The Role of Web Category Filtering and Secure Web Gateways (SWG) in Enhancing Network Security

category-filtering-and-secure-web-gateway
Pinar Ormeci
Pinar Ormeci
20 December 2023

In the high stakes world we currently live in, with the seemingly constant flow of data breach and ransomware news, businesses routinely try to train their workforce on the latest and greatest ways hackers are using to steal their credentials. One of the main goals of such security training is to educate a company’s employees on the latest social engineering methods and phishing techniques. The hope is that armed with the knowledge on how to detect a phishing website, and learn the ways they can fall victim to social engineering, the employees will be able to protect themselves.

Alas, as usual, the users will be users and hackers will be hackers. A typical employee, who is overburdened with his or her workload, action items, things to do, myriad of meetings, in addition to all the usual hustle and bustle of daily life will not be able to protect himself or herself 24/7/365  in all situations across all devices, especially if there’s travel or remote work involved.

As such, in addition to regular employee training, businesses have to rely on the latest technologies available to create a secure and robust environment where the employees can be productive and protected without the constant burden of trying to detect bad actors themselves. To this end, the two vital components of modern network security are web category filtering and Secure Web Gateways (SWG). In this article, we will explore how they contribute to fortifying network defenses and keeping employees safe.


Web Category Filtering

Web category filtering is used to control access to websites in various categories based on their content. Organizations usually have strict policies against certain content, and web category filtering is the tool best suited to enforce them. There are multiple benefits of content-based restricted web access. Firstly, doing so limits the ability of bad actors to sneak in malware or social engineer an employee via unapproved and potentially malicious sites. Additionally, web category filtering helps with making sure that employees stay productive during work hours. It also helps with prioritizing bandwidth for business related use, and enforcing compliance for regulations. 

The first step in web category filtering is the grouping of websites based on their content into predefined categories. Some obvious categories usually involve sites that include content for social media, gaming, streaming, and adult websites. Additionally though, web filtering also allows for restricting access to high-risk categories like known malware and phishing sites, parked domains, and torrent repositories.  

Most web category filtering technology is based on real-time URL filtering. When a user attempts to access a website, the URL is checked against the categorized database, and the filtering system determines whether the requested site falls within an allowed or blocked category. If the website is within the blocked category, access is denied. 

As internet content is ever evolving, regular updates to categorized databases are crucial to continue to observe the benefits of a web filtering solution implementation. 

Timus Zero Trust Network Security Solution has a cloud-based web category filter that includes 55 predefined categories with frequent website list updates. Timus also allows the writing of additional rules for categories, keywords and specific websites, in addition to the ability to customize further the web categories and the blocking pages. 

Below we expand further on the benefits of a web category filter: 

Risk Mitigation: 

Restricting access to known malware and phishing sites, alongside parked domains, and torrent repositories will significantly reduce the risk of getting compromised by the cyber threats lurking on these websites. Adult and gaming sites also usually are infiltrated with malware and blocking these will help with reducing risk to the corporate network. 

Bandwidth Optimization:

Another major benefit of web category filtering is maximizing bandwidth for work related internet usage by restricting or deprioritizing access to BW heavy activities such as streaming. 

Compliance and Policy Enforcement:

Many industries are subject to regulatory compliance requirements regarding internet usage and content access. Web category filtering is an easy way for organizations to enforce policies that align with compliance requirements and industry regulations. Utilizing a web category filter also helps employees adhere to acceptable and regulated usage guidelines automatically without having to decide by themselves. 

Secure Web Gateways (SWG)

A Secure Web Gateway sits between the users and the internet, enforcing corporate security policies set by the organization with the goal of protecting users from web-based threats. An SWG’s main function is to inspect and filter web traffic in real-time including encrypted communication. An SWG can be hardware, software, set on-premises or cloud-based. 




Malware Protection:

SWGs are used to filter out malware infections by inspecting web traffic for malicious content. SWGs are designed to analyze websites, file downloads, and attachments, blocking access in real time to potentially harmful elements before they reach the network.

SSL/TLS Inspection:

As bad actors are increasingly using encrypted communication channels to evade detection, SWGs perform SSL/TLS traffic inspection to  scan for malicious content within the encrypted HTTPS traffic. The Timus Secure Web Gateway allows full SSL/TSL inspection. 


Conclusion

While web category filtering and a Secure Web Gateway are two separate components of network security, combining the two allows for a true safe browsing experience where the users are protected from malicious content including within encrypted traffic (https sites). Controlling access to potentially risky content via blocked web categories whilst providing real-time threat detection and filtering of the accessed content is key to creating a robust security posture for an organization’s employees. 

Utilizing a cloud-based web category filtering and a next-gen cloud based SWG, alongside a cloud firewall and always-on connectivity, the Timus solution enables robust network security and deep network visibility enriched with detailed reporting options and logs. 

The implementation of web category filtering and Secure Web Gateways is imperative for businesses seeking to protect their employees and allow them to access internet resources safely. Web category filtering enables controlled access to the internet, minimizing risks associated with inappropriate content, optimizing bandwidth usage, and helping with regulations and compliance. On the other hand, Secure Web Gateways provide advanced real-time threat protection and filtering of malicious content, creating a robust internet security framework. 

The Timus Solution comes standard with a cloud-based web category filter and a next-gen SWG. Average deployment time of the Timus Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution to a business is less than 30 minutes. Contact Timus for a demo today.