Remote Access Security


Acronyms.  Remote access security can be quite a mine laden venture.  System designers, developers and administrators need to be able to develop security that works when users are not within their own trusted domains. 

As with pretty much every aspect of networking and security, this subset of security is laden with jargon and acronyms.  Throughout this collection of webpages we will cover a pretty large variety of topics including the following.

  • RAS - Remote Access Servers
  • NAS - Network Access Servers
  • VPNs - Virtual Private Networks

There are plenty of other technologies, particularly relating to wireless.

Remote Access Process.  In order to examine remote access security, we need to first discuss the remote access process.

The process for connecting remotely involves two main aspects.

  • a temporary network connection
    • dial up
    • the Internet
    • wireless access
    • an access LAN
  • a set/series of protocols to negotiate privileges and commands requiring
    • AAA
      • authentication
      • authorization
      • accounting

The following diagram gives a representation of the process.



Identification and Authentication.  First the user must be identified and authenticated by matching user supplied information to credentials that have been previously supplied. 

The U.S. Government has published something called the Rainbow Series for computer security.  Within this series, the government has suggested there are three main categories of things that can be used to identify and authenticate a user.

  • what users know
    • password
    • PIN - personal identification number
    • username
    • email address
    • security questions/answers
  • what users have
    • some card for swiping
    • a computer with a particular MAC address
    • a call back phone number
    • a token
  • what users are
    • fingerprint
    • retinal scan
    • some other biometrics

In reality, identification and authentication are usually done with the following.

  • username
  • password

There is the possibility that other things are supplied or done such as the following.

Authorization.  The next step is authorization where privileges are given based on the authenticated identity.  Authorization usually involves the following sorts of issues.

  • does this user have permission to access the network in this time window?
  • what sorts of applications and/or services can this user make use of?

Authorization capabilities are usually built in to an operating system.  Though, there are still plenty of reasons to augment and improve built in capabilities.

Accounting.  The final step accounting relates to the collection of particular information associated with this user's session such as the following.

  • duration of network access
    • which may be billable and/or limited
  • what resources were used
  • what services were used
  • log of time
  • log of bandwidth
  • log of file transfers
  • security logs of user

Improving Validity.  Separating these tasks involved in accessing a network has a variety of advantages.  Some of the biggest advantages derive from the variety of approaches that can be used at each step.  This can allow the system admins to select one or many ways to identify, authenticate, authorize and account in many different combinations with other approaches.  It also allows admins greater flexibility in choosing and/or changing their approaches so they are less obvious to attackers.

More will be added.