Why might your organization need a website filter solution? Well, a website access filtering solution mitigates the risk of somebody within your organization inadvertently downloading malware onto your computer system or network. Bandwidth management is easier to control with a web filter solution and, if you are in business, a web filtering solution can help to overcome HR issues such as “cyberslacking” and viewing pornography in the workplace.
However, in the same way as no two organizations are the same, website filter solutions differ significantly in the way that they control access to the Internet, in the features they offer, in the resources they use, and in how much they cost to implement and operate. This article aims to reduce the time it takes to find an appropriate website access filtering solution by listing the features that should be included in a top web filter solution.
What to Look for in a Website Filter Solution
When you are looking to implement a web filtering solution, the best way to start is to decide what you want your website access filtering solution to achieve. Do you need to block access to entire websites or just specific pages or apps? For example, if you are a company that engages in Facebook marketing, you might want to allow access to your corporate page, but block access to personal pages and apps such as Facebook Chat. In order to achieve this, you will need to select a web filtering solution with a high level of “granularity”.
To explain granularity, it is best to illustrate how a website filter solution blocks access to particular type of content. The three most common ways in which a website access filtering solution prevents web pages being loaded onto a user´s device are blacklists, categories and keyword filters:
- Blacklists should be provided and updated automatically by your web filter solution vendor. These are lists of websites known to contain malware and viruses, and when a request to visit a website matches a blacklisted website, the request is denied. Similarly, URIBL and SURBL filters (not present in all website filter solutions) check requests to visit websites against IP addresses from which spam email has originated. As a great deal of spam emails are attempts to execute phishing attacks, requests are denied to protect network users from visiting phishing websites.
- You can choose to block access to certain websites by their category. For example, if your organization suffers from bandwidth issues, it might be advisable to block access to video streaming sites. If you want to prevent employees visiting pornographic websites during working hours, you can block access to that category. More than three million of the world´s most visited websites are sorted into more than fifty different categories – access to each of which can be blocked with the click of a mouse.
- Keyword filters enable you to block access to specific content by keyword without necessarily blocking access to an entire category of website content. Keyword filters are useful tools to have in your arsenal if, for example, an employee is distracted from their duties by reading the sports news. They can also be applied to prevent network users from downloading files from the Internet with certain file extensions. Files with .exe, .scr, .bat, and .rar file extensions are easy to load with malware.
These three features enable organizations to prevent the inadvertent installation of malware, resolve bandwidth management issues, and implement and enforce acceptable use policies. Other features you may wish to consider in a website access filtering solution are listed below.
Easy Management and Maintenance
A website filter solution should be easy to manage and ideally have a web-based interface to allow settings to be applied and adjusted from any location.
Time-Based Filter Controls
Not every organization needs 24 hour access blocking and, if your web filtering solution has time-based filter controls, it will enable you to preset filters for specific times.
Malware and viruses are not exclusive to English language websites. Make sure your web filtering solution in multi-lingual to block malware in every language.
Active Directory / LDAP / Novell eDirectory Integration
If your organization uses Active Directory, LDAP or Novell eDirectory, make sure your chosen website filter solution integrates with it to facilitate filter settings by user group.
In addition to keeping blacklists up to date, your web filter solution vendor should set your filter to receive automatic updates.
Scheduling reports for when you need them can save time and money. Many solutions allow reports to be generated in different formats for individual clients or departments.
No matter how carefully you have evaluated your website access filtering solution, there may still be times when something happens you are not prepared for. Good customer support will make a difference.
White Label Options
If you are a service provider organization, who wants to offer web filtering-as-a-service to your clients, a white label web filter solution is preferable to clients approaching the web filter solution vendor directly.
Finally – A Quick Word about Latency
Whichever web filtering solution you choose, it should not slow down your access to the Internet. Some include a feature called SSL inspection. This is an important feature to include in a web filtering solution as it checks the content of encrypted websites to ensure it is free from malware and does not contravene acceptable use policies.
However, the process is labor-intensive and can place a strain on your CPU – affecting network performance, slowing Internet speeds and – during periods of peak web activity – making some web-based applications such as email temporarily unavailable. The solution is to select a web filtering solution with a “whitelisting” facility.
Whitelisting a website means it can bypass the filtering mechanisms without having its content checked. By whitelisting trusted, business-critical websites, a business can improve network performance and ensure that Internet speeds are unaffected due to the implementation of the web filtering solution.
Web Filtering Solution Architecture
There are different types of web filter solutions, and the architecture of each type may influence which website access filtering solution you ultimately select. Web filtering solution architecture is divided into three separate types of solution – client, server, and gateway. A summary of each follows below:
Client-Based Web Filtering Solution
A client-based web filtering solution is installed on individual devices. The primary advantage of this type of solution is the low initial cost. However, the web filtering solution has to be installed on each device separately and users must individually download updates to the web-filtering database. A client-based web filtering solution is also the easiest type of website filter solution for users to circumnavigate.
Server-Based Web Filter Solution
A server-based web filter solution is often much more practical for organizations as software does not need to be installed on individual devices and this type of web filter solution architecture is also much easier to maintain. However, a server-based web filter solution is likely to require the purchase of hardware and on premise installation.
