what is whitelisting

What is Whitelisting and how does it work?

Whitelisting is a tool that helps to protect business computer networks. Whitelisting effectively compliments other security measures like having anti-virus software or a firewall. In essence, whitelisting is the inverse of blacklisting. Blacklisting would allow software until it is blocking for malicious activity.

Perhaps a way to think of this would be a host at a birthday party. Is the question that is the host allowing everybody until there’s a reason not to let them inside the party? That’s backlisting. Or, is this an invite-only party where the host only allows people once they have verified the invitation? That’s whitelisting.

Whitelists are usually customized and not standard for every enterprise. The network administrator customizes whitelists based on the enterprises’ infrastructure. A classic example of this is YouTube, where the company has tailored whitelists for YouTube Kids to an age-appropriate video segment rather than YouTube’s common suggestions.

Whitelisting is hugely beneficial for companies that are under constant threat of a cyberattack. Companies with BYOD and work from home policies can conveniently whitelist websites they consider safe for their employees to visit when using their private network.

How Does Whitelisting Work?

Whitelisting can be complex to deploy, and it isn’t an average DIY process. Network administrators have to analyze each access point before they begin whitelisting carefully. As an example, let’s say a program on your device frequently checks for online updates, but your devices’ firewall keeps popping up a message each time the application attempts to communicate on the web.

To get around this, you can create a whitelist entry of the particular program within your firewall. This will ensure that the program gets regular access to the web whenever it needs and doesn’t annoy you with alerts all the time. Likewise, you can whitelist your emails as well. Whitelisted emails will land directly into the recipient’s inbox rather than their spam or junk folder.

It allows greater parental controls as you can whitelist specific websites (preferably educational sites) and block other sites. This will ensure that your children are only able to access content that’s approved by you.

Types of Whitelists

Here are the common types of whitelists:

Email Whitelists

Emails are an essential mode of communication for any business. Having a pre-authorized list of email addresses can significantly save you time and the trouble of digging up daily emails from your clients and business partners in your junk folder.

Application Whitelists

Application whitelists allow only authorized apps to run. An app that is not in the whitelist list is considered unsafe and immediately blocked. This keeps your device safe from malware, spam, ransomware, and other threats.

IP Whitelists

IP whitelists is an authorized list of IP addresses or IP domains that have the authorization to access your domain(s). It is assigned and managed by the site administrator, who allows access to only trusted users.

Difference Between Whitelisting Vs. Blacklisting

A list of IP addresses, email addresses, applications, and websites that cannot access your network is a backlist. Such as, Antivirus Softwares relies on blacklists.

Whereas any domain or IP address that is not on the list is unsafe assumed by whitelist, While any domain, IP address, or everything that is not on the list is considered as OK by the blacklist. A whitelist is a default-deny approach, and blacklisting is a default-allow approach.

How to Easily Whitelist IPs

The following are a few tips on how to whitelist IP addresses the right way without making a mistake.

Email Whitelists

  • Add relevant email addresses to the contact list 
  • Monitor the network and provide cybersecurity training to enhance your cyber defense system
  • Reduce the risks of malware attacks or intrusion by updating whitelists

Application Whitelists

  • Use existing application whitelisting capabilities that are running in the system
  • Create a framework before whitelisting to reduce issues while using the latest technology trends
  • Hire seasoned IT experts to update and maintain application whitelists 

IP Whitelists

  • Choose or set up a static IP address for whitelisting
  • Get more control on your whitelisting list by using a .htaccess file
  • Use plugins on the login pages to speed up whitelisting

The Benefits of Whitelisting

Here are the benefits of Whitelisting:

Enhanced Cybersecurity

As viruses and malware multiply at an exponential rate, blacklisting each virus not only wastes time but leaves the door open for future viruses to infiltrate your network.

Whitelisting improves cybersecurity as you only have to approve applications or addresses that you trust, and the rest are blocked by default.

Increased Productivity

Without whitelisting, users connected to the corporate network can spend time on social networking sites, resulting in a waste of time and productivity. Whitelisting allows companies to customize the system on their terms.

With whitelisting, businesses can block insecure and distracting sites that risk compromising company projects and causing the workforces’ productivity to decline.

Integration with Other Software

Whitelisting works great across platforms. You can integrate whitelisting to improve your cybersecurity landscape.

Ultimately, whitelisting techniques will vary from business to business as the needs depend entirely on your business’ needs. At the same time, employees must be made aware of whitelisting and how it is going to benefit not only the organization but their online privacy as well.

Studies prove that SMEs and large corporations that have implemented whitelists are less likely to face a cyberattack. This makes whitelisting a vital tool in augmenting your online privacy and security.

Ather Owais Ather Owais is a tech and cybersecurity enthusiast. He is a strong advocate for online privacy and security, following technological trends and their impact on today's digital era.

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