation within your enterprise a very desirable option.

Of course, 802.1X is only one piece of enterprise security; other options to consider are strong, multifactor user authentication and a defense-in-depth layered security approach. But 802.1X's flexibility and simplistic way of implementing the right controls and stopgaps at the network's edge make it appropriate for any network.

Security appliances that support 802.1X don't do their jobs alone: They use 802.1X to make informed network-access decisions. These devices (switches and wireless access points, for example) rely heavily on the negotiation between client devices and the back-end authentication infrastructure to validate credentials and perform more process-intensive operations.

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