Web and MAC authentication are designed for employment on the "edge" of a network to provide port-based security measures for protecting private networks and a switch from unauthorized access. Because neither method requires clients to run special supplicant software (unlike 802.1X authentication), both web and MAC authentication are suitable for legacy systems and temporary access situations where introducing supplicant software is not an attractive option. Only a web browser (for web-based authentication) or a MAC address (for MAC authentication) is required.

Both web and MAC authentication methods rely on a RADIUS server to authenticate network access. This simplifies access security management by allowing the control of access from a master database in a single server. Up to three RADIUS servers can be used for backup in case access to the primary server fails. It also means the same credentials can be used for authentication, regardless of which switch or switch port is the current access point into the LAN.

On a port configured for web-based or MAC authentication, the switch operates as a port-access authenticator using a RADIUS server and the CHAP protocol. Inbound traffic is processed by the switch alone, until authentication occurs. Some traffic from the switch to an unauthorized client is supported (for example, broadcast or unknown destination packets) before authentication occurs.