The internet has become an integral part of everyday life, for businesses and individuals alike. It’s led the way for remote working, revolutionizing the post-COVID modern-day workplace. However, with employees out of the office, the temptation to check the odd Facebook message, read the latest sports headlines, or be tricked by a free coffee phishing email have begun to rise.
The examples above are what’s known as counterproductive work behaviors (CWB), a collective term for non-work related activities that harm organizations. In a study by Salary.com, 64% of employees use the internet for personal use whilst at work every day.
CWBs don’t just take up company time––they can also lead to data breaches .Using the internet for personal use on workplace devices increase risk of interacting with malicious websites, malware and phishing scams – according to a recent report, 20% of employees will click on a phishing link, whilst an astonishing 67.5% will enter their credentials into fake forms.
Ensuring the safety of employees whilst working remotely should be a top priority for organizations. One. Of the best solutions organizations can implement to cut down on CWBs and block access to malicious webpages is URL Filtering.
What Is URL Filtering And How Does It Work?
A Uniform Resource Locator, or what’s commonly referred to as a URL, is the line of text that in the search bar when you visit a website – think of the URL like the website’s home address, it’s the line of code for the location of your business’ website on the internet. URLs are different to domain names, as the URLs can refer to specific webpages within a website, i.e. webpages that are hosted by the domain.
A URL filter is a gateway that restricts specific web content from users. If a user tries to access a blocked URL, they are redirected to a page informing them the content they are trying to access is malicious, or inappropriate.
Filtering solutions work by using predefined lists of URLs that are sorted into different categories, such as adult websites, gambling websites and gaming websites. When configured by admins, the URL will blocks users from accessing certain URLs.
Organizations implement these filters to protect company assets, such as devices, sensitive information, and private data from falling into the wrong hands through phishing and malware. Admins can also put this in place to stop users from accessing inappropriate and malicious sites during work hours, to cut down on CWBs.
URL filtering providers categorize websites by draw on pre-defined databases, which categorize countless URLs into blocked and permitted sections. Some providers also utilize AI technology to help automate the process of categorization for new websites. Malicious URLs, can also be added to custom lists to prevent users accessing specific websites.
These filters help to negate the threat of phishing and malware attacks on end-users by denying access to known malicious websites, keeping employees safe and focused on work-related sites.
URL Filtering vs DNS Filtering vs Web Filtering
At this point you may be wondering: “This sounds fantastic, but isn’t it the same as DNS and Web filtering? Are there any differences?” Well, let’s take a look at the key differences between these three methods of web filtering and how each works.
Web filtering is the category of service that URL filtering comes under. Think of web filtering like a toolbox, and URL filtering is a spanner within the box.
DNS filtering also comes under the web filtering category, so imagine this is the screwdriver to the URL filtering’s spanner. DNS filtering works very similarly to URL filtering, but instead of blocking specific URLs, DNS filters block DNS queries, which are information requests sent by the users computer to a DNS server. Put simply, a URL filtering blocks webpages, while a DNS filter blocks domains.
The key difference between the two methods is that a DNS has the ability to block any webpages within a domain, so for instance if the admin decided to https://expertinsights.com, using a DNS filter, all webpages within that domain would be blocked.
However, with a URL filter, admins have more granular control to block specific pages within the domain. So, with a URL filter, the admin could block specific URLs, or specific sub-domains, such as: https://expertinsights.com/insights/.
On the face of it, URL filtering appears to have some more precise qualities that DNS. However, there is a tradeoff. With more precise configuration comes more management and maintenance. URL filtering requires granular set-up and configuration for each protocol (so HTTP, HTTPS and other types of web traffic) whereas DNS is the blanket approach that blocks access to webpages regardless of protocol.
What features to look out for in a URL Filtering solution?
There are a few different things to keep a close eye on when it comes to finding the correct solution for your business. For instance, factors such as set-up and maintenance, time taken to install, and the scalability of the solution are important when searching for the right solution. Other questions need to be asked too, such as whether the software is easy-to-use, or will it require a high degree of management? With that in mind, here are our recommendations for some of the features to look for when picking a solution for your business.
Cloud-based – Uptime And Central Management
There are a number of benefits to using a cloud-based URL filtering service over an on-premises platform. First, they are often much more cost effective. But they are also far easier to deploy and maintain.
One of the other benefits of having a cloud-based system is that the software updates are automated. With constantly evolving malware threats on the web, a solution that auto-updates and evolves to combat them at any stage is key, keeping your business ahead of the game.
Cloud-based solutions often also have improved uptime over on-premises solutions. As the filtering mechanisms operate in the service provider´s data center, they’re kept online and up to date by the security provider, meaning that even if your business experiences an outage, the URL filter will continue to work on the devices and networks your employees are using.
With a cloud-based system comes a web-based management portal too. The web-based portal enables admin access from anywhere, meaning quick response times and management tools ready to help configure protocols for potential threats. Admins should be able to view real-time reports, as well as user browser history through, with the ability to create custom reports in order to access the information they need with ease.
Admins should also be able to access the portal from any location on any device, to quickly remediate issues when needed.
Compatibility – Versatile Across All Devices And Networks
Another area to look out for is whether the URL filtering software is compatible with your existing business network. We recommend looking for a solution that is fully cloud-based, with no software downloads. With cloud-based solutions, filtering takes place in the service providers’ data center and works automatically across all of your users’ devices (whether they are in the office or at home), so there are no lengthy installation periods or compatibility issues.
URL filtering is particularly important for remote workers, who will often be connecting to unsecure WiFi networks, either from home or in Cafés or hotels. Deploying a cloud-based URL filtering solution will ensure that wherever your users connect to the internet using a corporate device, they will be kept secure from malicious webpages.
When employees aren’t logged into your organization’s network, solutions can feature web filtering (whether URL or DNS) that works both on and offline, protecting sensitive files and defending against malware that could spread to the organization network once they reconnect to your business’ network.
We also recommend trialing solutions to test the latency on offer. URL filtering solutions should not have any impact on the speed of webpages loading or on internet performance. If you test a solution and find this to be the case, we highly recommend looking for an alternative service.
Threat Protection – Category-Based And Keyword Filtering Tools
One of the most important features to look for in a URL filtering solution is the admin controls and filtering tools available. Category-based and keyword-based URL filtering allows admins to choose specific categories and keywords of websites that will be blocked, so it’s important to review which categories are available and how easy the solution is to customize, before making a purchasing decision.
Some solutions will include pre-determined lists of blocked pages, typically including any malicious webpages, adult webpages and so on. Many URL filters will also include DNS filtering, to block malicious domains entirely.
The best solutions will provide pre-defined categories to filter, but also allow admins to block URLs through specific keywords and categories to ensure employees can’t access harmful sources. Each solution will have its own unique filtering tools, so we recommend to look out for solutions with customizable filtering rules. These will allow admins to create tailored protocols specific for your business’ needs, boosting your security posture.
With the modern working landscape becoming more fluid – whether at home or on the go – it’s more important than ever to keep ensure that your employees are safe online and keeping on track! Implementing a URL filter will ensure this happens.
With a wealth of solutions out there, each tailoring to businesses of a variety of shapes and sizes, each with their own unique systems and features, finding the right one for your business can be tough and overwhelming.
To help you decide which web security solution is right for your business, read our Buyers’ Guide to the top Web Security solutions.