An Internet content filtering solution is an essential tool for organizations concerned about cybersecurity. Internet content filter solutions help to prevent web users from visiting webpages harboring malware, viruses, and ransomware and stop them inadvertently downloading malicious software onto their organization´s computers or network.
An Internet filtering solution can thwart email phishing campaigns and, when used as an Internet access control solution, block access to productivity-draining websites in the workplace. An Internet access control solution can also help to overcome potential HR issues from unacceptable internet usage and web content filtering solutions can also be used to control bandwidth use by blocking access to streaming sites such as YouTube.
What is Web Content Filtering and Why is it so Important?
Web content filtering is the term given to controlling the types of web content that employees, guests and customers can access while connected to a business’s wired or wireless network. Businesses may want to apply controls over the types of content that can be accessed to stop employees slacking off online. By restricting access to certain types of website such as social media platforms, gaming sites, gambling sites, and dating sites, employers can improve productivity.
Web content filtering also ensures malicious websites cannot be accessed, such as those used for phishing or distributing malware. Malware and ransomware attacks on businesses are increasing and phishing is a major business risk. By implementing this extra layer of protection, businesses can improve their defenses against these threats and prevent costly data breaches. Web content filtering is also a requirement for schools for CIPA compliance. CIPA requires schools to implement measures to prevent children from accessing obscene images.
Content Filtering Solutions Evaluated
There are different types of Internet content filtering solution that allow content control and block web-based threats. A physical appliance can be purchased and installed on-premise, internet content filtering software can be installed on an existing device, or you can filter internet content in the cloud. When evaluating the most suitable web content filter for your organization, you should first be clear about what you hope to achieve, how many resources you are prepared to dedicate to administrating the Internet access control solution, and how much financially you are willing to invest.
Compatibility, flexibility, and scalability are quite often the three factors overlooked when evaluating Internet content filter solutions. This article aims to illustrate why these three factors are so important, and recommends key features you should look for in an Internet content filtering solution to save you time in your search.
Compatibility, Flexibility and Scalability
Compatibility is an important factor in solutions for filtering Internet content. You do not want to commit to a purchase of a hardware appliance or install software without knowing that the Internet content filtering solution is actually going to work on your existing system. You will need to speak with the Internet filter solution vendor and explain what hardware and software you use. They should be able to supply the APIs to allow integration with your existing deployment, billing and management tools.
Depending on the size of your organization, the flexibility of your Internet content filtering solution may also be vital. Flexible – or “granular” – Internet content filter solutions provide the opportunity to filter by department, user group or individual. They might also have time-based filter controls so that, for example, you can prevent “cyberslacking” during working hours but adopt a more relaxed acceptable use policy during lunch hours or after work.
Scalability is also an important consideration. Internet filtering solution pricing is discussed later in this article, and one of the factors that is mentioned is being able to increase or decrease your filtering capacity as your organization expands or contracts. Finding the right Internet content filtering solution can be a time-consuming process, and you do not want to have to go through the process again in one, two or five years’ time. It will be far better to find a solution for filtering Internet content that can scale with your business.
Important Features of an Internet Content Filter Solution
Before getting into the key features of an Internet filtering solution, we will first explain how Internet content filter solutions block access to unsafe, inappropriate and bandwidth consuming websites. The three most common methods used to block access to web pages are blacklists, category filters and keyword filters:
- Blacklists are lists of websites known to contain malware, pornography or other inappropriate material. Blacklists are freely available on the Internet, but should also be supplied and updated by your Internet filtering solution vendor. Whitelists can be created by users to allow access to specific websites or webpages that should always be allowed, even if they violate your web content filtering policies.
- Most Internet content filter solutions allow the blocking of web content by category. Categories can include pornography, online shopping, and sports fan sites for example. If your organization suffers from bandwidth issues, you can use category filters to block access to video streaming sites such as Netflix and YouTube or specific video file formats.
- Keyword filters allow you to block access to specific web content that may be too specialized to be effectively categorized – although many Internet content filter solutions allow you to create your own filtering categories. The keyword filter tool can be used in reverse to allow certain user groups to have access to certain web sites if, for example, the user group is engaged in research. You can also set thresholds, so one mention of a specific keyword will not result in the resource being blocked.
Between these three methods, Internet access control should be sufficiently accurate to suit your organization´s requirements. What you may have to consider is how many hours will be needed to set the filtering controls, manage the solutions, and monitor activity. Some web filtering solutions are complicated and time consuming to use, which will increase the cost of the solution when you factor in the hours your IT team will need to commit to web filtering.
