While all serve a similar purpose, not all web content filtering software is the same. Some software works faster, others are more flexible and perform a greater number of functions, and there are considerable differences in complexity which makes them more labor-intensive to use.
Some web content filtering software will only work on wired networks or on WiFi, you may or may not need to purchase hardware, depending on the solution you choose and while all options require software, you may not even need to install any. Cloud-based web content filtering software is used by SaaS providers, who look after all aspects of the software and perform updates and patching, so all that is required is to point your DNS servers to the service provider’s DNS servers.
The aim of this article is to explain the web filtering options available, the key features to look for in website content filtering software, and some of the pitfalls to avoid. However, first of all, it is useful to clarify the benefits of using web content filtering software to control user access to the internet.
The Benefits of Web Content Filtering Software
For many organizations, the main reason for implementing a content filtering solution is to improve their security posture. As we will go on to explain later, if malware, ransomware, or spyware are inadvertently installed on networked devices, the cost of resolving the infection can be considerable. For small businesses, the cost could prove catastrophic.
Organizations can reduce the risk of malicious software installations and phishing attacks by implementing a website content filtering solution to block user access to unsafe websites. The solutions serve as an important additional layer of security alongside firewalls, antivirus software, and spam filters for stopping threat actors from gaining access to networks and delivering their malicious payloads. With the threat from malware, ransomware, and phishing greater than ever before, the addition of website filtering software to the security stack is now less of an option and more of a necessity.
A secondary benefit of website content filtering software is to control the content that can be accessed by employees, students, and anyone else you provide with access to the Internet. Providing Internet access to employees is usually necessary to allow them to work efficiently; however, the Internet is often used for personal use, and that can be a major drain on productivity. With web content filtering software, employers can implement a number of controls over Internet access to restrict personal Internet use to improve the productivity of the workforce.
Website content filtering software can be used to enforce acceptable use policies (AUPs) and restrict access to website content that is not subtitle for work, may cause offense, or is illegal. All businesses providing an Internet service to employees and members of the public can eliminate the risk of legal action by exercising control over the content that can be accessed by network users.
In many circumstances, the implementation of a content filtering solution can have commercial advantages. In addition to enhanced productivity, controls can be applied to restrict bandwidth use to ensure everyone can enjoy reasonable page load times, and by restricting access to age-inappropriate content, businesses can provide a family-friendly Internet service. Businesses operating within regulated industries can also use Internet filtering solutions in order to comply with federal legislation such as HIPAA, CIPA, and PCI.
Best Content Filtering Software
The best website filtering software should be simple to use and have highly granular controls to give precision control over the content that can be accessed. As AUPs change, organizations should be able to easily change settings. It is better to have highly granular website filtering software and not need to use a fraction of the controls, than not to have the granularity when you need to apply AUPs changes.
The best website filtering software will be easy to implement and will not require extensive configuration, maintenance, monitoring, and management. Configuration should not require the time of skilled IT staff. An easy-to-use interface, preferably web-based, will make the configuration and maintenance of the software an easy task for any authorized member of staff to perform.
Website content filtering software should also allow different privileges to be set within an organization. For example, a CEO is likely to require a far different level of Internet privileges than a temporary call center worker. Similarly, the needs of the IT team and marketing department are likely to be considerably different from those of a dispatch department. Being able to set privileges easily by individual users or user groups can save a considerable amount of configuration time. There will also likely be occasions when filtering controls need to be bypassed, especially in organizations with highly restrictive Internet usage policies. It is useful to have a content filtering software solution that has a mechanism that allows filtering controls to be bypassed for a set period of time, without having to create a new user or set relaxed filtering controls manually.
Reporting options are also important. Compiling reports can be time-consuming; but it is important to be able to see which websites are being accessed, the searches being conducted, and where time and bandwidth could be saved. A suite of automated reports can make these tasks considerably easier to perform. Ideally, there should also be an option to alert system administrators when attempts are made to circumnavigate the filtering parameters and visit a prohibited website.
