Want more detail? Learn about Zscaler Internet Access and its integrated features like URL filtering.
You can also take a more technical look at Zscaler URL Filtering.
URL filtering is a way to prevent access to certain web content through an organization’s network or endpoints. This generally includes blocking malicious websites to protect users and endpoints from cyberattacks. Organizations can also use URL filtering to restrict specific URLs or URL categories that tend to use high bandwidth or hamper productivity, such as social media and streaming video.
URL filtering is a key element of web security that allows an organization to configure how users access webpages through the network or other systems. It can help to:
Before we continue, let’s clarify some important terms.
A Uniform Resource Locator, or URL, is an address that corresponds to the location of a website, database, web application, or protocol (among other things), allowing a web browser to retrieve it.
Web filtering is a broad term for multiple methods of controlling the sites and web apps users can access online. URL filtering and DNS filtering are two of these methods.
Basically, URL filtering blocks URLs (individual webpages) while DNS filtering blocks Domain Name System (DNS) requests and therefore IP addresses (whole websites).
URL filtering works by applying granular policies that allow or restrict access to particular URLs. Policies can be based on multiple criteria, such as URL categories, specific users or user groups, departments, locations, and time intervals.
When an end user tries to access any URL, the request is compared in real time against active URL filtering policies to determine whether the request is allowed. If access is granted, the page loads normally. If access is denied, the page is prevented from loading, and the user is instead shown a block notification.
Although it’s not a functional disadvantage of URL filtering itself, improper policy configuration can lead to over-filtering. For instance, blocking YouTube to keep workers from getting distracted would also stop them from watching video tutorials, slowing them and your organization down while potentially creating more work for your IT helpdesk.
It’s also worth noting that URL filtering alone is not a comprehensive internet security strategy. Modern threat actors can develop new URLs and IP addresses extremely quickly, requiring security strategies that go above and beyond simple block and allow lists of known malicious sites.
URL categorization includes much more than just topics like “shopping” or “finance.” Most URL filtering services integrate with a threat intelligence database to enable blocking of URLs flagged as exploitive, malicious, or otherwise dangerous, such as those associated with malware campaigns or phishing attacks.
Various functions work together to give organizations precise control over web access—let’s take a look at these next.
Basic URL filtering solutions allow administrators to customize simple allow and/or block lists to block access to undesired or malicious URLs. Today’s advanced URL filtering tools include these features and more, allowing you to configure:
While URL filtering is an effective means of blocking malicious websites or restricting specific URLs, it should never be your organization’s only web security solution. Let’s look at the key reasons why:
URL filtering offers some control over web risk, but it can’t providing complete protection against web-based threats. To accomplish that, you need a multilayered approach that includes advanced threat detection, inspection of all encrypted traffic, behavior-based analysis, and more in an integrated platform.
Zscaler offers powerful URL filtering as a native feature of Zscaler Internet Access™ (ZIA™), the world’s most deployed security service edge (SSE) platform, along with our industry-leading secure web gateway, data loss prevention, cloud-gen firewall, and more.
Zscaler Internet Access is part of the comprehensive Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange™ platform, which enables fast, secure connections to allow your employees to work from anywhere using the internet as the corporate network.
Through native integration with our entire ecosystem, Zscaler URL filtering offers peerless control over your web traffic, including:
Web filtering isn’t one technology—the term refers generally to various methods of controlling access to websites. URL filtering is one such method, able to block URLs or groups of URLs based on various criteria.
URL filtering allows an organization to configure how users access webpages through its network or other systems, making it a key way to protect users and data from phishing, ransomware, and other threats; control bandwidth usage; maintain employee productivity; and limit the organization’s liability by restricting access to inappropriate content.