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August 2005

Switching Lanes

Bits & Bolts Learn how to leverage the VLAN as a security tool. The virtual LAN (VLAN) capabilities of all modern LAN switches allow savvy network managers to create and distribute VoIP, mobile wireless and management networks without expensive equipment and infrastructures. But, can VLANs be used as security tools, and is it a good idea to make the VLAN barrier part of your security infrastructure? The answer is yes--with reservations. Although VLANs themselves may not introduce security exposures, they do present the opportunity for attackers to have unprecedented access to the control plane of the network. When VLANs are used as security barriers, your security infrastructure's "weak link" moves from the firewall to the switch, and, because switches aren't generally configured with security in mind, opportunities for mischief abound. For example, suppose you wanted to distribute a wireless guest network. You can place all wireless users outside a separate wireless firewall and, using VLANs, mark certain switch ports as being ...

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