Cloud-based Filtering Solutions

A cloud filtering solution is a robust Internet content filter that acts as a middleman between your web browser and the website you wish to view.

If you – or an Internet user within your group – visits a link to a website or types in a URL, cloud-based Internet filtering solutions check your request against its set parameters and either permits access to the website or turns down your request.

The filtering parameters are something you – or your group’s system administrator – have complete control over. Depending on how the cloud filtering solution has been created, the parameters can allow or block access to specific websites, specific content or specific classifications of file. Many groups implement cloud-based Internet filtering solutions to mitigate the risk of web-borne dangers and in this respect they are particularly valuable.

However, a cloud filtering solution can also be implemented to restrict access to websites that have a negative impact on productivity in the workplace – particularly those that include material that most employees would think of as offensive – and to address bandwidth issues. This article expands on the reasons for implementing a cloud-based web filter solution and highlights some of the features you should think about when considering your options.

Three of the main advantages of cloud filter solutions are that they are compatible, scalable and applicable. Because of the way in which cloud-based Internet filtering solutions operate, they are compatible with every operating system and web browser. In order to begin filtering the Internet, system administrators simply create an account with their service supplier, log into that account, add the IP address, set the filtering parameters and redirect their DNS to the service supplier’s servers.

Cloud filter solutions do not have a limit on the amount of users that can use the solution. Therefore there are no scalability issues if a group 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 a group expands or contracts in size – refunding any underuse of the filtering service subscription when required.

Cloud filter solutions also have great adaptability. Along with 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 users, user-group or department, and even be applied during stated times of the day. As management of the cloud filter solutions is carried out using a web portal, filter settings can be amended to reflect changes in acceptable use policies or revised working practices from any Internet-linked device.

The main reason for implementing a cloud-based web filter solution is security. With a rising danger posed by 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 implementation of blacklists, SURBL/URIBL filters, category filtering and keyword filtering. Between them, these mechanisms create a database of prohibited websites and material.

  • There are many different types of blacklists that blanket-block access to undesirable content. Blacklists can be installed that instruct your cloud filtering solution to prohibit access to websites known to be hosting viruses, including pornographic material, or operating through a proxy to disguise their origin. Whitelists do the opposite and allow access to “safe” sites.
  • SURBL and URIBL filters check each request for access to a website against a list of IP addresses from which spam is known to have come from. If a match is identified, 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 installed.
  • Category filters can be applied to forbid access to all websites that fall within a predefined category (pornography, Internet shopping, social media, etc.). Most cloud-based Internet filtering solutions also have the facility for groups to create and customize their own categories.
  • Keyword filters enable 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 denied by an overzealous category filter. Keyword filters add a high degree of granularity to cloud-based Internet filtering solutions and are important for effective filtering.

Along with addressing the risk from web-borne threats, a cloud-based web filter solution can be used to prohibit access to non-work linked websites that employees may visit when “cyberslacking”. It has been estimated 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 assisting in increasing productivity, a cloud-based web filter solution can stop staff viewing inappropriate material in the workplace that may offend colleagues and cause HR problems.

Using a cloud-based web filter solution can also help your group if it is suffering from bandwidth issues. Rather than contract to more bandwidth from an ISP, groups can set their filtering parameters to block bandwidth-heavy video streaming websites like Netflix and YouTube or Internet radio websites. When implementing a cloud-based web filter solution with timed filter controls, the filtering parameters can be set to prevent access to bandwidth-heavy websites during peak traffic times, but relax the restrictions during less busy periods.

A cloud-based web filter solution has the advantage over hardware-based and software-based solutions of conducting the filtering process on the service provider´s servers. This can be of value to larger groups during peak times of web activity, as it reduces the strain on the group’s CPU that might lead to worse Internet speeds or the temporary non-availability of web-based applications such as email.

The advantage of filtering in the cloud is very relevant if the organization’s users visit a high proportion of encrypted websites. The decrypting, reviewing and re-encrypting of encrypted web pages – those with an https:// prefix – has been known to cause problems in larger organizations; and although the issue can be resolved by whitelisting trusted websites, the process can be quite labor-intensive.

Due to the completion of the filtering and SSL inspection process in the cloud, a cloud-based web filter delivers Internet access with imperceptible latency. Users will never be aware that their Internet access is being filtered unless they attempt to view an unsafe website or one for which access has been disabled in order to adhere with acceptable use policies.