Difference Between Cisco TrustSec and MACsec (With Table)

The rifeness of data transfers nowadays is massive; however, so are the risks of cybercrime. There are a number of serious threats that a business or organization may face while transferring data. Cisco TrustSec and MACsec are terms related to network security standards that can play a crucial role in protecting such data.

Cisco TrustSec vs MACsec

The difference between Cisco TrustSec and MACsec is that Cisco TrustSec is an umbrella term for certain security architectures that have been developed, launched, and refined by the company Cisco. On the other hand, MACsec, which is short for ‘Media Access Control security’, is a feature that comes under Cisco TrustSec.

Cisco TrustSec is an access control mechanism that makes it easier and safer to transfer data from one network to another. Network segmentation and endpoint access controls can be modified by administrators simply by using Cisco TrustSec. This tones down the complications that arise in IT engineering and other operations.

MACsec is a security protocol that comes under CiscoTrustsec. This is a layer 2 encryption that secures data transfers between two switches or hosts. It even enables efficient security for data transfers between a switch and a host. By using MACsec, communication over the ethernet becomes relatively secure. This kind of security engagement is defined by IEEE standard 802.1AE.

Comparison Table Between Cisco TrustSec and MACsec

Parameters of ComparisonCisco TrustSecMACsec
MeaningCisco TrustSec is a network security standard that enables safe network segmentation.MACsec is a security protocol that enables safe communication between devices on the ethernet.
RelationCisco Trustsec is an umbrella term for certain security architectures that Cisco developed.MACsec is a feature of Cisco TrustSec.
StandardCisco TrustSec is compliant with 802.1AE standard and uses AES 123 GCM and GMAC.MACsec is defined by the IEEE 802.1AE standard.
UsesCisco TrustSec is used for enabling safe access controls for data centers and networking territories.MACsec helps protect the data that is transferred between switches, hosts, or between switch and host.
LaunchCisco TrustSec was launched in the year 2004.MACsec was launched in 2006.

What is Cisco TrustSec?

Cisco TrustSec is a system that includes several security architectures for safe data transfers. It enables administrators to segment their data in an easy and organized manner. In simple terms, Cisco TrustSec can be looked at as a solution of access control that minimizes security risks. This is done by allowing visibility of who and what gets connected to the infrastructure of the network.

This system also allows an administrator to control where these connections can go. Along with this, it has advanced identity and enforcement capabilities. Some of these capabilities include security group tagging, flexible authentication, access control lists that can be downloaded, posture assessment, and much more. The system is compliant with the IEEE 802.1AE standard and uses AES 123 GCM and GMAC.

Cisco TrustSec comprises three major components. These include – group-based control over SGT, Network device administration control, Secure Communication (MACsec). Using these components optimally, users can adopt the Cisco TrustSec system to reduce the complexity that arises in IT engineering and its operations. The components have been vetted and thoroughly tested by experts in the field.

By using the Cisco TrustSec architecture, one can simplify policies using business context, enhance security, enable simplified operations, and even reduce expenses. This is one reason why this system was accepted and used by people widely. Moreover, Cisco TrustSec can even use extensive ISE profiling and mobile device management integration functions during the process of classification.

What is MACsec?

MACsec is a feature of Cisco TrustSec which enables safe and secure communication between devices over the ethernet. This transfer can take place between two switches, two hosts, or even one switch and one host. MACsec follows the IEEE 802.1AE standard for protection. It relies on GCM-AES-128 to provide integrity and confidentiality.

MACsec is a Layer 2 protocol that secures all the data within a LAN. This also includes DHCP, ARP, and traffic from higher layered protocols. It is an extended version of 802.1X. Moreover, this feature of Cisco TrustSec also provides protected key exchange and mutual authentication for the nodes of MACsec. However, it is often argued that IPsec and TLS may work more efficiently.

The architecture of MACsec is such that each node is granted with at least one transmit-secure channel. This transmits secure channel is quite useful when it comes to storing numerous different configuration parameters. This may include the decision of either performing replay protection or enabling data encryption.

Another benefit of using MACsec is that the protocol is compatible with various other tunneling technologies such as VXLAN, GRETAP, and GENEVE. By using the protocol, all the internal traffic can be encrypted even before it exits the virtual machines. Due to this, a breach is impossible and no one except the user will be able to peek into the data that is being transferred.

Main Differences Between Cisco TrustSec and MACsec

  1. Cisco TrustSec is a system that is used for network segmentation while MACsec is a protocol that enables safe communication over ethernet.
  2. Cisco Trustsec is an umbrella term for various protocols while MACsec is a component of the former.
  3. Cisco TrustSec is compliant with the 802.1AE standard and uses AES 123 GCM and GMAC whereas MACsec is defined by the IEEE 802.1AE standard.
  4. Cisco TrustSec enables better security over access controls while MACsec provides better security over communication.
  5. CiscoTrustsec was launched in 2004 while MACsec became standardized in 2006.


Cisco TrustSec and MACsec are commonly used terms in the network security industry. For those who are not familiar with such terminologies, it may be difficult to understand the difference between the two. However, a major distinguishing factor is that Cisco TrustSec is an entire system and MACsec is a part of it. 

Another major difference between the two lies in the function for which they are used. Cisco TrustSec allows a user to segment a network easily while MACsec enables utmost safety during communication that takes place over the Ethernet. While using Cisco TrustSec, it is obvious that the administrator will use MACsec as well.


  1. https://www.theseus.fi/handle/10024/345970
  2. https://search.proquest.com/openview/b9448da0b2dee5756a52eb2de7dbde6a/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=43820
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