Other features of an Internet filtering solution to look for include:
Multi-Lingual Content Filtering
Web-based threats and inappropriate material are not exclusive to the English language. Even if you do not have multi-lingual employees in your organization, it is advisable to implement an Internet access control solution that filters out content in multiple languages.
Automatic Updates and Reports
Having automatic updates can save a great deal of maintenance time. Look for a solution that allows you to schedule regular reports so you will not have to keep logging in and manually running reports each day/week.
Integration with Directory Services
It was mentioned earlier about vendors supplying APIs to allow backend integration. If your organization uses directory services such as Active Directory, LDAP or NetIQ, you should be able to configure your Internet filtering solution to integrate with your directory service and apply filtering controls easily for user groups and departments.
Internet content filter solutions work by checking a user request against blacklists, and performing category and keyword checks, then allowing or blocking access to the requested website depending on the parameters you have created. The time taken to perform these actions should be imperceptible. DNS-based filters may be the best choice as there is no latency.
Technical and Customer Support
Irrespective of how much time you have dedicated to evaluating an Internet content filtering solution, there will likely be a time when an event occurs that you are unprepared for. You need to know that, should this happen, technical and customer support will always be available. Some web filtering service providers charge extra for support.
White Label Options
If your organization provides managed services for small to medium sized businesses, and you would like to offer Internet filtering as a service to your clients, a solution that can be supplied in white label form will be the best choice. This will allow you to apply your own logos to reinforce your brand image.
Internet Content Filtering Solution Architecture
Once you have established what you want your Internet access control solution to achieve, and the features that you need to achieve those goals, you have to consider what type of Internet filtering solution will do the job for you. There are four main types of Internet content filter solutions, and the architecture of each type may influence which Internet access control solution you ultimately select:
Client-Based Internet Content Filter Solutions
Client-based Internet content filter solutions are installed on individual devices. Because of the low initial cost, this type of Internet access control solution is favored by organizations with relatively few employees. However, each Internet filtering solution has to be updated and managed separately, and the controls on client-based Internet content filter solutions are often the easiest to circumnavigate.
Server-Based Internet Filtering Solution
A server-based Internet filtering solution tends to be more practical for organizations, as the software for the solutions operates through the server and does not need to be installed, updated and managed on each individual device. The drawback for a server-based Internet filtering solution is it is likely to require hardware purchases and on premise installation of the software.
Gateway-Based Internet Access Control Solution
A gateway-based Internet access control solution is an enterprise grade tool that is a step up from a server-based Internet filtering solution. Unlike the server-based Internet filtering solution, a gateway-based Internet access control solution can be installed on an organization´s existing hardware – providing the solution is compatible. This solution is often favored by organizations looking to avoid the expense of purchasing dedicated hardware applications. These gateway solutions tend to provide the greatest level of granularity for web content filtering.
Cloud-Based Internet Content Filtering Solution
An alternative to a gateway-based Internet access control solution is to perform filtering in the cloud. A cloud-based Internet content filtering solution does not require the purchase of hardware or the integration of software into the organization´s existing systems. In order to filter the Internet with a cloud-based Internet content filtering solution, the organization only has to point its DNS to the service provider´s servers. All filtering takes place in the cloud (on the service providers servers).
Internet Content Filter Solutions for MSPs
If you are a managed service provider (MSP), finding a suitable Internet filtering solution can present an even greater challenge. MSPs have to find a solution that not only meets the requirements of their clients, it also need to be easy to administer, and ideally, it should be possible to host the solution on your own infrastructure and apply your own logos and branding. Not all solution providers allow this.
Consequently, the best Internet access control solution for MSPs in many scenarios a cloud-based solution. Cloud-based Internet content filter solutions require no on-site software installations and can be configured remotely by the MSP to meet clients´ requirements. All that the client needs to do is point their DNS at the MSP´s or the service providers servers.
Internet Filtering Solution Pricing
When evaluating Internet content filter solutions, one of the most important factors to consider is Internet filter solution pricing – not only the initial costs, but also ongoing costs of managing the solution.
Ongoing Internet filtering solution pricing can sometimes vary according to how many users will require Internet access at the same time or how many TCP/IP connections will be required. Subscriptions for Internet content filter solutions can also vary according to the length of contract.
