What is 802.1X? Everything you need to know about LAN authentication

Understanding what the IEEE 802.1x standard means understanding two related concepts: PPP and EAP

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The IEEE 802.1X standard defines how to provide authentication for devices trying to connect with other devices on LANs or wireless LANs.

But to understand it and why you should care means understanding three separate concepts: PPP, EAP and 802.1X itself.

PPP and EAP defined

Most people are familiar with PPP - Point-to-Point Protocol. PPP is most commonly used for dial-up Internet access. PPP is also used by some ISPs for DSL and cable modem authentication, in the form of PPP over Ethernet. PPP is part of Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, a core part of Microsoft's secure remote access solution for Windows 2000 and beyond.

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What is PPP

PPP evolved beyond its original use as a dial-up access method and is now used all over the Internet. One piece of PPP defines an authentication mechanism. With dial-up Internet access, that's the username and password you're used to using. PPP authentication is used to identify the user at the other end of the PPP line before giving them access.

What is EAP?

Most enterprises want to do more for security than simply employing usernames and passwords for access, so a new authentication protocol, called the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), was designed. EAP sits inside of PPP's authentication protocol and provides a generalized framework for several different authentication methods. EAP is supposed to head off proprietary authentication systems and let everything from passwords to challenge-response tokens and public-key infrastructure certificates all work smoothly.

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