Security Vendors Take Hybrid Approach to Web Filtering

To help enterprises deal with a growing number of remote workers, cloud-based URL filtering is likely to continue to gain traction.

With more employees operating outside the workplace, solving the problem of web filtering for remote workers has gotten attention from a number of security vendors.

Addressing it has led some vendors to push a hybrid approach of cloud-based and on-premise technology - something that may gain traction as enterprises look to deal with their mobile workers.

Secure Web gateway, the category URL filtering falls under, has mainly found adopters as a software-as-a-service offering among small to midsized businesses, said Gartner analyst Lawrence Orans. But there has also been a growing adoption among enterprises, a trend that may be quickened further by Cisco's pending acquisition of ScanSafe.

"We hav seen several 100K seat deals over the past 12 months," Orans said in an e-mail. "And now that Cisco is buying ScanSafe, the pace will accelerate."

St. Bernard is hoping to take advantage of the interest in the cloud to push its new remote filtering technology into the enterprise. In an announcement Nov. 2, the company touted its a hybrid platform that incorporates the iPrism appliance, St. Bernard's Data Center service and the iPrism Remote Filtering Client. When a remote user sends a request for a Web page, it travels through the firewall to the iPrism appliance in the data center. The user is then matched to their user profile via their IP address.

The Web page request is then copied and forwarded through the firewall to the Internet, and the page will be monitored or blocked according to established policies. The integrated management, Steve Yin, St. Bernard's executive vice president of global sales marketing and services, is what makes the approach unique.

According to the company, the new iPrism 6.4 requires no changes to the corporate network or the use of a VPN or DMZ server.

St. Bernard is not alone in looking to the cloud to tackle URL filtering for mobile employees. A number of companies, from Barracuda Networks (through its acquisition of Purewire) to Zscaler provide URL filtering for remote workers as well.

In a report entitled -The Forrester Wave: Web Filtering, Q2 2009', Forrester Research analyst Chenxi Wang wrote that distributed organizations with satellite offices need to perform URL filtering without requiring expensive traffic backhauling.

"A gateway-centric architecture is ill-equipped for a dynamic or distributed environment since not all employees are guaranteed to funnel through any particular site," she wrote. "Alternative solutions, such as cloud-based filtering or a hybrid premise- and cloud-based deployment, allow branch office and mobile workers to access the Internet directly but at the same time permit the corporation to retain centralized policy management."

Distributed organizations, Wang continued in the report, were the first to realize the benefit of cloud-based filtering that allows their company's branch locations to go directly to the Internet but still be under centralized policy control.

"But there's a catch - to fully realize cloud benefits for a global organization, the cloud vendor must install data centers in far corners of the world," she wrote. "It's hardly a cost-saving measure if an office in Africa has to redirect all its traffic through a cloud data center in Europe. As a result, security and business executives are responding with tepid enthusiasm, and Google, MessageLabs, and Webroot Software see many more email filtering customers than Web filtering customers."

Still, she told eWEEK that there is no shortage of vendors trying to solve the problem of web filtering for remote workers.

"Mobile/remote filtering is an underserved area of web filtering," Wang said. "Many organizations get infected by malware through mobile workers who access the Internet outside of the corporate boundaries. This is an area that is receiving more and more attention every day. We did a survey last year about (the) mobile workforce - 12 percent of the companies said they have over 80 percent mobile workers, 34 percent of companies said they have between 50 percent to 80 percent mobile workers. It is a significant area of concern."