Cloud-Based Website Access Filtering Solution
A cloud-based website access filtering solution does not require the installation of software or the purchase of hardware at the organization´s end. In order to activate a cloud-based website access filtering solution, the organization only has to redirect its server´s DNS to the service provider´s servers.
Web Filter Solution Pricing
When evaluating website filter solutions, one of the most important influencing factors is web filter solution pricing and the ongoing costs of managing the solution. Factors such as the cost of hardware need to be assessed or, if selecting a software solution, the cost of implementation and support.
Web filter solution pricing can sometimes depend on how many users will require access at the same time and the number of TCP/IP connections required. When a software website access filtering solution is implemented, the pricing might be determined by the term of contract.
Some website filter solution vendors offer discounts for long-term contracts, whereas others allow the cost to be distributed monthly. This latter option can have significant benefits for organizations on a tight budget, who appreciate the benefits of a web filtering solution, but who do not necessarily have the funds to invest in a resource-intensive and costly website access filtering solution.
Website Access Filtering Solution Cost Comparison
Because of the many different options available, it is impractical to provide a like-for-like website access filtering solution cost comparison. What we can provide is a cost comparison to not implementing a website access filtering solution.
Depending on the scale of how badly web-borne malware has infected your computer system, it can cost many thousands of dollars to resolve. An infection could result in confidential data being stolen, your network infrastructure suffering irreparable damage, or your data being encrypted ahead of a ransom demand.
Bandwidth issues aside, employees who access inappropriate content in the workplace can cost an organization thousands of dollars in lost productivity. It can also lead to legal action by colleagues of the employees – upset by being exposed to pornography at work – or by owners of intellectual property when the Internet is used for illegal P2P file sharing.
What is the Best Website Filter Solution for MSPs?
Finding a website filter solution can be a challenge for individual organizations, but for managed service providers (MSPs) it can be much harder to find a solution that meet the requirements of your clients, and that can be incorporated into your existing products and services. A hardware-based web filtering solution is impractical, as installation and maintenance requires local IT support, and software solutions may also require support staff to visit clients’ premises.
The best website filter solution for MSPs is a cloud-based solution. Cloud-based website filter solutions require no on-site software installations and can be configured by the MSP to meet clients´ requirements without the need for site visits. All that is required is instruct the client about how to point their DNS to the solution provider’s servers.
In order to facilitate seamless integration with existing products and services, MSPs should look for a cloud-based website filter solution that is provided as a white label. The ability to delegate administration of the solution can also be advantageous, as some clients may prefer to set and manage their own filter settings.
The WebTitan Suite of Website Filter Solutions
The top website filter solution in your list of options should be flexible, scalable, cost-effective, and easy to configure and adjust as necessary. Many organizations find WebTitan website filter solutions tick all the right boxes, as the WebTitan suite of website filter solutions has been developed to make Internet access control as simple as possible.
Irrespective of the goals you want your website access filtering solution to achieve, whether you want to prevent malware from being installed on your computer systems, manage bandwidth or control access to non-productive web content through your wired or wireless networks - or incorporate website filtering-as-a-service into your company’s product portfolio - WebTitan has a website filter solution to meet your organization´s requirements. The WebTitan suite of website filter solutions includes:
WebTitan Cloud offers organizations a high level of convenience and a low maintenance overhead. The DNS-based web filtering solution can be implemented within minutes by logging into a web portal, adding your IP address, and redirecting your DNS to point to our servers. There are no software downloads or clients to install and, because you can access the web portal from any device, you can apply and adjust your acceptable use policies - or your client´s acceptable use policies - from any location.
WebTitan Cloud for WiFi
WebTitan Cloud for WiFi offers the same levels of convenience and low maintenance overhead as WebTitan Cloud, but offers additional protection for Wi-Fi hotspots and the devices that connect to them. WebTitan Cloud for WiFi supports dynamic and static IPs and, irrespective of the size of your Wi-Fi network, provides fast Internet access to all devices with imperceptible latency.
All of the WebTitan suite of website filter solution include the following features:
- Highly granular controls.
- Time-based web filtering.
- SURBL and URIBL filtering.
- SSL inspection with whitelisting.
- Excellent scalability - both up and down.
- No restrictions on bandwidth.
- Limitless number of devices.
- Easy to configure settings.
- Low maintenance overhead.
- Automated reporting.
- White-labels available for MSPs and resellers.
Request a Free Trial of our Website Filter Solutions
If you have a responsibility for the online security of your organization, or you are an MSP looking to add a multi-tenanted solution to your portfolio of products, you are invited to contact us and request a free trial of WebTitan´s website filter solutions. Our team of Sales Technicians will discuss your requirements with you to establish which of the suite of solutions is best for your specific needs and guide you through the process of registering for your free trial.
During your trial, you will have the opportunity to configure the website filtering solution to the optimal level for your specific needs so that, should you choose to continue using the website filtering solution at the conclusion of the trial, no further configuration will be necessary in order to protect your network users against the threats of malware, ransomware and phishing attacks.