Whitelisting is a two-stage process of:
- Identifying trustworthy sources and agents, and
- Granting them special recognition, access, and privileges.
In the cyber world, whitelisting is giving exclusive access to certain email and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, websites, and applications. This allows them to bypass IT security systems while blocking everything else that’s not on the list.
It’s like having a VIP list at a night club – if your name’s on it, you can stroll right into the eardrum-ripping adult funhouse without having to wait in line. Except in our case, the club’s bouncer is an IT security system and all the local celebrities are boring ol’ work stuff.
The benefits of whitelisting
Whether for business or individual use, whitelisting is a great cybersecurity feature. It can save time, resources, and a cyber headache when implemented well and maintained.
In short, whitelisting can:
- Prevent malware attacks and viruses.
- Reduce or even eliminate phishing attempts.
- Decrease distractions and increase productivity by:
- Prioritizing emails
- Only allowing access to certain websites
- Only allowing the use of verified applications.
Its downsides? You need to set it up and maintain it manually. But, this is also a huge benefit because it allows you to tailor it to any of your personal or business needs.
The differences between whitelisting and blacklisting
Most people are more familiar with the term “blacklist.” While it sounds similar to a whitelist, the two are essentially polar opposites.
Restricts everything that’s not on the whitelist
Restricts everything that’s on the blacklist
Allows everything that’s on the whitelist
Allows everything that’s not on on the blacklist
Blacklisting is a practice of recognizing and excluding dangerous and untrustworthy agents. Like, for example, barring rowdy and troublesome customers from a nightclub.
In cybersecurity, most antivirus and anti-malware software are blacklists. They identify and block malicious pieces of code and software from making changes to your device.
Instead of blocking what’s on the list, a whitelist blocks everything except what you tell it not to. This helps to avoid any possible cyber threats and distractions from happening in the first place.
The many types of whitelisting
Generally, whitelisting is not a “one size fits all” kind of practice. There are different types of whitelists with various benefits. IP address, email, and application whitelisting can prove to be useful to workflow and security.
|IP whitelist||App whitelist||Email whitelist||VPN whitelist (aka Split Tunneling)|
|Used to grant remote network access||Used to prevent the use of unverified apps and software||Mainly used to improve prioritization and email flow||Allows chosen apps and websites to bypass a VPN even when it is turned on|
|Helps to avoid data leaks||Helps to avoid ransomware and keyloggers||Helps to avoid phishing attempts||Helps with banking, gaming, and other online services|
|Can be difficult to maintain with dynamic IP addresses||Comes as third-party software||Easy to set up but requires constant maintenance|
IP address whitelisting for remote working
IP whitelisting is giving someone with a specific IP address (a digital label) access to a network. This is often used to grant remote access to workplace networks. It reduces the chances of leaks or security breaches.
However, an IT admin or a manager has to set up and maintain an IP whitelist manually.
Suffice to say, this approach needs an ongoing investment of resources. It can also become tricky if the employee’s internet service providers keep IP addresses static or dynamic (changing).
Hard to use for
Small groups and businesses
Large companies and corporations
Application whitelisting for keeping your workplace safe
Application whitelisting is a security measure that only allows specified apps and programs to run on a protected device. It is good for preventing malware, like keyloggers and ransomware, and malicious apps and software from harming your devices.
However, whitelisting is not required for every workplace. Usually, larger work networks are the ones that can benefit the most from setting up whitelists.
Also, app whitelisting usually comes as third-party software, like Applocker, PowerBroker, or PolicyPak. It needs to be manually installed and continuously maintained to remain useful.
Hard to use for
All businesses and corporations with workplace devices
Large companies and corporations with a wide variety of apps being used
Email whitelisting for security and workflow
Email whitelists are usually used for a different reason than IP and app whitelists. They work under a similar idea of selective information inclusion. But more often, the main purpose is to help you prioritize and optimize your email flow.
In other words, whitelisting specific email addresses will make sure that they always show up at the top of your inbox. This way, you won’t have to worry about your inbox sending any important emails to your spam folder.
Also, having a pre-approved list of trusted email addresses can help you avoid phishing (fraudulent email) attempts.
This is especially important since COVID-19 pushed everyone to work from home. The sudden shift has decentralized workplace security and caused a boom in email related cyber-attacks.
Hard to use for
Anyone dealing with a lot of daily emails
Anyone with a very clear email contact list
VPNs can have whitelists too!
As a VPN service provider, Surfshark offers a split tunneling feature, also known as the Whitelister.
Some banking and cryptocurrency websites may not grant you access for security purposes if you’re using a VPN. VPNs change your IP address and location-sensitive services that deal with personal assets will become alert if you’re trying to log in from different places worldwide.
To avoid this, the Whitelister allows you to choose which websites and apps could bypass a VPN – even when it’s turned on.
It’s like you’re building your own VIP guest list of trusted service providers. It can help you do banking and gaming online while surfing less trustworthy parts of the internet.
Are you considering whitelisting?
Before implementing whitelisting, ask yourself – “do I want to make things easier?” The answer is often obvious, and if you’re up for the task, then whitelisting requires some manual work. If you’re not convinced yet, here are some key takeaway points:
- Email and VPN whitelists are easy to set up.
- More difficult and complicated are IP address and application whitelists. They are mostly used by businesses and companies that require consistent maintenance.
- They are all good additions to improve workplace IT security and workflow and may even prove to be sufficient for smaller businesses.
- Bigger companies also find a use for whitelisting, but it is never their primary source of protection.
And for prime time protection, why not try a VPN? You already know that it comes with its own whitelisting feature!
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