Web Filtering software is widely deployed by all major companies to block material on the Internet that they deem to be inappropriate. The definition of what is inappropriate varies widely but if it is likely to cost a company money from a lawsuit (think sexually inappropriate material) or is considered a waste of employee time (think gaming sites) then it is a good candidate to end up on the blocked list. Some of the major categories of sites blocked by most filters include: adult oriented material, gambling, hacking, illegal activities, p2p file sharing, racist material, and sites that have been flagged as containing malware.
So what is the problem?
Web filtering is a complex task and while it hits more than it misses it experiences both false negatives and false positives. A false negative represents sites that it failed to block that should have been blocked while a false positive is a site that has been inappropriately classified as being a site of concern. The biggest risk to your site from a web filtering perspective is that you could be unfairly categorized as an inappropriate site costing you precious traffic in the process. If your site is being blocked by some of the larger web content filtering software packages you are costing yourself a lot of corporate web traffic and that traffic ultimately means money. Many of your customers might be making purchases or providing eyeballs during work hours and losing out on this opportunity should not be taken lightly.
What should you do to protect your business from web filtering run amok?
1. Listen to your audience/customers – If you hear reports about your site being blocked at someone’s work location or local ISP take the matter seriously and follow-up promptly. Ask them to provide you the name of the web filtering company if possible and what filtering category your site violated to aid you in your follow-up.
2. If you have received feedback about your site being blocked and you believe it is inappropriately blocked you need to take action by contacting the web filter vendor to get your site cleared for business. When contacting the web filtering companies remember to be polite and state the reasons your site does not belong in the blocked category and be proactive by suggesting a more appropriate classification for your site.
Reporting a web filtering issue to the major vendors:
3. Scan for malware using Google Webmaster Tools - If your site contains malware (even without your knowledge) it is a prime candidate to end up on a web filtering black list. Be proactive and scan for malware using the Google Webmaster tools malware scanner to validate that you are protected.
4. Run McAfee’s free domain health check to get a free report on the current status of your website from their point of view. They are a large player in the Web Filtering market via their Total Protection Suite so you want to make sure they have not detected any problems. My site did not generate a broader report when queried but I was able to verify that it was considered a minimal risk site and was classified in a web category that is unlikely to have problems with any web filter. Have you checked your site?
5. Do not take no for an answer. If the company refuses your polite request for a reclassification do not reluctantly accept your lot in life. Escalate the issue, follow-up again and let me know because I plan to start a space for people that are having problems with various web filters and would love to be of assistance.