So, Mr. IT professional, you suffer from your colleagues at work connecting all sorts of crap to your network that you’ve never heard of? You’re not alone. As more and more devices hit the network, the ability to maintain control can often prove challenging. Here are your choices for dealing with miscreant devices:
- Prohibit them and enforce the prohibition by firing anyone who attaches an unauthorized device.
- Allow them and suffer.
- Prohibit them but not enforce the prohibition.
- Provide an onboarding and approval process.
A bunch of companies I work with generally aim for 1 and end up with 3. A bunch of administrators recognize the situation and fit into 2. Everyone I talk to wants to find a way to scale 4, but nobody has, as of yet. What does 4 involve? Today, it means an IT person researching a given device, determining what networking requirements it has, creating firewall rules, and some associated policies, and establishing an approval mechanism for a device to connect.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many different enterprise departments have wide and varied needs, and the network stands as critical to many of them. Furthermore, very few of those departments reports through the chief information officer, and chief information security officers often lack the attention their concerns receive.
I would claim that the problem is that incentives are not well aligned, were people in other departments even aware of the IT person’s concerns in the first place, and often they are not. The person responsible for providing vending machines just wants to get the vending machines hooked up, while the person in charge of facilities just wants the lights to come on and the temperature to be correct.
What we know from hard experience is that the best way to address this sort of misalignment is to make it easy for everyone to do the right thing. What, then, is the right thing?
It has been important pretty much forever for enterprises to be able to maintain an inventory of devices that connect to their networks. This can be tied into the DHCP infrastructure or to the device authentication infrastructure. Many such systems exist, the simplest of which is Active Directory. Some are passive and snoop the network. The key point is simply this: you can’t authorize a system if you can’t remember it. In order to remember it, the device itself needs to have some sort of unique identifier. In the simplest case, this is a MAC address.
Ask device manufacturers to help
Manufacturers need to make your life easier by providing you a description what the device’s communication requirements are. The best way to do this is with Manufacturer Usage Descriptions (MUD). When MUD is used, your network management system can retrieve a recommendation from the manufacturer, and then you can approve, modify, or refuse a policy. By doing this, you don’t have to go searching all over random web sites.
Have a simple and accessible user interface for people to use
Once in place you now have a nice system that encourages the right thing to happen, without other departments having to do anything other than to identify the devices they want to connect. That could be as simple as a picture of a QR code or otherwise entering a serial #. The easier we can make it for people who know nothing about networking, the better all our lives will be.