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Blacklisting or Whitelisting, Which Is Better?

Organizations in the cybersecurity industry must make crucial decisions to ensure they do the job right. One of these decisions includes whether to use blacklisting or whitelisting. While both strategies can help secure infrastructure, applications, and systems, using them at the same time can be impossible at times due to resource constraints — especially if you represent a small- and medium-sized organization.

This premise means that companies sometimes need to decide which is more useful for them bearing in mind the specificities in their industries and the types of attacks most likely to be used against them. Which approach best addresses their dilemmas? Should they take a proactive or reactive stance to their security?

Understanding the Benefits of Blacklisting and Whitelisting

Blacklisting

Identify the bad guys and block them from accessing your systems and network. This fundamental principle is the foundation of most signature-based antimalware solutions. It is widely used because it requires low maintenance. Collecting and updating malicious entities for blocking become the responsibility of the software or third-party threat intelligence provider.

Blacklisting uses a threat-focused approach. Its effectiveness depends on how often security operations personnel can update blacklists and related responses. This capability is often dictated by the volume of threats a system deals with. Since thousands or more of new malware applications surface each month, updating blacklists requires gathering threat intelligence from hoards of devices.

Blacklisting is not foolproof, however, as malware designed specifically to bypass detection can evade it. Since it only accounts for known threats as well, it also cannot protect against new or emerging threats.

Whitelisting

Whitelisting, on the other hand, is a more intensive approach for cybersecurity professionals. It requires to ban everything and give access to only chosen domains and devices. Many experts believe that if only authorized users have access to internal resources, the probability of compromise should significantly decline. The same idea goes if organizations only allow approved applications and devices to run and connect to a network. The likelihood of malware inflicting damage on their network is less though it also means legitimate sites and applications may get filtered too.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) highly recommends the use of whitelisting for high-risk environments. In their guide to whitelisting, the NIST suggests the use of advanced programs such as application control software to combat cyberthreats. The organization believes that maintaining the security and integrity of connected systems is more critical than limited user access.

Whitelisting is also best applied in industrial control system (ICS) environments where compliance is of utmost importance. However, the process can be resource-heavy since whitelists need to be updated continuously.

Blacklisting or Whitelisting?

With the given information, it appears that whitelisting is a more thorough approach to information security but it only if applied right. Organizations must have dedicated resources to compile, monitor, and update whitelists throughout the enterprise while guarding against cyberthreats that can still find a way in.

Defining access to risk-permissive tools is a crucial step, along with building an exhaustive list of cybersecurity policies. For some, this is where website categorization comes in handy. Through the use of website categorization, companies can amplify productivity by filtering unauthorized domains in bulk. Some such applications already processed website information lessening the work for cybersecurity staff. Choosing an API backed by machine learning (ML) to pre-screen a website for potential inclusion in company whitelists is a good bet.

* * *

The right cybersecurity measures and tools depend on organizations' needs. Those that need to protect identified, nonsensitive systems by preventing bot traffic can rely on blacklisting. But those who want to achieve better security for systems and their entire network while adhering to strict compliance requirements may do better with whitelisting. For ultimate protection from all kinds of threats, companies can also combine the power of both processes.

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