Whitelisting: What It Is and How To Use It
Whitelisting is a powerful cybersecurity tool that outdoes blacklisting in scope and effectiveness. Such drastic measures, however, may not be necessary for most people. Generally, the whitelist approach best suits larger organizations that deal with a lot of sensitive information. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the practice. Let’s discuss whitelisting, its uses, different variations, and how it can help protect your network or device.
If you use the internet without a VPN, you might as well post your browsing history to social media for everyone to see. Anyone who wants to monitor your activity — the government, your internet service provider (ISP), certain social media sites — can easily do so with the right motivation.
Luckily, protecting your privacy is as simple as installing VeePN’s Chrome extension. The extension encrypts your traffic and prevents tracking while offering access to over 2500 secure VPN servers in over 70 countries. Get VeePN’s Chrome extension now and protect your privacy the easy way.
What is a whitelist (allowlist)?
Whitelists contain items, such as applications or websites, that you or a network administrator has pre-approved within an application or private network. With a whitelist in place, you’ll experience restrictions when trying to access unsanctioned services. The strictness of the practice makes whitelisting an effective security measure in sensitive environments.
While blacklisting relies on you knowing which sites or services you should block, whitelisting involves a guilty until proven innocent approach where you must judge and assess each item before granting access. Government offices, corporate environments, and schools could all benefit from a whitelisting approach to cybersecurity.
However, the method does have some disadvantages. If a network administrator restricts the majority of apps, sites, and services and only allows specified items, they risk hamstringing users and preventing them from completing critical tasks. If you do want to utilize whitelisting, you should formulate a practical method for managing exceptions and maintaining productivity within your organization.
What is the purpose of whitelisting?
Whitelisting is a cybersecurity measure designed to protect networks or devices from malicious software and unapproved apps or block access to unauthorized content. For example, a government network administrator may maintain a whitelist of pre-approved apps to prevent accidental — or intentional — malware infections. Institutions can also use whitelisting as a censorship tool.
Some schools and organizations may keep blacklists of restricted apps and sites. But the internet is a big place, and, with over half a million new websites created each day, maintaining a list of every questionable site in existence takes serious effort. That’s where whitelisting comes in. A well-curated whitelist will block out the worst of the web while still allowing you to perform all necessary tasks.
What are some types of whitelisting?
While the meaning is fairly universal, different types of whitelists exist. Technically, you or your network administrator could create a whitelist for anything you access on your device, including apps, websites, or other services. Some software, such as a VPN client or firewall, may include its own whitelisting tools.
Here are some common whitelist types:
- IP address
Let’s discuss each whitelisting variant in more detail.
IP whitelisting generally refers to authorizing IP addresses so specific users can access a private network. For example, if you work remotely, you may need access to the company server. In which case, whitelisting specific IP addresses is an effective method for granting permission to the right people while avoiding unauthorized logins.
Unless you’re using a VPN, your ISP provides you with a public IP address. Because your public IP changes when you reset your router, you’ll either need to obtain a static address from your provider or use a VPN for this whitelisting method to make sense.
Application whitelisting prevents unauthorized applications from installing or running on a device or network. The practice makes sense in some governmental, corporate, and educational contexts where users only need certain apps to perform their duties. When you disallow most software, the chances of contracting malware are low.
Domain and site whitelisting
Domain — or website — whitelisting is the practice of allowing access to specific sites within an application or network. A network administrator may block unlisted sites completely, or an application could treat entries on the whitelist differently to others. For example, whitelisting a domain in your ad blocker allows relevant pages to display advertising. Limiting access to irrelevant or distracting sites within an organization can help boost productivity.
When you whitelist a domain in your VPN client, you instruct the software to exclude that website from its processes, which means splitting your traffic in two. Your device accesses whitelisted websites over the internet as normal, while other traffic undergoes encryption and routes through the VPN server. Whitelisting — or split tunneling — allows you to encrypt your most sensitive connections while maintaining speed in other areas.
VeePN’s Chrome browser extension allows you to whitelist websites for greater control over how your VPN behaves. Here’s how you can whitelist websites in VeePN:
- Sign up for VeePN
- Get the VeePN Chrome extension
- Launch the extension and click on the menu in the top left corner
- Go to Settings
- Scroll down to Exclude websites
- Choose websites you want to bypass when the VPN is on
Ideally, you should only whitelist domains that don’t store or require you to enter any private information. When using a VPN, your banking provider and other services that deal with sensitive data shouldn’t be on your whitelist without good reason.
You may, however, want to whitelist particular streaming sites and other services that require a lot of bandwidth to function well. In most cases, you’ll have to decide if the risk is worth the reward when excluding a domain from the protection of your VPN.
Whitelisting is extreme but effective
When device or network security is critical, whitelisting may be the best option for keeping you or your organization safe. If you do decide to create a whitelist, being practical is important. The potential for lost productivity is massive if you don’t make a list that’s fair, balanced, and allows for the right amount of freedom.