What Is Web Filtering And Why Should I Use It?
The internet can be a dangerous ‘place’ – especially for youngsters. We want to be able to protect them from the dangers of the internet whilst we are not there, whilst simultaneously allowing them free access to browse the web with (relative) impunity. And this is one very common occurrence where web filtering is the solution.
These thoughts and comments are equally applicable to any of your employees and colleagues. They are mostly grown-up people, but they can still need some help to protect themselves and their environment from danger on the Internet. Not everything is what it seem…
What Is Web Filtering?
A good question to clarify before we continue.
Put very simply, a web filter – which is also commonly referred to as “content control software” – is a piece of software that is designed to restrict what websites a user can and cannot access over the internet.
Commonly, this works through the creation of one of two lists – a whitelist or a blacklist. Websites on a whitelist may be accessed, and those on a blacklist cannot.
On the surface it’s pretty simple, but as with all technology, the deeper you drill down, the more complex things become. For of course, with precisely 987,901,678 live websites at the time of writing (according to the live counter at InternetLiveStats.com) and fluctuating all the time, there’s simply no way that every single website out there can be included on these lists at any one time. And so, some web filtering programs rely on algorithms and protocols to determine the content of a website before deciding whether access should be granted or denied. And there are other types of filter as well, which I go into below.
Web filters are installed either as part of an overall security solution, as a browser extension, or as a standalone program on a single device. That being said, filters can also be installed on the network side, either by an internet service provider or an actual business or organisation in order to put limits on web access to multiple users all at once.
Some search engines also make use of filters to remove undesirable pages from SERPs (search engine results pages).
Who Needs Web Filtering?
There are generally two distinct customer bases for web filtering. Firstly, there are parents like myself who want to protect their young children from viewing undesirable or inappropriate material on the internet. And then there are businesses and other organisations that want to filter certain web content from employees that doesn’t pertain to their jobs, or might otherwise pose a security threat to the business in question.
There is a third customer base for web filtering, which sort of blends the two requirements – schools. Schools of course want to impose a filter on inappropriate material to keep it from children, as well as bolster their security efforts.
Types Of Web Filtering
Blacklist & Whitelist Filters
As already mentioned, these are perhaps the most common types of web filter, simply because of their ease of use. When using blacklists, an administrator (which might be a parent) manually enters all websites that are deemed inappropriate into the program, and those sites are subsequently blocked. Whitelists are used in exactly the same way, only in reverse – i.e. URLs are manually entered onto a whitelist, and all other websites are then off-limits.
This is quite a strict form of filtering, and is best suited for home use, particularly to people like me who are parents of very young children and want to be able to only grant access to specific sites that we have predetermined are safe and appropriate.
Keyword And Content Filters
This type of filtering is in many ways similar to black and whitelist filtering, though with a slightly broader scope. Keyword and content filters will filter out websites that contain specific keywords or predefined content (such as pornography, for example). When a user types in a search query, the software tries to determine – via the use of keywords or through access to previously databased information – what is contained on the site.
Although largely effective, this is of course an inexact science – especially if you opt for cheap or poor quality software – and sometimes the software is unable to recognise a site for what it is, and thusly either allows through inappropriate content, or blocks appropriate stuff.
Whether using black and whitelists or keyword and content filters, the user will have the option of the software being installed directly onto the PC or device (just like any other piece of software). From here it will do its job, monitoring internet activity and blocking any inappropriate content.
This is the most appropriate solution for home filtering, though small businesses can make use of this as well.
For the large enterprise or organisation, server-side filtering is the more practical approach. Although typically less customisable, having a web filter that resides on the company server gives overarching control over all connected computers and devices.
The Advantages Of Web Filtering In The Enterprise
For home use, the advantages of web filtering are pretty clear, and will be mainly for the protection of young children.
But, for the enterprise, although the benefits may not be as immediately obvious, they are in fact much more numerous, and similarly focus more heavily on protection that they do on censorship. So let’s take a look at what they are.
One of the biggest threats to the enterprise is of course malware. Viruses and other attacks can enter a business’s network in many ways, and, as such, is one of the primary reasons why companies decide to filter internet access. If malware is allowed in, it can do all manner of damage, including the deletion or corruption of company data, or the data can be stolen and sent on to other cyber criminals for further exploitation. Web filtering helps the company stay protected from such attacks.
To Aid In Implementation Of IT Policies
Too many company IT policies are just documents that just sit in a drawer somewhere, only to be perhaps glanced through by new employees on their first induction days at the company, and then largely ignored by everyone else. The other common scenario is that the IT policy is hidden away somewhere in the company’s intranet, again mostly unread and unheeded by 90% of the workforce. This is a reality that can be hard for companies to address, and educating users as to the dangers of phishing and accessing questionable websites can be difficult to achieve. However, by using web filtering, the company can take better control over how employees are accessing the web, and can thusly prevent a lot of malpractice before it even happens.
Content filtering can instantly put the organisation into immediate compliance with laws, thusly reducing the liability of the organisation for any breaches – such as the downloading of any copyrighted materials like media files or protected information – that could expose the business to lawsuits or other legal action further down the line.
Avoidance Of Data Leakage
Monitoring and filtering what employees share online will help enforce IT policies and prevent data leakage. Confidential information, trade secrets, company processes, upcoming product releases and other organisation information can leak from a business from time to time. This may be inadvertent or deliberate – but, no matter how it happens, it will cause harm to the company.
Misuse of the company’s internet can of course lead to distractions that hamper efficiency and productivity amongst the workforce. In 2014 it was reported that misuse of internet and social media was driving a 15% rise in workplace disciplinaries. In the US, a study conducted by Websense Inc. found that internet misuse at the office costs businesses more than $63 billion in lost profits per year. According to the study, websites where employees spend most of their time were related to online financial management, social media interaction, pornography downloads and e-commerce gift purchases. All these websites recorded highest activity during work hours – and I think it’s a fair assumption that UK employees wouldn’t fare much better on these fronts. By incorporating web filtering and restricting access to these types of sites, businesses will clearly be able to cut out a lot of procrastinating on company time, and thusly improve efficiency and productivity amongst the workforce.
Thinking about utilising web filtering in your workplace? Or maybe you’ve got some little ones at home who you want to protect from the inherent dangers of indiscriminate surfing on the web. We’ve got the solution for you. Get in touch with us here at Cronlab and let us help you find the right web filtering solution for your home or business.