A cloud filtering solution is a versatile Internet content filter that acts as a middleman between your web browser and the website you wish to access. When you – or an Internet user within your organization – clicks on a link to a website or types in a URL, cloud-based Internet filtering solutions check your request against its configured parameters and either permits access to the website or denies your request.
The cloud filter parameters are something you – or your organization´s system administrator – have complete control over. Depending on how the cloud filtering solution has been configured, the cloud filter parameters can allow or block access to specific websites, specific content or specific types of file. Many organizations implement cloud-based Internet filtering solutions to mitigate the risk of web-borne threats and in this respect they are particularly valuable.
However, a cloud filtering solution can also be used to block access to websites that have a negative impact on productivity in the workplace – particularly those containing material that most employees would consider offensive – and to resolve bandwidth issues. This article expands on the motives for implementing a cloud-based web filter solution and highlights some of the features you should consider when evaluating your options.
Cloud Filter Solutions are Compatible, Scalable and Flexible
Three of the primary advantages of cloud filter solutions are that they are compatible, scalable and flexible. Because of the way in which cloud-based Internet filtering solutions work, they are compatible with every operating system and web browser. In order to start filtering the Internet, system administrators simply create an account with their service provider, log into that account, add the IP address, set the filtering parameters and redirect their DNS to the service provider´s servers.
Cloud filter solutions do not have a limit on the number of users that can use the solution. Therefore there are no scalability issues if an organization increases or decreases in size. Most cloud-based filtering service subscriptions are based on a band of users (i.e. between 101 and 200 users) and many are accommodating in amending their subscription structure when an organization expands or contracts in size – refunding any underuse of the filtering service subscription when necessary.
Cloud filter solutions also have great flexibility. In addition to the mandatory blacklists and SURBL/URIBL filters, filtering parameters can be set using whitelists, category filters and keyword filters. The parameters can be applied by individual user, user-group or department, and even be applied during specific times of the day. As management of the cloud filter solutions is conducted via a web portal, filter settings can be adjusted to reflect changes in acceptable use policies or revised working practices from any Internet-connected device.
The Motives for Implementing a Cloud-Based Web Filter Solution
The primary motive for implementing a cloud-based web filter solution is security. With a growing risk from web-borne threats, many organizations wish to improve their online security posture. This can be achieved with a cloud-based web filter solution through the use of blacklists, SURBL/URIBL filters, category filtering and keyword filtering. Between them, these mechanisms create a database of prohibited websites and content.
- There are several different types of blacklists that blanket-block access to undesirable content. Blacklists can be uploaded that instruct your cloud filtering solution to prohibit access to websites known to be harboring viruses, containing pornographic material, or operating through a proxy to disguise their origin. Whitelists do the opposite and permit access to “safe” sites.
- SURBL and URIBL filters check each request to visit a website against a list of IP addresses from which spam is known to have originated. If a match is found, the request is denied. This is due to many spam emails being phishing attempts that lead unsuspecting users to fake websites from which ransomware is deployed.
- Category filters can be applied to prohibit access to all websites that fall within a predefined category (pornography, online shopping, social media, etc.). Most cloud-based Internet filtering solutions also have the facility for organizations to create and customize their own categories.
- Keyword filters allow the fine-tuning of filtering parameters. These filters can be used to prohibit access to web pages containing certain words, or to allow access to web pages that might otherwise be blocked by an over-zealous category filter. Keyword filters add a high degree of granularity to cloud-based Internet filtering solutions and are essential for effective filtering.
In additional to mitigating the risk from web-borne threats, a cloud-based web filter solution can be used to prohibit access to non-work related websites that employees may visit when “cyberslacking”. It has been calculated that the average employee spends an hour a day engaged in non-work related activities on the Internet – costing industry many millions of dollars in lost productivity. As well as helping to increase productivity, a cloud-based web filter solution can prevent employees accessing inappropriate material in the workplace that may offend colleagues and cause HR issues.
