A URL filtering tool is not – as is often perceived – only a tool for blocking URL access. Although tools for filtering URLs primarily work by denying access to specific websites when an Internet user types in an address or clicks on a link to a prohibited website, a tool for blocking URL access is much more sophisticated than just a blocking mechanism.
A URL filtering tool can be fine-tuned to prevent access to specific content within a website, specific types of files or specific types of threat. A tool for blocking URL access can even decrypt an encrypted web page, read it to ensure it complies with acceptable Internet use policies and is free from viruses, and then re-encrypt the page without the Internet user noticing any time-delay (latency).
These features make tools for filtering URLs key elements of an organization´s online security defense. Furthermore, in addition to preventing Internet users from visiting websites that may harbor viruses or malware, a tool for blocking URL access can be configured to prevent employees from visiting websites that may hinder their productivity or from viewing online content that colleagues may object to.
The Threat of Viruses and their Consequences
The majority of websites can harbor viruses – including encrypted websites with SSL security certificates. Research carried out by online security firm Symantec concluded that as many as three quarters of websites contain vulnerabilities that could be exploited to install malware. More recent research conducted by Google found more than 800,000 websites that had been infected with drive-by malware – including some trusted and apparently secure websites.
The threat for an organization is that – without precautions in place to prevent malware being inadvertently downloaded – an employee could visit an apparently secure website and infect the whole of the organization´s network without being in violation of the organization´s acceptable Internet use policy. If the organization hosts a wireless network, the infection could also be transmitted to any device that connects to the wireless network.
The consequences of contracting a virus depend on the nature of the virus. Some malware simply monitors online activity in order to send targeted advertising to the Internet user. More advanced malware can crack passwords and extract confidential data such as company information and personnel records, or an entire network could be locked by encryption and inaccessible until a ransom is paid in return for the encryption key.
How a Tool for Blocking URL Access Mitigates the Threat of Viruses
A tool for blocking URL access uses several mechanisms to mitigate the threat of viruses – more commonly blacklists, category filters and keyword filters:
- Blacklists typically contain a list of websites known to harbor viruses or that disguise their true identity by passing through a proxy server. A tool for blocking URL access will compare a request to visit a website against a blacklist, and then allow or deny permission to visit that website depending on the content of the blacklist. This is where the perception comes from that a URL filtering tool is only a tool for blocking URL access.
- More sophisticated tools for filtering URLs contain category filters. Category filters block access to websites that fall within a specific category – for example pornography, online shopping, gaming or video streaming sites. Category filters can also block access to specific file types – for example .exe, .rar, etc. – that are most frequently associated with malware downloads.
- Keyword filters allow organizations to fine-tune their URL filtering tool. Requests to visit a website or web page containing specific keywords can be allowed or denied depending on an organization´s acceptable Internet use policy and the filter´s parameter settings. In work environments, some organizations also take advantage of time settings in order to relax the acceptable Internet use policy outside of working hours.
These three mechanisms work together to limit the potential for an infection being downloaded onto an organization´s network. However, it is important to block access to anonymizer sites (through the category settings) that may allow the circumnavigation the parameter settings. If an employee needs to access a website blocked by the URL filtering tool, administrators should be supplied with “access keys” to override the parameter settings when necessary.
Increasing Workplace Productivity with a URL Filtering Tool
Mitigating the risk of viruses not only enhances an organization´s online security defense but, by blocking access to non-work related websites, organizations can increase workplace productivity. According to research carried out on behalf of Forbes in 2013, the average employee wastes between two and three working hours each day visiting websites unrelated to their employment.
Although many employers include acceptable Internet use policies in employees´ contracts, it is not always possible to effectively police such policies. A URL filtering tool can be used to restrict the access employees have to social media sites, online shopping portals, and video streaming websites in order to reduce the opportunities for “cyberslacking” and potentially increase workplace productivity.
A tool for blocking URL access can also help organizations to avoid HR issues and potential legal action. By controlling access to online material that may be in violation of an acceptable Internet use policy or that an employee’s colleagues may find offensive, an organization avoids the scenario of having to take disciplinary action against a valued member of staff, and the risk of an offended colleague taking the organization to court for failing to provide an acceptable working environment.
A Comparison of Tools for Filtering URLs
Tools for filtering URLs are either hardware-based or software-based. Both types of tool for blocking URL access have their advantages and disadvantages and, in order that organizations can conduct a comparison of tools for filtering URLs it is best to describe both types.
Hardware-based tools for filtering URLs typically have high implementation costs and low operating costs depending on the number of users that require filtered Internet access. Although a hardware-based URL filtering tool can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars if your organization only has a handful of Internet users, the price of a tool for blocking URL access can run into tens of thousands of dollars for a medium-sized organization. Furthermore, a hardware-based URL filtering tool has limited scalability and, if the organization expands, it will be necessary to purchase more hardware.
By comparison, software-based tools for filtering URLs cost nothing to implement and have ongoing subscription charges. These subscription charges are usually set according to the number of users that require filtered Internet access and can be adjusted as an organization expands or contracts. With a software-based tool for blocking URL access, blacklists and the categorization of websites are kept up-to-date by the service provider so that, when new viruses are identified, the organization´s network is protected against them immediately. Subscription charges for software-based tools for filtering URLs often include around-the-clock customer support.
URL Filtering Tool Pricing
As mentioned above, URL filtering tool pricing can vary considerably for hardware-based solutions; while software-based tools for filtering URLs have ongoing subscription charges depending on the number of users that require filtered Internet access. Typically, URL filtering tool pricing for software-based solutions cost little more than $15.00 per user per year. Many service providers will offer a discount for multiple-year subscriptions, or allow the URL filtering tool pricing to be distributed throughout the year depending on the needs of the organization.
