Filtering Tools and Techniques for Blocking Malicious Content
Modern businesses depend on the Internet more than ever — analysts say global Internet usage has increased by an astonishing 1,355 percent since 2020. That increased online presence has been a boon for hackers and other malicious actors, with one recent study estimating that 85 percent of all malware is now delivered via web browsing.
The online threat landscape is driving increased adoption of comprehensive content filtering solutions that restrict access to malicious web pages, online content and emails. The global market is expected to grow by 8.9 percent annually, reaching a total value of $3.8 billion by 2026.
Often used as part of next-generation firewall (NGFW) solutions, content filtering can also be deployed as standalone software, a hardware appliance or a cloud-based solution. Filtering solutions can be configured to block specific web sites or use keywords to block content that is inappropriate, unproductive or even illegal in order to reduce the risk of malware, ransomware, Trojans and viruses.
Filtering solutions are particularly useful for reducing exposure to social engineering and phishing attacks that use fraudulent emails or web links to trick users into giving up sensitive data, including network credentials. A good filtering tool will identify and block such malicious content before it ever reaches users.
Most solutions cross-reference web address requests against dynamic databases of URLs or IP addresses. Results are evaluated against firewall policy settings to determine whether to deny or allow access. However, content filters may use a variety of the following techniques to restrict undesirable content:
- Scanning inbound content for objectionable character strings, phrases or data types.
- Screening for executable files that could install unwanted or malicious programs.
- Screening content from specific IP addresses, IP networks or domains known to host malicious or otherwise unwanted content.
- Filtering incoming email content for ransomware, malicious attachments, malicious URLs, viruses and phishing attacks.
- Screening outgoing emails to prevent messages from being sent to restricted addresses or domains.
In addition, mobile device management solutions often include a filtering component to enforce access policies on remote and mobile devices used outside the network. This prevents users from responding to messages from unknown sources or clicking on suspicious links, including those sent via Short Message Service (SMS).
Filtering capabilities have improved significantly in recent years with the addition of artificial intelligence capabilities. AI-powered solutions automate many of the processes involved with analyzing and categorizing content. Over time, machine learning algorithms learn how to identify suspicious and undesirable content on their own without the need for any manual rules or policy updates.
85 percent of all malware is now delivered via web browsing.
Hosted solutions are a smart option for smaller organizations with limited IT staff resources. Subscribers are relieved of the need to manage onsite appliances or software, and they don’t have to manually update filtering policies. They can easily set up, test and manage acceptable-use policies from a browser-based dashboard. Filtering can be customized by user, group or device. Mobile devices can be assigned policies with different restrictions based on whether they are on or off the network.
Content filtering won’t stop all malicious content, but it is an important element of a layered security platform. When integrated with firewalls, intrusion detection, multifactor authentication and other unified management tools, filtering can mitigate a variety of threats and help limit the spread of malicious content. Contact us to learn more about using content filtering to improve your organization’s security posture.
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