Why Are Security and Authentication So Important for Console Access Servers?

A console access server provides network administrators with a convenient “back door” for out-of-band access to console port command functions on remote network elements. Although this function can prove extremely valuable when troubleshooting communication problems at remote sites, it’s also a good idea to keep in mind that without proper security and authentication features, a console access server can also present a potential weak spot in your network security.

Given the power remote out of band management capabilities provided by a console access server, its important to make certain to choose a console access server product that includes adequate security features as well as support for popular authentication protocols. Ideally, a console access server should support common security features such as password protection, a multi-user directory system, and IP address filtering, as well as authentication protocols such as LDAP, Kerberos, RADIUS and TACACS+. Although security features usually do a good job of preventing access by unauthorized users, support for authentication protocols helps to ensure that even if an unauthorized user manages to get their hands on a valid password, the console access server will still be able to prevent them from gaining access and be able to recognize the fact that the unauthorized user is not whom they claim to be.

In cases where the console access server will be contacted via modem, it’s also important to make certain that the console access server product includes adequate security or authentication tools tools to prevent unauthorized access via modem. Although security features for modem communication are generally limited to password protection, a feature that’s often called “callback security” or “dial-back security” does provide a certain level of authentication. When a console access server supports callback security, users who attempt to communicate with the console access server are not granted immediate access to command mode, instead, after the user enters a valid password, the console access server confirms that the password was correct, then disconnects and dials the user back at a phone number that has been predefined for the user’s account. Upon callback, the console access server will again prompt the user to enter their password. If a valid password is entered at this point, the user is then allowed to access command functions on devices connected to the console access server.

IP Address filtering provides formidable protection against invalid access by allowing administrators to prevent specific IP addresses or ranges of IP addresses from being able to establish a connection with the console access server. Typically, the IP address filter can be configured to only allow specific, user-defined IP address, block entire ranges of IP addresses or allow entire ranges of IP addresses, depending upon the needs of the individual application.

The out of band management capabilities provided by a console access server are an integral part of any network management plan. But given the powerful capabilities provided by a console access server, it’s also important to ensure that only authorized users are allowed to access the wide range of console port command functions that are made available by a console access server. With this in mind, it pays to make certain to choose a console access server product that not only provides fast, reliable out of band access to remote network elements, but also includes adequate security and authentication protocols to protect remote network elements from unauthorized access.

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