Cisco® Secure Access Control System (ACS) ties together an enterprise's network access policy and identity strategy. Cisco Secure ACS is the world's most trusted enterprise access and policy platform, deployed by 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
A core component of the Cisco TrustSec® solution, Cisco Secure ACS is a highly sophisticated policy platform providing RADIUS and TACACS+ services. It supports the increasingly complex policies needed to meet today's new demands for access control management and compliance. Cisco Secure ACS provides central management of access policies for device administration and wireless, wired 802.1x, and remote (VPN) network access scenarios. Figure 1 shows the Cisco 1121 Access Control System.
Figure 1. Cisco 1121 Secure Access Control System
With the ever-increasing reliance on enterprise networks to perform daily job routines and the increasing number of methods available to access today's networks, security breaches and uncontrolled user access are of primary concern among enterprises. Network security officers and administrators need solutions that support flexible authentication and authorization policies that are tied not only to a user's identity, but also to context such as the network access type, time of day, and the security of the machine used to access the network. Further, there is a need to effectively audit network use, monitor corporate compliance, and gain broad visibility into policies and activities across the network.
Cisco Secure ACS provides the policy control for the Cisco Self Defending Network architecture, an architecture that protects your business by identifying, preventing, and adapting to threats from inside and outside the company. Cisco Secure ACS is a highly scalable, high-performance access policy system that centralizes device administration, authentication, and user access policy and reduces the management and support burden for these functions.
Features and Benefits
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 serves as a Policy Administration Point (PAP) and Policy Decision Point (PDP) for policy-based access control, offering a large set of identity management capabilities, including:
• A powerful, attribute-driven rules-based policy model that addresses complex policy needs in a flexible manner
• A lightweight, web-based graphical user interface (GUI) with intuitive navigation and workflow
• Unique, flexible, and granular device administration with full auditing and reporting capabilities as required for standards compliance
• Integrated advanced monitoring, reporting, and troubleshooting capabilities for maximum control and visibility
• Improved integration with external identity and policy databases, including Windows Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)-accessible databases, simplifying policy configuration and maintenance
• A distributed deployment model that enables large-scale deployments and provides a highly available solution
The Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 rules-based policy model supports the application of different authorization rules under different conditions; thus, policy is contextual and not limited to authorization determined by a single group membership. New integration capabilities allow information in external databases to be directly referenced in access policy rules, and attributes can be used both in policy conditions and authorization rules.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 features centralized collection and reporting of activity and system health information for full manageability of distributed deployments. It supports proactive operations such as monitoring and diagnostics, and reactive operations such as reporting and troubleshooting. Advanced features include a deployment-wide session monitor, threshold-based notifications, entitlement reports, and diagnostic tools.
Table 1 lists the key features and benefits of Cisco Secure ACS 5.3.
Table 1. Key Features and Benefits of Cisco Secure ACS 5.3
Complete access control and confidentiality solution
Can be deployed with other Cisco TrustSec components, including policy components, infrastructure enforcement components, endpoint components, and professional services.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports two distinct protocols for authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA). Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports RADIUS for network access control and TACACS+ for network device access control. Cisco Secure ACS is a single system for enforcing access policy across the network as well as network device configuration and change management as required for standards compliance such as PCI compliance.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports an integrated user repository in addition to supporting integration with existing external identity repositories such as Windows Active Directory and LDAP servers. Multiple databases can be used concurrently for maximum flexibility in enforcing access policy with identity store sequences. Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 also allows authentication of users in internal user repository via passwords stored in any of the external identity repositories available.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports a wide range of authentication protocols, including PAP, MS-CHAP, Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP)-MD5, Protected EAP (PEAP), EAP-Flexible Authentication via Secure Tunneling (FAST), EAP-Transport Layer Security (TLS) and PEAP-TLS to support your authentication requirements. It also supports TACACS+ authentication with CHAP/MSCHAP protocols.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports a rules-based, attribute-driven policy model that provides greatly increased power and flexibility for access control policies that may include authentication protocol requirements, user groups, device restrictions, time of day restrictions, and other access requirements. Cisco Secure ACS may apply downloadable access control lists (dACLs), VLAN assignments, and other authorization parameters. Version 5.3 can also limit concurrent sessions per user group and can disable user accounts based on failed attempts and/or account expiration. Furthermore, it allows comparison between the values of any two attributes that are available to ACS to be used in identity, group-mapping, and authorization policy rules.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports a completely redesigned lightweight, web-based GUI that is easy to use. An efficient, incremental replication scheme quickly propagates changes from primary to secondary systems providing centralized control over distributed deployments. Software upgrades are also managed through the GUI and can be distributed by the primary system to secondary instances.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports wildcards for host MAC addresses, as well as the capability to use IP address ranges while adding network devices and the ability to search devices by their IP address.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 supports a programmatic interface for Create/Read/Update/Delete operations on user objects.
Monitoring and troubleshooting
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 includes an integrated monitoring, reporting, and troubleshooting component that is accessible through the web-based GUI. This tool provides maximum visibility into configured policies and authentication and authorization activities across the network. Logs are viewable and exportable for use in other systems as well.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 can function as a RADIUS or TACACS+ proxy for an external AAA server by forwarding incoming AAA requests from a network access device (NAD) to the external server and forwarding responses from that server back to the NAD initiating such requests.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 is available as a closed and hardened Linux-based appliance or as a software operating system image for VMware ESX/ESXi 4.0/4.1.
Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 is available as a one rack-unit (1-RU), security-hardened, Linux-based appliance with preinstalled Cisco Secure ACS software or as a software operating system image for installation in a virtual machine on VMware ESX 3.5 or ESX/ESXi 4.0/4.1/5.0. Table 2 lists the system specifications for the Cisco 1121 Secure ACS 5.3 Appliance. For VMware ESX system requirements, please review Table 3.
1 serial port, 4 USB 2.0 (2 front, 2 rear), SVGA video
4-post (kit included)
Physical dimensions (1 RU)
(W x D x H)
• 44.0 x 55.9 x 4.45 cm
• 17.3 x 22.0 x 1.75 in.
24.25 (minimum) to 28.0 lb (maximum); 11.0 to 12.7 kg
Number of power supplies
Power supply size
351W universal, autoswitching
Operating temperature range
50 to 95°F; 10 to 35°C (up to 3000 ft/914.4 m)
341 (minimum) to 1024 (maximum) BTUs; 100 to 300W
7000 ft; 2133 m
Table 3. Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 VMware Requirements
ESX 3.5 or ESX/ESXi 4.0/4.1 or ESXi 5.0
2 CPUs (dual CPU, Xeon, Core2 Duo or 2 single CPUs)
4 GB RAM
Hard disk requirement
Minimum 512 GB (60 GB if it is an running evaluation version)
Network NIC (1 Gbps) available for ACS use
Cisco Secure ACS products are available for purchase through regular Cisco sales and distribution channels worldwide. Please refer to the Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 product bulletin for Cisco Secure ACS 5.3 product numbers and ordering information.
Cisco offers a wide range of services programs to accelerate customer success. These innovative programs are delivered through a unique combination of people, processes, tools, and partners, resulting in high levels of customer satisfaction. Cisco services help you to protect your network investment, optimize network operations, and prepare your network for new applications to extend network intelligence and the power of your business. For more information about Cisco services, see Cisco Technical Support Services.