Accessing the wrong content can make your network vulnerable to malicious attacks from threat actors. As such, having a network content filtering system in place is the best solution to protect against harmful materials whilst still allowing access to vital services, information, or material.

What is Content Filtering?

Content filtering is the use of a program to screen and control content access through their firewalls. In short, a content filter firewall works to block access to information that can be deemed malicious or harmful. In an organization, a content filtering firewall can be used to screen and exclude access to certain websites or emails deemed unsafe, suspicious, or objectionable. The most common security measure is when companies filter and block employee access to certain social media and streaming services. But it works beyond blocking certain sites. Organizations are also able to block keywords and search terms. Network content filtering systems help ensure that organizations are automatically reinforcing their security and actively enforcing their corporate policies around information system management.

What is Content Filtering and How Does it Work

Why is Content Filtering Important?

As mentioned above, network content filtering prevents access to content that could be risky, malicious and undesirable. It is important as it protects regular users from exposure to improper materials. But in an organization, content filtering is also important to not just protect users, but also protect the organization from malware. Today, hacking, phishing, malware and viruses are threats to an organization. Cybercriminals are faking website names to trick users into interacting in a legitimate manner. Content filtering firewalls are able to block access to unknown or dangerous sites and reduce those threats. So, visits to those websites can be prevented.

It’s important to know that content filtering here works as a precaution. Organizations should also train and educate their employees on cyber threats to eliminate the threat of malware and phishing attacks through vulnerable employees.

How Does Network Content Filtering Work?

Content filtering software and hardware work to identify and block access to specific content by specifying content patterns. For example, a text string, object, or keyword can signify the presence of undesirable content. If matched, it can be made known that this content needs to be screened out. The content filter firewalls will then work to limit access to the content, and in some cases, block the entire website (web content filtering). Content filters can be used in several ways. This includes configuring firewalls, mail servers, routers and domain name systems (DNS) to filter undesired traffic. Organizations can also use cloud-based content filtering for corporate devices, such as mobile devices owned by employees.

What are the types of Network Content Filtering?

There are different types of content filtering systems. The common ones are listed below:

  • Search engine filters: Search engines can have content filter firewalls that make them only display results that are in line with an organization’s policy and request. Search engines will filter out any inappropriate or blocked items from results. It will also block specific URLs known to be harmful or that contain inappropriate content.
  • Email filters: Email filters are able to filter content based on the sender, body, header, subject and attachments. For example, spam or phishing emails are automatically removed from your email inbox to protect you from clicking on any harmful malware in the email.
  • Server-side filters: These filters manage website activity and prevent users from accessing or viewing specific URLs. They are installed on a central server, so any computer or equipment linked to the network will have this filter enabled.
  • Proxy filters: Proxy filtering uses a server as a gateway to control traffic and safeguard against inappropriate content. It acts as a middleman, filtering and restricting access to specific domains and websites. For example, a government can use proxy content filtering to prevent citizens from accessing certain sites.

What are the advantages of Network Content Filtering?

Besides the security reasons mentioned prior, there are several other advantages of having a network content filtering system in place in an organization.  

Boost network bandwidth

Content filter firewalls help increase the efficiency of an organization’s bandwidth as non-work-related sites can be blocked. This enables employees to access faster connections to the network to carry out their roles. It also limits attacks that can consume bandwidth.

Increase productivity

Network content filters work to actively block distracting sites, thus employees are able to focus more on carrying out their duties. This restricted access can mean an increase in staff productivity levels while also reducing the risk of malicious attacks or cases of phishing.

Protects organizations from legal action

Having a content filter system in place reduces an organization’s risk of legal liability, as it helps prevent the spread of malicious content that can be linked to a company. Since network content filtering blocks inappropriate content, organizations can protect themselves by stopping employees from downloading or viewing illegal content that can be a violation of regulations.

Protects individuals and the organization from exploitation

Cybercriminals are always getting more sophisticated. With content filter firewalls, users can trust that they are not unknowingly visiting malicious websites and downloading something they should not.

What are the best practices for Network Content Filtering?

Like with anything, network content filtering needs to be done correctly in order to fully get the protection and benefits it provides. Here are a few considerations:

  • Cover all your threats — Ensure that your content filter firewall covers the entire potential threat spectrum. It is essential to think about the type of threats you want to protect against and the type of content that should not be seen or viewed.
  • Block specific URLs — To ensure your network content filters are working for your specific organization, be sure to block specific URLs that you know to be malicious, harmful or unwanted.
  • Remote accessibility and deployment — As more employees work from home or abroad, it is crucial that content filters can be deployed and activated remotely.
  • Automate — Content filter firewall providers are increasingly expanding their offerings, including automation and automated reporting tools. This can save an organization plenty of time and give them real insights into employee activity to best understand their behaviors.

Learn more about content filtering with Sangfor

Although network content filters have been subject to a heavy discussion about control, one thing is clear, content filtering protects companies and individuals from harmful and malicious actors. It ensures that they are able to find the content they need without falling victim to threat actors. Want to learn more about how implementing a robust content filtering firewall can help protect your organization? Contact us to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some content filtering systems have more limited functions and provide a blanket ban across entire networks. But other more comprehensive content filtering firewalls are able to give you more granular control over what types of content are allowed to pass through. This means you are effectively able to block content based on several factors and even across different levels of employee hierarchies. All in all, content filtering is crucial and an extremely effective strategy for organizations to deploy.

However, although content filtering firewalls need to be a key component of your cyber security strategy, it should be complemented. Organizations can combine content filtering with other security methods, such as two-factor authentication, to protect against untrusted networks and cybercriminals.

Content filtering may already be set up with the browser and search engine you are using by default. For more comprehensive services you can approach a content filter provider to provide your network with the best possible protection.

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