Website Content Filtering Software Feature Comparison
With a wide choice of web content filtering software to choose from, a good place to start is by identifying the features that are most important to your organization. A web filtering software feature comparison can help you narrow down the options available and select the most appropriate software solution that matches the exact needs of your organization.
If cost is one of the main concerns, consider using cloud-based website content filtering software. Cloud-based solutions require no software downloads and do not require additional hardware purchases. As a general rule of thumb, cloud-based web content filtering software tends to be more cost-effective to implement for small- to medium-sized businesses and is the best choice for MSPs looking to add web filtering services to their product portfolios due to the ease of implementation and the low maintenance overhead.
Web Content Filtering Software Features
What features can you expect from web content filtering software? Some of the most important features of website filtering software are listed below.
Automatically updated blocklists and URIBL/SURBL filters
Blocklists and URIBL/SURBL filters are the most important elements of web content filtering software in terms of protecting networks and users from web-based threats. These mechanisms refuse requests to visit websites harboring malware and ransomware, sites known to have been used to execute phishing attacks, and other malicious web pages and domains. It is important for the solution to update these mechanisms in real-time, and not periodically, to ensure the latest threats are blocked.
Web-based management portal
Being able to apply filtering parameters via a web-based management portal, rather than updating each individual device or filter, reduces the maintenance overhead significantly. With a web-based portal, administrators can sign in from any location to adjust or filtering parameters or create exemptions to AUPs as and when required.
Category and keyword filters
Most website filtering software providers categorize web pages and websites based on content – adult entertainment, alternative beliefs, alcohol, shopping, news, etc.). Administrators should be able to block access to the categories that contravene AUPs with the click of a mouse and then fine-tune their selections using keyword filters. Keyword filters will allow policies to be set that prevent access to websites containing certain keywords to keyword densities.
Your content controls should apply to web content in all languages, so it is important that web filtering software can read and categorize websites, no matter what language the content has been written in, although threats from all known sources will be blocked by URIBL/SUBRL filters and blocklists.
SSL inspection is a process in which web content filtering software decrypts, reads, and re-encrypts the content of encrypted websites to ensure they comply with filtering policies. As more than half of the world´s most visited websites are now encrypted, SSL inspection is essential to prevent malware from infecting your network through websites with HTTPS:// prefixes.
Whitelisting is a process that allows trusted websites to bypass the filtering software. The purpose of whitelisting is to reduce the strain on CPUs during peak periods of Internet activity so that Internet users do not suffer a reduction in Internet speed. Typically administrators will add the URLs of trusted, business-critical websites to whitelists via the web-based management portal to ensure they can always be accessed.
Web traffic antivirus and malicious URL detection software
Although most organizations will already have an adequate antivirus solution implemented on their networks, most antivirus solutions work retrospectively. They detect malware once it has been downloaded. Web traffic antivirus and malicious URL detection software work together as a more proactive defense, preventing access before malware is encountered and blocking malware downloads.
Time-based controls enable the relaxation of the filtering parameters during specific times. In the workplace, this could be during lunch breaks or after working hours. In a hotel or other service establishment, this could be after a watershed when children are less likely to be on the premises and therefore unlikely to be exposed to inappropriate online material.
Real-time, automatic software updates
Implementing web content filtering software with automatic software updates can save administrators and IT support a great deal of work. It is best not to add to your IT team’s patching burden. In order to provide the most effective defense against web-based threats, updates should be performed in real-time rather than periodically. Your service provider should be able to advise you on this.
Blocking of VPNs and anonymizer websites
One of the ways that users attempt to circumnavigate filtering parameters is through the use of VPNs and anonymizer websites. It should be possible to identify the use of VPNs through the software´s reporting options and access to anonymizer websites should be blocked via the category filters, but it is important that your chosen filtering solution is also capable of IP and port bypass blocking.
Integration with Active Directory / LDAP
Setting AUPs for individual users and user groups can be a time-consuming process. Therefore, you have a great many employees, or Internet users, it is important to have a web filtering solution that integrates with directory tools such as Active Directory. This will make applying filtering controls to different departments and user groups much easier and quicker.