Implementing a cloud-based web filter solution can also help your organization if it is experiencing bandwidth issues. Rather than contract to more bandwidth from an ISP, organizations can set their filtering parameters to block bandwidth-heavy video streaming websites such as Netflix and YouTube or Internet radio websites. When implementing a cloud-based web filter solution with timed filter controls, the cloud filter parameters can be set to block access to bandwidth-heavy websites during peak traffic times, but relax the restrictions during quieter periods.
The Advantage of Filtering in the Cloud
A cloud-based web filter solution has the advantage over hardware-based and software-based solutions of performing the filtering process on the service provider´s servers. This can be of value to larger organizations during peak times of web activity, as it reduces the strain on the organization´s CPU that might lead to slow Internet speeds or the temporary non-availability of web-based applications such as email.
The advantage of filtering in the cloud is particularly relevant if the organization´s users visit a high proportion of encrypted websites. The decrypting, inspecting and re-encrypting of encrypted web pages – those with an https:// prefix – has been known to cause issues in larger organizations; and although the issue can be resolved by whitelisting trusted websites, the process can be labor-intensive.
Due to the performing the filtering and SSL inspection process in the cloud, a cloud-based web filter delivers Internet access with imperceptible latency. Users will never know their Internet access is being filtered unless they attempt to visit an unsafe website or one for which access has been blocked in order to comply with acceptable use policies.
Features to Consider in Cloud-Based Internet Filtering Solutions
The process for implementing cloud-based Internet filtering solutions – as described above – is simple enough. But what about the management of the solution thereafter? Key to the effectiveness of a cloud filtering solution is its ease-of-management and low maintenance overhead. Consequently, the most versatile cloud filter solutions should have most – if not all – of the following features:
Backend Integration with Directory Services
If your organization uses directory services such as LDAP, NetIQ, or Active Directory, your organization may benefit from a cloud filtering solution with backend directory integration and also APIs for integrating deployment, billing and management tools.
Simple Acceptable Use Policy Changes
Being able to make changes to your cloud filter parameters to reflect changes in acceptable use policies or revised working practices should be simple. Be sure to select a cloud-based web filter solution with an intuitive interface on its web portal as this will make it easy to apply changes when your cloud filter needs to be updated.
Email Alerts and Automated Report Scheduling
Many cloud-based Internet filtering solutions help system administrators enforce acceptable use policies by sending email alerts when a user has attempted to access a prohibited website. Automated report scheduling can also be key tools in the battle against web-borne threats.
Web-borne threats are not exclusive to the English language. It is recommended that your selected cloud filtering solution has multi-lingual filtering to prevent users falling for phishing campaigns on foreign language websites or viewing porn from overseas.
Available Customer and Technical Support
Cloud-based Internet filtering solutions should be mechanisms that you implement and leave to get on with their job. However, there may be times when you need customer and technical support, and it is important that support is available when you need it – even in the middle of the night.
Cloud Filtering Solution Pricing
Cloud filtering solution pricing is very easy to explain. Due to there being hardware to purchase or software to install, the only cost associated with cloud filter solutions is the subscription you pay to your service provider. The price of the subscription will usually vary according to the number of Internet users engaged in your organization and the length of contract your organization subscribes to.
Many service providers offer discounts for extended contracts – one, two or five years for example – while others will provide a payment structure that allows organizations to spread the cloud filtering solution pricing throughout the year – an ideal structure for organizations with uncertain funding or tight budgets in order to benefit from the advantages of cloud filter solutions without an upfront cost. The price of cloud filtering solution starts from as little as $1 per user per month.
Cloud Filter Solutions Cost Comparison
Because cloud filtering solution pricing is subject to wide ranges of user size and payment structure, it is impractical to compile a cloud filter solutions cost comparison. What is worth comparing is the comparable cost of not implementing a cloud filtering solution considering the growing risk from web-borne threats.
If you network is infected by malware that could have been blocked by a cloud filtering solution, it may cost many thousands of dollars to remove. If the malware has enabled a hacker to extract confidential company or personal data, the financial consequences could be far greater due to regulatory fines, civil action and the potential loss of business.
