Chapter 1. An Overview of RADIUS

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to use authentication of any type to gain access to anything. But as long as free enterprise exists and access to private resources is sold, authentication will exist.

You may have experienced authentication as recently as an hour ago, when you used a dial-up Internet account to log on and surf the Web for the latest headlines. You may have checked your corporate email on your PalmPilot to see if your biggest client had returned your message about the newest proposal. And this weekend, when you use a VPN to connect to your office network so you can revise that presentation that’s due early Monday morning, you’ll have to authenticate yourself.

But what goes on behind the scenes when you prove your identity to a computer? After all, the computer has to have a set of processes and protocols to verify that you are indeed who you say you are, find out what you are allowed to access, and finally, tell you all of this. There’s one protocol that does this all: the Remote Access Dialin User Service, or RADIUS.

RADIUS, originally developed by Livingston Enterprises, is an access-control protocol that verifies and authenticates users based on the commonly used challenge/response method. (I’ll talk more about challenge/response authentication later.) While RADIUS has a prominent place among Internet service providers, it also belongs in any environment where central authentication, regulated authorization, and detailed user accounting is needed or desired.

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