Protection for Wi-Fi hotspots
If your business provides a publicly-accessible WiFi network or promotes a BYOD policy, you need to be sure your chosen content filtering software also protects WiFi access points. Content control can also be applied for internet access over WiFi networks.
Protection for Remote Workers
Many workers now spend at least some of their working week working from home or working remotely, and the 2019 Novel Coronavirus has forced many businesses to change working practices and allow employees to work from home. Website filtering software should be able to protect workers and their devices no matter where they access the Internet, be that in the office, at home, or in a coffee shop.
The ability to customize, automate and schedule reports can ease the management burden and highlight attempts to circumnavigate the filtering parameters or breach AUPs. Email notifications of AUP violations and real-time viewing of Internet activity on your network via the web-based management portal will allow rapid action to be taken when necessary.
Delegated administrative options
Your system administrator may want to configure your web content filtering software initially, but day-to-day maintenance should not draw your most highly skilled workers away from other important tasks. Make sure your web filtering software allows administrative functions such as reporting and policy control to be delegated.
Choice of hosting
If you think cloud-based website filtering software will be the best option, some solutions provide a choice of hosting options. Some service providers – but not all – can host your filtering solution in their public cloud, in a dedicated private cloud, or in your own private cloud. Hosting the solution on your own infrastructure can have cost benefits and may be preferable for managed service providers (MSPs) and ISPs.
If you are a reseller or MSP, it can be advantageous if the chosen web content filtering software is available in white label format. This will allow you to incorporate your own branding when providing web filtering-as-a-service to your clients as this will help you to promote your brand.
Excellent customer support
The best website filtering software may be easy to deploy, configure and manage, but what happens if a problem arises? Many web filtering solution providers fall short when it comes to customer support and are difficult to contact when you need them most.
Web Filtering Software Cost Comparison
If you are unsure about whether the cost of web content filtering software can be justified, consider how much it will cost to mitigate a ransomware, malware, or phishing attack. New malware is now being released at an alarming rate, and attacks can prove extremely costly. Many businesses are forced to permanently close their doors after a ransomware attack or data breach.
It is difficult to calculate the cost of a malware infection, as the cost of remediation will depend on the nature of the attack and the extent of damage caused. However, the Ponemon Institute conducted a number of studies and surveys over the past two years to determine the average cost of malware remediation.
The 2019 Cost of a Data Breach Study by the Ponemon Institute/IBM Security placed the average cost at $3.92 million. These costs take productivity losses and IT staffing costs into consideration; and include investigation, capturing, and evaluating intelligence, planning, cleaning, and documentation costs.
When web filtering software is implemented as part of a multi-layered cybersecurity defense strategy, the risk of a successful malware infection can be substantially reduced. The cost savings from preventing a successful attack would more than cover the cost of web content filtering software.
Website Filtering Software Pricing
There are additional costs to consider with some web content filtering solutions. If a gateway solution is chosen, organizations may need to factor in the cost of a web filter appliance. The cost of the appliance will depend on many factors, although the number of concurrent users that require Internet access and the number of active TCP connections required will determine the power of the appliance that needs to be purchased. Appliance costs can range from around $1,000 to several thousand dollars depending on the power and capacity required.
Website content filtering software pricing can vary considerably from provider to provider. Implementation of a software solution may require the cost to be paid upfront for a fixed term, although the best website filtering software solutions allow organizations to spread the cost with monthly billing. Organizations are likely to find it much easier to incorporate web content filtering software into their budgets if the cost can be distributed over the course of a year. Content filtering software pricing is usually calculated on an annual basis and discounts may be offered for longer license periods.
An important consideration when choosing website filtering software is to factor in company growth. Since many solutions are based on the number of users, if expansion is expected, it is important to ensure a solution can grow with the company. The best web content filtering software solutions are highly scalable and can incorporate increases in employees without incurring unnecessary costs. If a package needs to be changed to accommodate fewer employees, some solutions will refund any unused portions of the current license. Not all web filtering software providers offer this option, which can add to the cost when capacity needs to be adjusted downward.
As a guide, cloud-based web filtering pricing starts at around $1 per user, per month.
