Although doing a fairly similar job, not all web content filtering software is the same. Some software works faster than others that may have more flexibility. Some is easier to configure than others, or has a lower maintenance overhead due to updates being performed by the service provider.
There is web content filtering software available for fixed networks and wireless networks. Some filtering solutions require hardware purchases or software downloads, whereas many service providers now offer cloud-based web content filtering software via low-cost subscriptions.
The aim of this article is to explain the options available, the key features to look for in website content filtering software, and some of the pitfalls to be aware of. However, first of all it is useful to clarify the benefits of using web content filtering software to control user access to website content.
The Benefits of Website 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 onto a network, 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 by implementing a website content filtering solution to block user access to unsafe websites and prevent malware, ransomware, adware and spyware from being downloaded. With the infection threat level now at critical levels, the use of website filtering software as part of cybersecurity defenses is less of an option and more of a necessity.
A secondary benefit of website content filtering software is productivity. Providing Internet access to employees is usually necessary in order for them to fulfill their roles. However, the abuse of Internet access is a major drain on productivity. With web content filtering software, employers can implement a number of controls over Internet access to eliminate unproductive time.
Website content filtering software can be used to apply Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) and restrict access to websites whose content may cause offense, or whose purpose is to conduct illegal activities. All businesses providing an Internet service to employees and members of the public can eliminate the risk of legal action due to HR issues or for facilitating copyright infringement by implementing web content filtering software.
In many circumstances, the implementation of a content filtering solution can have commercial advantages. In addition to enhanced productivity, Internet access can be fairly distributed by implementing bandwidth controls, and customers can be attracted to a business due to its family-friendly Internet service. Business operating within regulated industries can also use Internet filtering solutions in order to comply with federal legislation such as HIPAA, CIPA, and PCI.
Best Website Filtering Software
The best website filtering software should be simple to use and have highly granular controls. As AUPs change, organizations must be able to tweak the configuration of the web filter easily. 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 easily 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 IT and marketing department are likely to be considerably different from those of a dispatch department. Being able to set privileges easily by individual user or user group 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 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 and 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 or 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 business, and is the best choice for MSPs looking to add web filtering services to their product portfolios.
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 blacklists and URIBL/SURBL filters
Blacklists and URIBL/SURBL filters are the most important elements of web content filtering software in terms of protecting networks and their users from web-borne threats. As these mechanisms refuse requests to visit websites harboring malware and ransomware, and sites known to have been used to execute phishing attacks, it is important that these mechanisms are updated in real time, and not periodically.
Web-based management portal
By being able to apply filtering parameters via a web-based management portal, rather than updating each individual device or filter, organizations´ maintenance overheads are reduced significantly. As the portal is web-based, administrators can sign in from any location to adjust or filtering parameters or create exemptions to AUPs when required.
Category and keyword filters
Most website filtering software providers include a feature that sorts the world´s most visited websites into categories (abortion, adult entertainment, alternative beliefs, alcohol, 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.
If you run an international operation, or operate a business in which your employees speak multiple languages, multi-language filtering can be an asset. Although threats from all known sources will be blocked by the blacklists and URIBL/SUBRL filters, web filtering software that allows content control in all major languages will enhance productivity and avoid other Internet access issues.
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 your filtering policies. As more than half of the world´s most visited websites are now encrypted, SSL inspection is essential to prevent malware 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 enter the URLs of trusted, business-critical websites via the web-based management portal.
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 – and sometimes not fast enough to identify a threat before it is deployed. Web traffic antivirus and malicious URL detection software work together in real time to provide a secondary layer of protection behind the primary filtering mechanisms.
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. However, in order to provide the most effective defense against web-borne threats, updates should be performed in real time rather than periodically. Your software or service provider should be able to advise you on this.
Blocking of VPNs and anonymizer websites
One of the ways in which users most often 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, if yours is a large organization or business with many Internet users and user groups, it is recommended to narrow your search for a web filtering solution to those that have integration with management tools such as Active Directory and LDAP.
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 web content filtering software also protects WiFi access points. This will ensure your network does not get compromised by a nearby router with an exploited security vulnerability or malware already present on a user´s mobile device.
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 allows 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 are considering cloud-based website filtering software to be your best option, you should also know this option comes with 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 existing infrastructure. Hosting it in your own infrastructure can have cost benefits.
White label options
If you are a reseller or managed service provider (MSP), it can be advantageous to you if the chosen web content filtering software is available as in white label format. This will allow you to incorporate your own branding when providing web filtering-as-a-service to your clients. White labelling alone should not be your primary option, as your clients will be more concerned about the service you deliver.
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. Due to operating in different time zones, those with an international presence will have help available to you around the clock.
Web Filtering Software Cost Comparison
When evaluating the cost of web content filtering software, it is important to compare the implementation cost to the cost of a malware infection or data breach. New malware is now being released at an alarming rate. In 2015, anti-virus company Symantec determined that 1,000,000 new malware samples are released each day, up from 160,000 new samples per day in per day in 2014.
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 has conducted a number of studies and surveys over the past two years to determine the average cost of malware remediation.
In its August 2015 report, The Cost of Phishing & Value of Employee Training, the cost of containing a malware infection was determined to be $1.9 million per year, while the average cost of recovering from a phishing attack was calculated to be $300,000 per incident. In a separate Ponemon study, web-borne malware attacks were determined to cost $3.2 million to remediate for a company employing 14,000 individuals.
These costs take productivity losses and IT staffing costs into consideration; and include investigation, capturing and evaluating intelligence, planning, cleaning, and documentation costs.
An International Business Machines Corp. sponsored study conducted in 2015 indicated the average cost of a data breach rose to $3.8 million in 2015. The cost per stolen record was determined to be $154 for all industry sectors, and $363 per record for the healthcare industry.
When web filtering software is implemented as part of a multi-layered cybersecurity defense, the risk of a successful malware infection can be substantially reduced. The cost savings from preventing a successful attack would pay for web content filtering software many times over.
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 initially 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. Website 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.
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.
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 access to web content 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 Web Filtering Solutions for Organizations of All Types and Sizes
WebTitan 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, 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 transparent and 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 for 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 industry-leading Sales Technicians will be happy to answer your question and discuss your requirements with you in order to recommend which would be the most appropriate WebTitan filtering solution to evaluate free of charge in your own environment.