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Understanding Authentication Profiles

Authentication profiles include the authentication method and authentication parameters to be used for client authentication. Available authentication methods are 802.1X (dot1x), MAC-RADIUS, captive portal, and last-resort. 802.1X is the default authentication method for all device types but you can change this or add additional authentication types. If you configure multiple authentication methods on a single interface, the system tries the first method listed and then falls back to another method if the first method is unsuccessful.

You can create one or more Authentication profiles to specify different authentication methods based on client devices or sessions.

Each Authentication profile is specific to a device family. After you create an Authentication profile, you can include it in a Port profile. The Authentication profile specified in a Port profile is used to authenticate all the users and devices that connect to the port.

802.1X Authentication

Newer equipment supports the IEE standard called 802.1X. 802.1X is basically an Enterprise, per-user (username and password) authentication mechanism – it is both the newest and strongest authentication you can use. Since 802.1X authentication is the most secure authentication option, it is preferable to the older PSK authentication, Web Portals, MAC authentication, or open authentication, which really means no authentication.

802.1X authentication involves three entities, a supplicant, an authenticator, and an authentication server. The supplicant is a client device, such as a laptop, that wishes to attach to a network. The authenticator would be a switch. The authentication server is usually a RADIUS server, which can interpret 802.1X EAP modes.

  • Single supplicant mode authenticates only the first end device that connects to an authenticator port. All other end devices connecting to the authenticator port after the first has connected successfully, whether they are 802.1X-enabled or not, are permitted free access to the port without further authentication. If the first authenticated end device logs out, all other end devices are locked out until an end device authenticates.

  • Single-secure supplicant mode authenticates only one end device to connect to an authenticator port. No other end device can connect to the authenticator port until the first logs out.

  • Multiple supplicant mode authenticates multiple end devices individually on one authenticator port. If you configure a maximum number of devices that can be connected to a port through port security, the lesser of the configured values is used to determine the maximum number of end devices allowed per port.

MAC RADIUS Authentication

A media access control address (MAC address) is a unique identifier assigned to network interfaces for communications on the physical network segment. MAC addresses are used as a network address for most IEEE 802 network technologies, including Ethernet. A client’s MAC address can be used for authentication by mapping a password to the client’s entry in the MAC address table. MAC authentication can be done either locally or with a RADIUS server.

Captive Portal Authentication

Captive Portals are frequently used to authenticate hotspots, forcing all users to use the configured logon web page. Many companies use captive portals to authenticate guest users for temporary use of the company network. The Captive Portal has one password for all users, which should be changed frequently.