What is the Top Web Content Filtering Software?
What is the top website content filtering software? If price is the main consideration, cloud-based web content filtering software is likely to be the best choice.
100% cloud-based web filtering solutions offer considerable cost advantages as they require no software downloads or updates – saving considerable man-hours. Patches and software updates are managed by the provider and all changes to configurations can be made from any location with Internet access. This eliminates the need for site visits or local IT support reducing management costs.
Furthermore, cloud-based web filtering software can be rapidly deployed. Only a small configuration change to the DNS is required. Point the DNS to the provider’s servers and the Internet can be filtered in a matter of minutes.
A cloud-based web filtering solution – WebTitan Cloud or WebTitan Cloud for WiFi for example – is often the most cost-effective web content filtering software solution to deploy for small- to medium-sized businesses and MSPs looking to add web filtering to their product offerings.
WebTitan: A Suite of Content Filtering Solutions for Organizations of All Types and Sizes
TitanHQ has developed a suite of web filtering products suitable for organizations of all sizes. All of our products have been developed to be quick and easy to configure, are cost-effective to implement, and all have excellent scalability. Our suite of products includes:
- WebTitan Gateway, a powerful web filtering solution that can be installed within your organization’s infrastructure as a gateway service. You can run WebTitan Gateway on your own existing hardware without any need to purchase additional appliances. Alternatively, WebTitan Gateway can be deployed as a virtual appliance on all major hypervisors including AWS, VMware, and Hyper V. Both gateway deployments feature in-built network auto-configuration for ease of deployment with full proxy options.
- WebTitan Cloud is a 100% cloud-based web content filtering software solution with no hardware requirements and no need to download software. WebTitan Cloud can be deployed on our servers, hosted in a private cloud, or deployed within your own infrastructure. We also offer WebTitan Cloud as a white label option for MSPs and resellers.
- WebTitan Cloud for WiFi completes our suite of web filtering software solutions, offering total protection for Wi-Fi hotspot providers. This fully scalable solution is suitable for use on single Wi-Fi access points or nationwide networks of Wi-Fi hotspots.
If you would like to know more about our web content filtering software or would like to take advantage of a free trial, do not hesitate to contact us. Our team of Sales Technicians will be happy to answer your question and discuss your requirements with you and will recommend the most appropriate WebTitan filtering solution to suit your needs. You can also evaluate the solution free of charge in your own environment by taking advantage of our free trial.
Web Content Filtering Software FAQs
Are the filtering categories fixed or can I customize them?
When applying AUPs, there are fifty-three fixed filtering categories from which to choose, plus the option exists to create up to 10 customizable categories if a category does not already exist. Creating and applying customized categories is straightforward; however, the option of fine-tuning existing fixed categories with keyword filtering also exists.
How do I find out what websites the web filtering solution has blocked?
WebTitan solutions maintain logs of user activity and these can be viewed in the reporting suite. You can also customize these reports to suit your needs. You can also schedule reports to be run and emailed and will have full visibility into the activities of your users. You can also generate alerts to give you real-time notifications about attempts to bypass filtering controls.
How granular are the filtering options?
WebTitan´s filtering options are exceptionally granular and you can apply a different AUP to each individual user if you wish. Obviously, this is not recommended as it would be time-consuming, a better option is to apply controls by user group or department and make exceptions for individual users when required. The granular controls allow precision control over the content that can be accessed.
What are URIBL and SURBL filters, and what difference do they make?
Many filtering solutions use retrospectively-updated blocklists that protect users from known threats, but not unknown threats. URIBL and SURBL filters include lists of top-level domain names and websites that have recently appeared in spam emails and are considered risky. They also include new websites that have suspiciously hidden the identity of the owner behind the WHOIS privacy feature.
How much does content filtering software cost?
Costs for web content filtering software vary from provider to provider; but, if you are considering subscribing to the WebTitan service or wish to compare our prices against a competitor´s quote, simply visit our Instant Quote Calculator, insert the number of users you wish to protect, and the subscription options - along with their cost - will appear immediately.