ForeScout Technologies CounterACT 6.3.4

Network access control (NAC) products are often seen as expensive and difficult to deploy. ForeScout's CounterACT claims to be anything but and in this review Dave Mitchell tests this latest virtual appliance.


The network access control (NAC) market has seen a modest growth over the past few years, but the added pressures of compliance with data protection regulations has sparked increased interest. Established in 2000, ForeScout Technologies has been in this game longer than most and its latest CounterACT 6.3.4 is now available as a virtual appliance.

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CounterACT is designed to provide full visibility of all network devices, users and applications, use baselines to determine their security posture and permit appropriate network access based on these findings. ForeScout offers it preinstalled on a range of hardware appliances, but now supports VMware ESX and ESXi

One of the biggest drawbacks of many NAC solutions is their inability to work within existing network infrastructures but CounterACT avoids these problems with two methods of network scanning. An OOB (out-of-band) mode uses a switch span port to see all network traffic and also allows CounterACT to provide intrusion prevention and apply virtual firewall policies. It can also query devices such as firewalls and routers about connected devices. This uses SNMP or CLI access and requires a plug-in for the device which ForeScout provides for all major vendors.

Virtual appliance installation is straightforward and CounterACT requires a dedicated virtual switch for its span port.

Virtual appliance installation is straightforward and CounterACT requires a dedicated virtual switch for its span port.

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CounterACT uses a response port to enforce NAC policies with actions such as HTTP redirection, VLAN quarantining and virtual firewall blocking. If it spots potentially malicious traffic it also uses the response port to redirect the traffic to a virtual host it creates on the fly so it can examine it.

For installation, we created a new virtual machine on one of the lab's VMware ESX Server 4 systems. ForeScout provides an ISO image rather than an OVF template so you need to upload the file into the VM's datastore and set it as the boot media.

For OOB operations you create a new virtual switch with a dedicated physical network port on the VMware host. This is assigned to the CounterACT VM and must be set to promiscuous mode so it can see all traffic.

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