One key element to consider when conducting a comparison of tools for filtering URLs and URL filter tool pricing is to make sure you get the maximum level of protection from the service provider. Therefore it is essential that your chosen tool for blocking URL access not only has SSL inspection (the decrypt, read and re-encrypt process described in the opening section) but also multi-lingual filtering – as viruses are not exclusive to the English language.
WebTitan – Website Filtering Made Simple
WebTitan believes in offering the best value software-based URL filtering tool. Each of our three enterprise-class tools for filtering URLs has been developed to make the implementation of a URL filtering solution and its management as simple as possible. Each URL filtering tool comes with SSL inspection, multi-lingual filtering and allows for parameter settings to be adjusted remotely via a browser-based portal. Naturally, each URL filtering tool is supported by industry-leading technical and customer service.
As the name suggests, WebTitan Cloud is a cloud-based URL filtering tool that just requires the redirection of an organization´s DNS to implement the filtering service. WebTitan Cloud provides the simplest and most cost-effective solution for protecting your organization´s computer networks against the threat of viruses.
WebTitan Cloud for WiFi
WebTitan Cloud for WiFi is URL filtering tool specifically developed to protect wireless networks. WebTitan Cloud for WiFi can be implemented for organizations with single WiFi access points or for those with a nationwide network of WiFi hotspots. Our WiFi filtering solution delivers fast, filtered URL access with imperceptible latency.
WebTitan Gateway is our most powerful Internet content filtering tool. Offering excellent versatility and maximum protection against the threat of viruses, WebTitan Gateway can be installed on an organization´s existing network or hosted in a choice of virtual environments.
WebTitan for MSPs and Resellers
If your organization is a managed service provider or in the service resale industry, all three of our tools for filtering URLs are available as white label products and come with three hosting options – our servers, private cloud servers or within your own infrastructure. Please contact us for more information.
Additional Features of WebTitan´s Tools for Filtering URLs
WebTitan´s tools for filtering URLs have additional features to help protect your network and your network users against web-borne threats. Unlike some Internet content control solutions, WebTitan includes URIBL and SUBRL in order to filter out websites that hide their true identity behind a proxy server or the whois privacy feature, and those from where spam emails have originated – typical indicators of phishing emails.
Naturally, these filters – plus SSL inspection – can place a significant strain on your CPUs resources. So, we have also developed an easy-to-use whitelisting feature that allows organizations to enter the URLs of their most commonly visited and trusted websites, so that these websites can bypass the filtering mechanisms. Not only does this accelerate the delivery of web pages during times of peak online activity, but it can also enhance network performance as well.
One other feature not yet mentioned in this article is the ability to set filtering parameters by individual user, user group or organization-wide. Some larger organizations already use management tools such as Active Directory and LDAP to control employee roles and permissions, and we have made it possible to integrate WebTitan with these management tools to manage Internet access policies more efficiently.
Speak with WebTitan for More Information
You can find out more about WebTitan´s tools for filtering URLs, and discuss which tool for blocking URL access may be most suitable for your organization, by contacting us and speaking with one of our sales engineers. Please note that you will be invited to take advantage of a free trial without any obligation to commit to any of our tools for filtering URLs until you are perfectly satisfied with the solution.
Whichever URL filtering tool is most suitable for your organization, you can be certain of quick deployment, simple configuration, and low management overheads. All of our solutions for Internet filtering are supplied with a suite of reporting tools in order that administrators can monitor user activity and ensure compliance with acceptable Internet use policies. WebTitan´s URL filtering solutions are guaranteed to offer maximum flexibility, scalability and protection against the risk of viruses.
URL Filtering FAQs
Will a URL filtering tool protect remote workers?
A DNS-based URL filtering tool requires no hardware or software and can be used to control Internet access and protect workers no matter where they access the Internet, making it an ideal solution in the pandemic when many workers have been forced to work from home. Further, being DNS-based there is no latency, so Internet speed is unaffected.
Do you have any tips for securing Wi-Fi networks?
We recommend changing your default SSID for your Wi-Fi network, setting a strong password, and ensuring encryption is enabled. You should have a router that supports WPA2, but WPA3 on the most modern routers is better. You should create a separate Wi-Fi network for guests and should implement web filtering on all Wi-Fi networks. You can set different controls, as necessary, for different users and user groups.
Is a URL filtering tool expensive?
A URL filtering tool is a relatively inexpensive cybersecurity measure to implement and one that should not be skipped. The cost of a URL filter typically starts at around $1 per user, per year. Malware and ransomware are often downloaded from the internet, phishing attacks have a web-based component, and malware communicates with C2 servers via the Internet. A URL filtering tool can help to block malicious web-based activity and provides visibility into the online activities of network users.
Is it possible to bypass web filtering controls?
No web filtering solution will provide total protection. The most determined and skilled users may be able to bypass your filtering controls. You can make this more difficult by blocking anonymizer services and proxies to prevent filter bypass and should lock down DNS settings to prevent them from being changed by end users. These measures should be sufficient to prevent filter bypass by most users.
How can I secure my guest Wi-Fi network?
You should set a password for your guest Wi-Fi network to stop unauthorized users from accessing the network. Ensure that the router is configured to encrypt data and use a content filtering solution to stop guest Wi-Fi users from accessing malicious content and to block illegal web browsing activity and phishing attacks and malware downloads.