Q&A: Internet Threats and Web Filters in the Cloud

Threats delivered through the Web are increasing in number and severity. A Web filtering solution can reduce an enterprise’s vulnerability.

Threats delivered through the Web are increasing in number and severity. We explore how Web filtering works, what makes for a good filter, and the advantages of filters over other protection technologies. To learn more, we spoke with Scott Cutler, executive vice president at AppRiver, a managed service provider specializing in secure messaging solutions.

Enterprise Strategies: What are the most pressing dangers associated with Internet use that companies are facing today?

Scott Cutler: Today, the vulnerabilities in Web browsers and browser plug-ins leave computers wide open to exploitation as they are technologically sophisticated, comprised of multiple components, and spawn numerous variants. That’s why it is so important for companies to thoroughly secure every connection to the Internet.

How has the nature of these dangers changed in recent months (or years)?

AppRiver currently protects more than 5 million mailboxes at more than 35,000 companies worldwide, and in recent months we’ve observed new, innovative ways spammers are keeping their businesses alive. Gone are the days when spammers and other miscreants used e-mail alone to deliver viruses or advertise products. Instead, spammers today use e-mail as an avenue to entice users to click on a link within the e-mail, thereby connecting users to a malicious Web site that can infect machines and possibly harm entire organizations. These tactics are difficult to detect and quickly steal information, productivity, and money.

What defense options are available to companies to protect against Web-based threats?

Businesses are looking for ways to operate more efficiently with a secure infrastructure they can rely on since email and Web security threats continue to evolve daily. There are many defense options available for companies to help mitigate this risk of exposure, which can include anti-virus/anti-spam protection, Web protection, and e-mail encryption.

What does Web filtering do, and why is it so important? What advantage(s) does Web filtering offer over other protection mechanisms?

Web filtering grants administrators the ability to literally filter what end users are able to access via the Internet. As a hosted solution, Web filtering includes the option to add layers of protection and eliminate the need for deploying and supporting applications internally. When these Web filtering capabilities are delivered using the SaaS model, organizations can easily scale as they grow without the cost of new software or hardware.

For example, Web filtering with AppRiver’s SecureSurf will direct traffic to an AppRiver data center. From here, the information is literally filtered; the “good” Web sites are allowed to pass through, whereas users trying to access a “bad” Web site are prevented from going any further. During the filtering process, we also monitor the sites to ensure protection against malware.

What are the characteristics of an effective Web filter?

Businesses should seek out Web protection that provides a combination of Web proxy, filtering and malware protection, which can easily scale from the SMB to an entire enterprise through a reliable, hassle-free security-as-a-service deployment option.

  • filtering: By controlling Web access and enforcing an Internet use policy, Web surfing distractions are kept at bay, productivity is increased, legal liability is reduced, bandwidth is preserved for business activity, and security is enhanced.
  • Reputation-based filtering: Enhances Web filtering by identifying potentially malicious behavior and enabling organizations to block threats in real time.
  • Anti-malware/spyware protection: Unlike traditional security solutions that rely only on the known viruses or signatures, it’s also important to have anti-malware protection since it uses several proactive, intent-based filters to stop today’s constantly changing Web 2.0 threats.

What are the advantages of Web filtering in the cloud?

There are two key advantages of Web filtering in the cloud over on-premise implementations:

  • Easy, cost-effective deployment: There is no on-site hardware or software to maintain, upgrade, or support; you have lower upfront and IT staffing costs; and enterprises incur an operational expense rather than a capital expense.
  • Real-time threat protection: Filters stop threats before they enter the network, and in terms of scalability and performance, there are no hardware additions or upgrades needed as traffic volumes increase.

Has the adoption of hosted applications changed in recent years? If so, to what do you attribute this change?

The demand for hosted applications has increased significantly in recent years. With no applications or hardware to install or deploy, organizations simply redirect traffic to a vendor’s secure data center for a high level of protection. Such on-demand, subscription-based security solutions allow companies to focus on their unique strategic initiatives rather than IT chores.

In 2006, IDC projected that the worldwide software on-demand market would generate four billion dollars in revenue by 2010. Just one year later, IDC reevaluated its on-demand forecast and adjusted that figure to an estimated 14 billion dollars in revenue by 2010.

What products or services does AppRiver offer for protection?

AppRiver protects companies from multi-vector blended threats by thoroughly securing every connection to the Internet. It does so by offering a fully integrated suite of secure hosting services, including anti-virus/anti-spam protection, Microsoft Exchange hosting, Web filtering, encrypted mail, e-mail archiving, and mobile messaging solutions. With AppRiver, any business is granted access to enterprise-grade applications in highly available data centers for a fixed cost per month, which is usually a fraction of the traditional in-house IT costs. The ability to adopt on-demand services on a pay-as-you-go basis gives each AppRiver customer greater cost controls and flexibility.

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