The majority of our lives today exist online and businesses face the permanent, lingering threat of cyberattacks. Malware and phishing attacks cost global organizations billions every single year, and the problem is only getting worse. URL filtering is a limit that employers previously used to use to lock employees out of unproductive sites. Now, web filtering and blocking URLs are seen as a viable part of any corporate cybersecurity strategy. So, what is URL filtering and how does it work?
What is URL Filtering?
The URL filtering definition is the act of blocking URLs and preventing them from loading. In addition, what is web filtering and how does it play into URL filtering? Web filtering is simply a part of preventing users from viewing certain URLs by preventing browsers from loading them. There’s a reason secure web gateways have always used a URL filtering feature — to protect organizations from harm caused by their employees and their browsing habits. Many employees browse the Internet without considering the risks that come with careless online activity.
How Does URL Filtering Work?
Under the web filtering definition, a company needs to have the means to compare URLs against a database and automatically apply a block. At its heart, URL filtering is about constantly scanning a database every time a user tries to access a URL. If that URL is already in the database, the user won’t be able to gain access. It works by using either local data lookups or by accessing a master cloud server.
Naturally, setting up URL filters for every conceivable URL and category on the Internet is a daunting task. It’s the industry standard for the filtering vendor to have already set up their filtering databases based on known phishing and malware sites. In most cases, companies don’t need to do anything as the categorization process is fully automated. Every so often, updates will continually add to your database without your input.
Of course, employers can make changes and build their own categories (with URLs) to suit their needs. If you decide to do this, you need to know more about how these databases work. Within a URL filter database, there are two major settings companies can use.
1. Block/Allow via URL Category
The first major URL filter profile companies may choose to use is categories. This profile sends instructions if a URL matches a specific category. For example, you might choose to have categories for phishing and malware sites. If any URL matches that profile, the user will be denied access.
2. Match for Policy Enforcement
Alternatively, traffic can be matched via URL category to enforce a specific policy. By using web filtering for policy enforcement, you can create specific categories with match criteria. For example, this may be used to discourage the use of social media websites that are prime targets for malicious activity.
What is URL Filtering’s Purpose?
So what is a web filter’s purpose? The good news is that there isn’t one single purpose; you can determine multiple uses for it. Traditionally, filtering was used to ensure employees weren’t wasting company time. Organizations also used it to preserve company resources, such as devices and bandwidth. Recently, URL filtering has taken up the mantle of preventing employees from unknowingly landing on malicious web pages. As filtering technology becomes more advanced, it plays a crucial role in corporate web security policies.
Why is URL Filtering Important?
Blocking URLs helps prevent cyberattacks because many common attacks require the unsuspecting victim to load and interact with a specific webpage. If the URL isn’t allowed to load, the attack is stopped dead in its tracks. Take note, filtering for URLs is only a particular type of filtering. Other forms of filtering, such as DNS filtering, can also be highly effective at protecting sensitive company and customer data.
Reducing the chances of falling victim to an attack is important enough on its own, but the introduction and strengthening of global data and privacy protection policies make it a necessity. The GDPA and CCPA are two examples of policies all organizations must comply with. If you experience a breach and it’s discovered that you didn’t have various types of filtering in place, you could be liable for heavy regulatory penalties and private lawsuits.
NCI utilizes technologies from Cisco, Webroot and WatchGuard to implement URL filtering. Many of these products do not require any additional hardware and can be implemented very quickly. Contact us today if you are interested in securing your network with URL filtering.
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