Content Filtering: A must-have cyber defense mechanism for modern organizations

Neelesh Kripalani, CTO, Clover Infotech

Neelesh Kripalani, CTO, Clover Infotech

The Internet has opened up a world of new opportunities for businesses across the globe, allowing them to explore new customers and markets. However, with the increasing usage of the World Wide Web, there’s also an increase in the number of cyber-attacks. The unrestricted network access poses a serious threat to the business. As your business grows, so does the number of employees you hire and the amount of time they spend surfing the internet. Accordingly, there is an increase in probability of security breach, malware infiltration, and several other threats that can impact business continuity. This is where content filtering comes in.

Content Filtering Explained

Content filtering is the use of a program to screen and/or exclude access to web pages or email deemed objectionable or even dangerous. Families are well-aware of the need to apply content filters over the internet to block material that is inappropriate for young children, but content filtering is becoming an essential component at the workplace too. Its main function is to block websites, emails, or file types that could be unproductive or harmful if accessed. Restrictions may be based on the organization’s policies and compliance regulations.

How Does It Work?

Content filters come as either hardware or software and are often part of a firewall. The technology behind web content filtering establishes rules and patterns that apply to the harmful websites that may seek access. By using predetermined rules, the content filter identifies commonalities such as objects within images or text strings such as keywords and groups them into categories such as adult, gambling, gaming, sports, and so on. Once there is a match from a site seeking access, they are marked as objectionable and denied access. It is a very useful tool to help prevent social engineering and phishing attacks.

Is it same as URL filtering?

It’s easy to confuse content filtering with URL filtering. However, URL filtering is just a sub-set of content filtering wherein the content is blocked based on the string, path, or general contents of a URL. Content filtering is a broader tool that works by blocking keywords, file types, malware correlations, or contextual themes of content resources. It is most effective when deployed across channels such as Email, Web, and Program Files.

Types of Content Filtering

  • Server-side Filtration: It manages web traffic for every user of a specific network. They allow administrators to create one set of rules to filter content and apply it to all users on the network. This is suitable for large network or organizations.
  • Client-side Filtration: These filters are installed directly on user’s computer. These are password protected and only those with the password can change or edit filter settings. This is suitable for limited set of users and not for large organizations.
  • ISP-level Filtration: As the name suggests, these filters are enforced and created by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). These filters are not specific to a user or a group but are applicable for every user who ever uses the service. 
  • Search Engine Filtration: It is a feature offered by some search engines that helps to limit the number of inappropriate search results displayed to users.

The Benefits

  • Improves staff productivity as it blocks access to distracting social media networks, dating websites, gambling and gaming sites, and video streaming services such as YouTube.
  • Protects sensitive data and personal information as it prevents such data from being leaked to unauthorized people or organizations.
  • Prevents legal issues as it reduces the chances of data theft with restricted access to users
  • Boosts bandwidth as it restricts user activity by blocking certain online activities such as video/audio streaming or social networking.
  • Minimizes the chances of phishing/malware attacks by first averting users from accessing known malicious websites and secondly, by preventing download of malicious files.

The Challenges

It is very essential to choose an apt content filtering solution or else it can lead to several challenges. One of the key challenges is that some web filtering solutions have issues with differentiating between allowed and banned content. This leads to blocking an entire website. This way, the employees may be prevented from accessing important work-related websites, thereby affecting the productivity. The second challenge is with respect to incomplete database of malware and/or risky websites which exposes the organization to the latest vulnerabilities.

Thus, selecting the right content filtering solution is the key to reap the maximum benefits and ensure highest level of security.

Wrapping Up

Web content filtering isn’t a perfect solution either for fool-proof cybersecurity or enhancing productivity. It is impossible to block every bit of unwanted content because there are 4.5 billion sites on the internet. However, considering the rise in online threats, using a web content filter can be your best defense.

The above article is authored by Neelesh Kripalani, CTO, Clover Infotech

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