Some Internet content filtering solution vendors offer discounts for long-term contracts, and some will allow organizations to spread the cost and offer monthly billing.
WebTitan: An Internet Content Filter to Suit All Organziations
It was mentioned near the beginning of this article that compatibility, flexibility, and scalability are often factors that are overlooked when an organization starts evaluating Internet content filter solutions. Once these factors are taken into account, many organizations find WebTitan´s suite of Internet content filter solutions tick all the right boxes.
The WebTitan suite of Internet content filter solutions has been developed to make Internet access control as straightforward and as cost-effective as possible. Irrespective of the goals you want your Internet content filtering solution to achieve, WebTitan has an Internet access control solution to meet your organization´s requirements:
|WebTitan Gateway||WebTitan Gateway offers a solid defense against web-based infections. This Internet filtering solution is a powerful 100% software-based application that requires no hardware purchases and that can be hosted within a virtual infrastructure or installed on an existing computer system.|
|WebTitan Cloud||WebTitan Cloud is a low-maintenance Internet content filtering that is accessed via a web portal from any device. This DNS-based Internet filtering solution can be implemented within minutes without having to download software or install a client and can be used to protect end users on and off the network.|
|WebTitan Cloud for WiFi||WebTitan Cloud for WiFi allows organizations to control content and protect against threats for WiFi users. WebTitan Cloud for WiFi supports dynamic and static IPs and delivers fast Internet access with imperceptible latency.|
Although the benefits of each solution are varied, all of the WebTitan suite of Internet content filter solutions have the same features in common:
- APIs are provided for integration with all back-office systems.
- Highly granular content filter controls with time-based and bandwidth-based filtering options.
- Excellent scalability and adjustable subscription structures – both up and down.
- No restrictions on bandwidth, the number of users or TCP/IP connections.
- Easy to configure content filter settings with or without directory integration.
- Low maintenance overhead with the option of administrating the solution remotely.
- Automated reporting to assist with the enforcement of acceptable use policies.
- White-labeled versions of these Internet content filter solutions are available for MSPs and resellers.
Evaluate Our Internet Content Filter Solutions for Free
If you are concerned about cybersecurity in your organization and you would like to take steps to reduce your exposure to web-based threats such as malware, ransomware and phishing – you are invited to contact us to discuss your requirements. Our Sales Technicians will be happy to answer your questions, and will offer you a free trial of the WebTitan solution most appropriate for your specific circumstances.
Our free trial will give you the opportunity to evaluate our Internet content filter solution in your own environment, control the websites your users can access, and fine-tune the filter´s parameters. If, at the end of the trial, you choose to continue using our service, we will be able to offer you a choice of cost-effective subscription options based on your preferred deployment and payment cycle. During the trial you will have full access to product support to ensure you get the most out of your trial.
What advice can you give for businesses applying an Internet filter?
Tell your employees that you are filtering the internet and monitoring Internet use. Try not to be too restrictive at first. Consider time-based controls that relax filtering controls outside office hours or during lunch breaks. Block anonymizer services to prevent the filter being bypassed. Set filtering controls for different departments and even for individuals. Monitor internet access carefully and tweak your filter settings as necessary.
What are the most important guest Wi-Fi security best practices?
When setting up a guest Wi-Fi network, make sure that it is kept totally separate from your intranet. Change the default SSID and password, ensure wireless signals are encrypted, and consider creating a VLAN for access points that broadcast the guest wireless SSID. Route all network traffic for the guest network straight to the internet with your firewall, and ensure you use a web filter and monitor your guest Wi-Fi network.
Are guest networks secure?
Guest networks are set up to provide guest users with Internet access and prevent them from accessing your intranet. As such, guest networks are secure. However, it is important to make sure that guest networks are totally isolated, which means do not use the feature on some routers that allows guest users to access your intranet. Create a separate intranet for guest users if necessary.
How can I secure guest Wi-Fi access?
You should use a web filtering solution to control access to the Internet. Web filtering controls can be applied for guest Wi-Fi users, and these can be different to other user groups. You should consider applying controls that are at least as stringent as they are for intranet users.
Are there any hidden costs with WebTitan?
TitanHQ has a completely transparent pricing policy. Unlike many other web filtering solutions, there are no hidden costs. For the standard price you get the full solution, which includes industry-leading customer support. Further, the pricing is extremely competitive. Many businesses save thousands of dollars by using WebTitan without having to make compromises on security.