What is Whitelisting? Complete Beginners Guide
Whitelisting can keep many cyber security issues at bay if implemented properly. In this blog, we will cover the applications of whitelisting, its benefits, best practices, and more.
- What is Whitelisting?
- Implementing Whitelists
- Benefits of Whitelisting
- Blacklisting vs Whitelisting
- Whitelisting Best Practices
What is Whitelisting?
All this time, we have been talking about it, but what does whitelist mean?
Generally, when we say whitelist, we mean identifying people, brands, services, or documents that should get access, recognition, or privilege. It is like being part of a VIP guest list at a high-profile event. If your name is on the list, going in for you is easier than for others.
It’s the same with computing—in this case, the VIPs are computer programs and applications. For example, some programs need to do regular cloud lookups for updates and information, and if the firewall keeps notifying you every time the program tries to communicate with the web, it is going to be a hassle.
This is when you can create a whitelist entry in your firewall so that the program has the authorization it requires while preventing constant firewall alerts even with legitimate communication.
In a similar way, trusted senders in your email client list can be whitelisted so that important messages don’t end up in the junk folder or are marked as spam.
Another example is in the case of parental controls software on a system, certain educational websites can be whitelisted to ensure that the children are accessing only approved internet content.
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Here is what you can do to implement whitelists:
IP whitelisting is when network access is granted solely to specific IP addresses. This is specifically true for business networks and organizations that use cloud services. The network administrator is responsible for managing and whitelisting such IP addresses to allow access to files, software, and applications remotely. The IP address should be confirmed as immobile before whitelisting
An email whitelist is accepted when email addresses are added to the contact list. For optimized cyber security measures, one can implement routine cybersecurity training paired with email analysis, activity monitoring, and network monitoring, upgrading email whitelists can minimize vulnerabilities.
Application whitelisting is when an index of approved software applications or executable files is specified to allow its presence and activity on a computer system. The objective of this kind of whitelisting is to protect systems and networks from potentially harmful applications. Using inbuilt whitelisting applications of a system will stop loopholes and help in technological innovations.
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Benefits of Whitelisting
Here are some of the benefits of whitelisting:
- Enhanced cybersecurity practices: When viruses multiply rapidly, it hinders applications by making it difficult to be tracked by other applications. Since blacklisting each virus can be time-consuming, it makes it easier for future viruses to find their way into the network.
Since new malware has been known to overpower traditional antivirus software, whitelisting eases cyber security relatively.
Oftentimes, multiple devices on an insecure network of an organization can result in accidental insider attacks. Whitelisting comes into use in these scenarios. A whitelist is a great approach for securing information by amplifying defenses and decreasing the number of cyber threats.
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- Compliance with other software: Cybersecurity defenses always work best when diversified. For example, a combination of antimalware, antivirus, anti-ransomware software, with penetration testing can check for vulnerabilities in a network. Now, add to that, whitelist suits running alongside the blacklisting antivirus software. This serves as an additional measure and tool to secure the cyber network.
- Malware and unknown threat prevention: Whitelisting adds the advantage of preventing threats. Since whitelisting allows only authorized software to execute on servers and endpoints, all other software is prevented from being run. As a result, most malware won’t be able to run.
- Software Inventory: For successful application whitelisting solutions, complete visibility into the applications and processes on the host systems is essential. This visibility can help build an inventory of the applications and their versions that are installed on every endpoint and server. With this inventory in hand, unauthorized applications and wrong software versions that are still on the host system can be identified.
- File Monitoring: Most whitelisting solutions allow the monitoring of changes in application files. Depending on its capabilities, it can either prevent changes in files or flag the changes. This way, security teams are alerted about suspicious activities in the host, allowing them to revise their security policies and update their whitelists accordingly. At the same time, a smart whitelisting solution will allow legitimate updates without raising unnecessary alerts.
- Incident Response: Whitelisting can also help avoid the spreading of malware. When malicious files are identified on a host, application whitelisting technologies can be implemented to check if other hosts have the same files as well. This will determine whether they have been compromised.
Blacklisting vs Whitelisting
A whitelist, when implemented, essentially blacklists everything else out there except the white-list approved. While it may seem to like that there is no need to worry about malicious threats to infrastructure because the only things authorized are the ones that have been filtered as safe., there are a few drawbacks to whitelisting too—the obvious one being the lack of freedom for users to use their systems however they like.
Secondly, there’s also quite a bit of work involved in building a whitelist. This is because every whitelist is unique to the organization that needs it. Additionally, attackers find ways to put themselves on the whitelist. On the other hand, it is easy to create blacklists of known malware and attack sites. Usually, vendors build these blacklists for widespread use.
What is a blacklist? It is a list of things that are harmful and need to be blocked from systems for protection. Most antivirus and anti-malware are, essentially, blacklists. These programs include a list of known malicious code and automatically take action when those programs are detected on the protected computer.
The disadvantage of both whitelisting and blacklisting is that they need to be constantly updated to stay ahead of the latest attacks. They are not effective against zero-day attacks. In cases like these, only a whitelist/blacklist that uses real-time and up-to-the-minute analysis can detect changes in a website.
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Whitelisting Best Practices
To get the most out of whitelisting, here are some tips:
- Whitelisting should be rolled out in phases in an organization to ensure that enterprise-wise operations are not disrupted in case something goes wrong.
- Care and time should be taken to ensure that the whitelist is correct because whitelisting is only as effective as the list itself.
- There should be a whitelisting policy in place.
- Maintenance of whitelists is essential because the software will eventually need to be updated.
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The whitelist approach is a customized one that is implemented based on unique needs. The context of applications is essential for the effectiveness of the whitelisting technology. It should be determined first what kind of authorization an application should be given or not given beyond just simple whitelisting.
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