Clean browsing refers to the practice of using special solutions to protect users while they are browsing. Also, more than “clean,” one should refer to it as “safe.” Clean browsing tools, in fact, prevent the user from encountering dangerous or offensive sites. Let’s see how they work.
1. What is meant by “clean browsing”
Clean browsing is safe browsing, one might say. This is how the word “clean” in “clean browsing” should be interpreted. Ensuring safe browsing today is a necessity that cannot be underestimated. Moreover, it is very risky to rely on preset tools. Instead, it is highly advisable to rely on application services that specifically focus on “clean browsing,” the so-called “browsing filters.”
The need to ensure protected and filtered browsing originated in American schools and school libraries. About thirty years ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a law which required U.S. public libraries to install an application, on available PCs, which would block access to dangerous sites and contents on the web. The CIPA, therefore, effectively paved the way for a new category of software, capable of filtering web content, just like FlashStart.
Created to prevent teenagers from inadvertently ending up on sites with unsuitable contents (pornography, pedophilia, violence, weapons, etc.), DNS filters have become increasingly useful over the years. Today, they are a great solution, not only in protecting minors and teenagers, but also in avoiding attacks by cyber criminals. For this reason, companies are also looking at DNS filters, such as FlashStart, with increasing interest.
2. Why a specific tool is needed
All browsers, like Google Chrome, have the ability to filter browsing. Also, many platforms, like YouTube and Netflix, for example, have a built-in feature that limits the usage of their contents. However, these features do not guarantee complete protection in every case.
In the Settings menu of all browsing programs, from Firefox to Safari to Microsoft Edge (with Family Safety), a filter can be set to remove explicit contents from the search. The same feature can be enabled in web sites, such as YouTube (the Mode with Restrictions), and streaming channels, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, as well as on Apple (which calls them Parental Controls).
The limitations of these tools, which are already present in programs and platforms, are essentially twofold. First, one does not have free rein in customizing the filters; additionally, the feature is activated only for the specific program or platform. As a result, it is easier for attackers to bypass the restrictions, and the user himself can get around them, simply by using an alternate browser or by easily changing the settings.
So, if we relied solely on the preset filter on Google Chrome, we would not be protected in the event that the link came from a messaging program (WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger). Furthermore, if we wanted to use only the filters found on programs and platforms, they would have to be set one by one. In case we wanted to block access to certain sites in a corporate setting, that would mean that we would have to go and modify every single application source on every corporate device. It would be a never-ending task.
>> You can enable FlashStart® Cloud protection on any Router or Firewall in order to secure desktop and mobile devices and IoT devices on local networks
Additionally, in a company setting, the number of sites and services that you want to block, such as social networks, may be far greater than what a concerned dad would block. For example, a company might block access to social networks, messaging programs, online gaming sites, but also job search sites and competitors.
Ultimately, in order to block the browsing of sites that are considered dangerous, it is certainly better to choose a DNS filter.
3. How DNS filters work
A DNS filter is a program, or cloud-based service, that allows internet content to be filtered based on its DNS, the Domain Name System. The DNS corresponds to the numeric IP address associated with the name of the internet site which the user types into the search bar.
A DNS filter works directly on the IP addresses of the server where the site the user wants to visit is located. Blocking is done on the basis of a series of checks on the route taken from the user’s computer to the requested site. The service searches, in real time, a series of databases which contain blacklists which are organized by category.
Blacklists, which are constantly being updated, house sites that are dangerous, as they contain inappropriate contents, malware, Trojans, and web pages used for phishing. Because of their categorization, DNS filters make it possible to block dangerous contents, such as malware, ransomware attacks, and phishing attempts, as well as unwanted contents, such as pornography, gambling, and so on.
With a DNS filter, which can be used as a service or as an agent to be installed directly on the user’s device or on the router used to get connected, one protects oneself from any attempt to access a suspicious site, regardless of what the “source” is (the browsing program, a chat, an email).
4. What features to consider in a DNS filter
There are several DNS filters that guarantee “clean browsing.” In fact, CleaningBrowsing is the name of a free solution. However, in order to achieve quality results, a company must look to the market leaders and carefully consider all of the features of each offering, even ahead of price. If, then, the cost of the service is competitive as, for example, in the case of FlashStart, even better.
Let’s see what features we want from a DNS filter. First of all, filtering sites from their DNS, and not from the domain names, is definitely more effective. If filtering is based upon the domain name, it is much easier for cyber criminals to get around the protections, because they can build a site with a catchy name for children, yet chock-full of child pornography, or they can completely clone a bank’s website. Such is the case with sites made for phishing operations.
Another feature to expect from a DNS filter is its connection to the Anycast network. This is a global service for monitoring sites and the routes to them, providing protection and speed. In technical terms, exploiting the Anycast network minimizes latency during connection. Simply put: the user will wait very briefly before seeing, or not seeing, the site to which he/she wants to connect.
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A quality DNS filter like FlashStart also uses artificial intelligence to automatically update blacklists. Blocking a site, in fact, happens by comparison. Once a user clicks on an address, an instant check in a database of sites takes place.
Clearly, it is important that this huge database be updated frequently. Artificial intelligence algorithms contained within the FlashStart service allow it to scan up to 200 thousand sites per day, support twenty-four different languages, and recognize ninety categories based upon their contents.
To get an idea, according to official data, there are just over one billion sites in the world, although less than 200 million are continuously updated. Additionally, approximately 250 thousand new sites are created in the world every twenty-four hours.
>> If you have already activated FlashStart, read this guide which explains how to extend blacklists for internet DNS filtering
Another feature which sets FlashStart apart from the competition is its native integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory service, that is, easy integration of the application within networks managed by Microsoft services. An additional feature of the FlashStart service is geoblocking, i.e., blocking access to sites that are geographically located in countries that are considered dangerous.
Finally, worth mentioning are the monitoring reporting features, which provide a clear idea of who is browsing, when, and where, and the customization options and granular filtering, which allows different policies to be defined to different groups of users and for different business divisions.
The cloud-based FlashStart service is available in several models. FlashStart PRO is designed to protect SMEs and families. FlashStart PRO Plus expands capabilities to protect businesses, schools, and government agencies. The hybrid firewall is a complete protection solution that also includes the hardware appliance, and, finally, FlashStart has a specific solution for internet service providers and carriers.
You can activate the FlashStart® Cloud protection on any sort of Router and Firewall to secure desktop and mobile devices and IoT devices on local networks.