A web filtering appliance is an internet content filter that obstructs web-borne threats such as malware, ransomware, and phishing from impacting a database. It also allows network administrators control over what online content can be viewed by network users. Therefore, as well as keeping networks and the devices that link to them safe from viruses, a web filtering appliance can also help enhance productivity in the workplace.
Every time a network user visits a link or enters a URL into a browser bar, the web filtering appliance compares the request to open a web page against blacklists of websites and IP addresses. The blacklists are kept up to date with details of websites and IP addresses known to store malware or linked with spam emails, spam emails being a high-risk vector for phishing attacks.
If a requested web page is encrypted (i.e. has an https:// prefix), the web filtering software decrypts the web page, virus scans its content, and re-encrypts the web page in a process known as SSL inspection. It is important that web filter appliances perform this process, as malware is known to have been earlier hidden in supposedly “secure” websites with fake or illegally obtained SSL certificates.
If the web filtering appliance spots a match between the requested website address and a website/IP address on the blacklist, access to the website is not given to the network user who receives a notification explaining why their request has not been fulfilled. The blocked URL/IP address is added to a report that can be implemented by network managers to show compliance with industry security regulations.
Whereas the mechanisms that secure networks from malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks are included in a web filtering appliance by default, network managers have complete discretion over what internet content network users can view. The application of user policies is maintained through an administrative portal and includes category filters and keyword filters.
Over six billion web pages are broken down into categories depending on the nature of their content—for instance, adult entertainment, online gambling, social media, etc. Network managers can pick which categories they want restricted access to with the click of a mouse and fine-tune their selections using keyword filters to restrict access to smaller groups of websites without stopping the entire category.
Network managers can apply the filtering parameters by individual person, user group, or network-wide. Limits can be applied by time, bandwidth, or—on multi-location networks—by IP address. It is recommended network managers also stop web traffic traveling through non-standard ports and access to anonymizer sites that may be used to get around the filtering parameters.
The main financial bonus of web filtering is not having your network under threat from malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks. The cost of recovering from a successful attack can be millions of dollars for a large group. A secondary financial benefit—enhanced productivity—can also save firms millions of dollars each year depending on the size of the company.
There are also some less obvious financial advantages, such as the elimination of HR issues as due to restricting access to online material that may be considered offensive or inappropriate, and the provision of a more family-friendly WiFi service by businesses in the hospitality sector—like McDonald’s and Starbucks both witnessed when they added a web filtering appliance.
Businesses in the hospitality sector who manage web activity through the web filtering appliance can use the data they gather to tailor marketing activities towards their customers. For example, a bar offering a WiFi service identifies that customers regularly view football-related websites, the bar could host a special football-themed evening to bolster the amount of returning customers.