Cloud-Based Internet Filtering Solutions from WebTitan
WebTitan´s cloud-based Internet filtering solutions have all the features that your organization will need in order to improve your online security posture, enhance productivity and avoid bandwidth issues. Our WebTitan Cloud filtering solution has been carefully designed for ease of installation and management, with an intuitive interface for setting and adjusting filtering parameters.
WebTitan Cloud protects your organization and users within your organization from viruses, malware, and phishing attacks. Our cloud-based web filter solution blocks access to inappropriate material such as pornography and hate speech, and controls access to non-work related content with comprehensive reporting facilities to provide an overview of your employees´ browsing activity.
Our cloud-based Internet filtering solutions protect your clients and visitors when they connect to your wireless Internet network. WebTitan Cloud for WiFi provides a secure browsing environment for all your wireless Internet users, and gives your organization the opportunity to tailor its services to your clients´ needs through the same browsing activity reports that enable the enforcement of acceptable use policies.
With WebTitan Cloud and WebTitan Cloud for WiFi, you will always benefit from:
- Smooth integration with your existing system and directory services.
- Intuitive filtering controls and a low maintenance overhead.
- Automated email alerts and scheduled reporting.
- Industry-leading customer and technical support.
- Imperceptible latency, irrespective of the volume of users.
- Stronger defense against web-borne threats – including those in a different language.
Cloud Filter Solutions for MSPs
If your interest in cloud filter solutions stems from your organization being a managed service provider, you will acknowledge the advantages of being able to provide a cloud filtering solution that does not require the purchasing of hardware or installation of software. It may also be of benefit to you that the cloud filtering solution can be administered from any Internet-connected device, or delegated to the client themselves.
WebTitan´s cloud filter solutions for MSPs have the additional benefits of being available in white label format and having a choice of hosting options. MSPs and resellers can market the Internet filtering service as their own and host the service within their own infrastructure if desired. This avoids the scenario of existing clients approaching service providers directly and gives MSPs the opportunity to attract new business as a web filtering service. Please speak with us for more information.
Try a WebTitan Cloud Filtering Solution for Free
If your organization has concerns about the risks from malware, ransomware and phishing, do not hesitate to contact us and speak with one of our Sales Technicians. Our Sales Technicians will be happy to discuss your requirements, answer any questions you have, and help you determine which WebTitan cloud filtering solution is most suitable for your needs.
Thereafter you will offered the opportunity of a free trial of a WebTitan cloud filter solution so you can evaluate its merits in your own environment. The free trial should help you find the optimal configuration of your cloud filter solution so that, should you decide to continue using our cloud filtering service, no further configuration of the filter will be necessary.
Cloud Filtering Solutions: FAQ
How do cloud filtering solutions protect against malware?
Yes, a good cloud filtering solution can protect against malware attacks by blocking access to websites known to harbour such software. This also means that employees are also less susceptible to phishing attacks, as if they click a link in a phishing email they will not be able to access the website hosting the malicious software.
What does it mean to be compatible, scalable, and flexible?
These are the three features that can determine how easily filtering solutions fit into your current workplace. Cloud filters would not be an attractive solution if they required a complete overhaul of existing operating systems. However, they are actually compatible with every web browser and operating system, easing their integration into existing security protocols. Additionally, cloud filters, as they have no upper limit on the number of users that they can accommodate, are inherently scalable. The correct filtering solution is also flexible, as it allows administrators to configure its use to the needs of the workplace.
Do cloud filtering solutions hinder employee productivity?
On the contrary, cloud filtering solutions can greatly help productivity. This mainly comes from the fact that malware attacks can distract employees from their work, or block access to important files. However, the solution must be correctly implemented to ensure that no websites necessary for the employee’s work are inadvertently filtered.
Can cloud filtering solutions alleviate “cyberslacking”?
“Cyberslacking” – or employees using the Internet for non-work purposes – is of increasing concern amongst employers, particularly with the surge in popularity of remote working. Employees may use their work hours to shop online, browse social media, or even stream movies and TV shows. This has obvious implications for productivity. Cloud filtering solutions can be configured to block websites such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Spotify that may impede an employee’s ability to focus.