Content Filtering In Cybersecurity: The Effectiveness Overview and Top Alternatives

Did you know nobody can tell how many websites there are? Experts believe the number is around 2 billion, and the amount of software available is close to impossible to guess. Filtering content is necessary because of the sheer amount of things available. So, what’s content filtering?

Content filtering allows users to restrict access to different things, such as websites, software, and more. It helps prevent malware infections, phishing scams, and exploit kits, among other things. Using this method protects the kids at home, and companies from noncompliance as well.

There’s more than one way to filter content and more than one vendor ready to sell their solution to you. You have to figure out what you need, who you’ll get it from, and how you’ll implement it before you start filtering content. Your first step should be understanding what content filtering is.

What’s Content Filtering?

Content filtering allows users to restrict access to certain things using software, hardware, or cloud-based solutions. It works by restricting malicious sites, unproductive software, and more. Most companies use this strategy to boost productivity, but it’s also great for cybersecurity issues.

For example, you can use content filtering to prevent certain emails from appearing in your employees’ mailboxes. You can also use it to avoid them visiting malicious sites by mistake. Families can also use content filtering to prevent children from accessing malicious or graphic websites.

The bad side of content filtering is that you can easily block stuff that you don’t want to block. Understanding the two ways you have of filtering content is always a good step to prevent that from happening.

Types of Content Filtering

  • Content Filtering. The basic (and, ironically, more complex) way of filtering is content filtering. It could be anything from any of the options you see below to a combination of all of them. It could also include software filtering and a few more things. Most people experience a combination of web content, email, and software filtering when they’re at work.
  • Email Filtering. There are many ways to do email filtering. You could restrict access to dangerous domains, detect strings of text, and more. Most companies use this type of filtering to avoid phishing scams. At the same time, they reduce the chance of an insider threat sending privileged information to outsiders.
  • Mobile Content Filtering. Did you know there are close to 7 billion smartphones worldwide? That means there’s almost one phone for every human on the planet. In Western countries, kids get their phones early on, meaning adults have to watch out for what the little ones see on their little screens early on. Mobile content filtering is perfect for that.
  • Web Content Filtering. Monitoring and restricting access to different websites should be no stranger to anyone working at the office, though that’s not the only place where you can use web content filtering. It’s also a good idea to take that method home, so you can protect the family network from accessing certain websites, from malicious ones to more graphic ones.

2 Ways You Can Filter Content

1. Blacklisting

Blacklisting consists in blocking malicious actors from accessing your network. It also prevents users from visiting bad content. It’s often the go-to method for content filtering – but does that mean it’s the best one?

Many experts believe blocking malicious traffic is not a good idea, and we agree. It’s taxing to monitor everything, waiting for bad guys to appear so that you can throw the metaphorical hammer down.

It’s always a better idea to make everyone wait by the door and pick the ones that’ll pass through: whitelisting.

2. Whitelisting

Whitelisting consists in denying everyone and everything access – to then pick and choose who you allow in and out of your system. You get to pick who accesses your network and choose what kind of content people can visit using your devices.

Why is whitelisting better than blacklisting? Because it’s less resource-intensive. You don’t have to be on your toes, waiting for a threat to appear so you can block it. Every threat waits by the door – and threat actors will never get access unless you make a mistake.

This method doesn’t come without cons: you have to whitelist everything you want to access, so you may forget to whitelist a few websites at first, for example. Nothing a little extra work can’t fix.

3 Types of Content Filtering Vendors

1. Cloud-based

The first and most efficient way to use content filtering is to hire a cloud-based provider. More often than not, this type of option deals mostly with website filtering, though there are options available to deal with other content (such as software).

Why should you go with cloud-based content filtering? Because it allows you to choose how far you want to go with customization. You can let the provider deal with the heavy stuff, so you can focus your efforts on your business instead of filtering.

However, this type of content filtering takes a bit of power away from you. Hardware and software options are better if you want a more hands-on experience.

2. Hardware

Content filtering hardware is usually something companies tend to purchase and deploy. It’s not the most consumer-friendly product, especially if you want to filter content at home.

Why should you avoid hardware content filtering? Because it’s expensive, complicated, and may be too much for a small effort. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it! This option is perfect if you’re running a big company with plenty of employees. Software is often a good complement to this choice.

3. Software

Content filtering software is often the first pick for companies and users alike. You pay for it, download it, and install it. After that, you’re one quick configuration setup away from having your network and its users safe from harm.

You can choose different products, though client- and server-based options are the most common: the first is better for small startups with few devices, while the latter is better for big companies with broad networks.

5 Cybersecurity Benefits of Content Based Filtering

1. Reduces Malware Infection Risks

What’s an easy way to compromise a device? Downloading malware! How can you stop that from happening? Having software or hardware prevents you from doing that.

Of course, you should run antivirus tests and monitor activity, but having a content filter will prevent you from clicking an infected attachment in the first place.

2. Prevents Phishing Scams From Happening

One of the best things about content filtering is that it can protect users from phishing scams. It detects compromised domains and looks for keywords from common scams, and blocks any messages carrying any of those characteristics.

Stopping phishing attempts is the perfect example to prove why content filtering is a must at home and at the office. Most people don’t have enough training to recognize a phishing scam, so it’s always a good idea to deal with that before it reaches the inbox.

3. Defends Your Network Against Exploit Kits

An exploit kit allows a threat actor to deploy malicious code into a device without the user knowing. It can come from different angles, including software and websites. For that reason, having a content filtering solution in place is a must.

How does content filtering protect you from an exploit kit attack? The filter will restrict access to malicious sites, thus preventing you from visiting them. If you don’t visit these sites, the exploit kit will have zero chance of infecting your device.

4. Protects the Little Ones at Home

Kids grow up with a screen in front of their faces nowadays. It’s difficult to keep them away from devices, so the next best thing is to make sure they won’t see something they’ll regret. Content filtering is a great way to keep graphic sites and games outside their reach.

At the same time, you can make sure your kids won’t overstep their boundaries and download malware without them knowing: allowing children to freely roam the internet is the same as letting them wander the street unsupervised.

5. Decreases Chances of Negligent Noncompliance

One of the most overlooked cybersecurity advantages of content filtering is reducing the chance of employee negligence. A worker could visit a website during their lunch break and (without ill will) infect the entire network. It takes one malicious line of code to make that happen.

Another employee could click on a malicious link or download a malware-infected attachment. All three scenarios lead to the company getting slapped with a noncompliance fine (at best).

Installing a content filter means no employee could visit a malicious site (as long as you have them blacklisted).


Content filtering is a great way to prevent employees and family members from accessing problematic things, such as malicious software, phishing scams, and other traps from threat actors. You can filter content by restricting the bad or allowing the good: choosing either strategy is up to the user.

Herman McCargo

Herman is a Microsoft Certified Security Engineer and Cybersecurity Specialist. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.