Web content filtering

Important

Web content filtering is currently in public preview
This preview version is provided without a service level agreement, and it's not recommended for production workloads. Certain features might not be supported or might have constrained capabilities. For more information, see Microsoft Defender for Endpoint preview features.

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Web content filtering is part of Web protection capabilities in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint. It enables your organization to track and regulate access to websites based on their content categories. Many of these websites, while not malicious, might be problematic because of compliance regulations, bandwidth usage, or other concerns.

Configure policies across your device groups to block certain categories. Blocking a category prevents users within specified device groups from accessing URLs associated with the category. For any category that's not blocked, the URLs are automatically audited. Your users can access the URLs without disruption, and you'll gather access statistics to help create a more custom policy decision. Your users will see a block notification if an element on the page they're viewing is making calls to a blocked resource.

Web content filtering is available on the major web browsers, with blocks performed by Windows Defender SmartScreen (Microsoft Edge) and Network Protection (Chrome and Firefox). For more information about browser support, see the prerequisites section.

Summarizing the benefits:

  • Users are prevented from accessing websites in blocked categories, whether they're browsing on-premises or away
  • Conveniently deploy policies to groups of users using device groups defined in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint role-based access control settings
  • Access web reports in the same central location, with visibility over actual blocks and web usage

User experience

The blocking experience for Chrome/Firefox is provided by Network Protection, which provides a system-level toast notifying the user of a blocked connection.

For a more user-friendly in-browser experience, consider using Microsoft Edge.

Prerequisites

Before trying out this feature, make sure you have the following requirements:

  • Windows 10 Enterprise E5 license OR Microsoft 365 E3 + Microsoft 365 E5 Security add-on.
  • Access to Microsoft Defender Security Center portal
  • Devices running Windows 10 Anniversary Update (version 1607) or later with the latest MoCAMP update.

If Windows Defender SmartScreen isn't turned on, Network Protection will take over the blocking. It requires enabling Network Protection on the device.

Data handling

We will follow whichever region you have elected to use as part of your Microsoft Defender for Endpoint data handling settings. Your data will not leave the data center in that region. In addition, your data will not be shared with any third-parties, including our data providers. However, we may send them aggregate data (across users and organizations) to help them improve their feeds.

Turn on web content filtering

From the left-hand navigation menu, select Settings > General > Advanced Features. Scroll down until you see the entry for Web content filtering. Switch the toggle to On and Save preferences.

Configure web content filtering policies

Web content filtering policies specify which site categories are blocked on which device groups. To manage the policies, go to Settings > Rules > Web content filtering.

Use the filter to locate policies that contain certain blocked categories or are applied to specific device groups.

Create a policy

To add a new policy:

  1. Select Add policy on the Web content filtering page in Settings.
  2. Specify a name.
  3. Select the categories to block. Use the expand icon to fully expand each parent category and select specific web content categories.
  4. Specify the policy scope. Select the device groups to specify where to apply the policy. Only devices in the selected device groups will be prevented from accessing websites in the selected categories.
  5. Review the summary and save the policy. The policy may take up to 15 minutes to apply to your selected devices.

Tip: You can deploy a policy without selecting any category on a device group. This action will create an audit only policy, to help you understand user behavior before creating a block policy.

Note

If you are removing a policy or changing device groups at the same time, this might cause a delay in policy deployment.

Important

Blocking the "Uncategorized" category may lead to unexpected and undesired results.

Allow specific websites

It's possible to override the blocked category in web content filtering to allow a single site by creating a custom indicator policy. The custom indicator policy will supersede the web content filtering policy when it's applied to the device group in question.

  1. Create a custom indicator in the Microsoft Defender Security Center by going to Settings > Indicators > URL/Domain > Add Item
  2. Enter the domain of the site
  3. Set the policy action to Allow.

Web content filtering cards and details

Select Reports > Web protection to view cards with information about web content filtering and web threat protection. The following cards provide summary information about web content filtering.

Web activity by category

This card lists the parent web content categories with the largest increase or decrease in the number of access attempts. Understand drastic changes in web activity patterns in your organization from last 30 days, 3 months, or 6 months. Select a category name to view more information.

In the first 30 days of using this feature, your organization might not have enough data to display this information.

Image of web activity by category card

Web content filtering summary card

This card displays the distribution of blocked access attempts across the different parent web content categories. Select one of the colored bars to view more information about a specific parent web category.

Image of web content filtering summary card

Web activity summary card

This card displays the total number of requests for web content in all URLs.

Image of web activity summary card

View card details

You can access the Report details for each card by selecting a table row or colored bar from the chart in the card. The report details page for each card contains extensive statistical data about web content categories, website domains, and device groups.

Image of web protection report details

  • Web categories: Lists the web content categories that have had access attempts in your organization. Select a specific category to open a summary flyout.

  • Domains: Lists the web domains that have been accessed or blocked in your organization. Select a specific domain to view detailed information about that domain.

  • Device groups: Lists all the device groups that have generated web activity in your organization

Use the time range filter at the top left of the page to select a time period. You can also filter the information or customize the columns. Select a row to open a flyout pane with even more information about the selected item.

Errors and issues

Limitations and known issues in this preview

  • Only Microsoft Edge is supported if your device's OS configuration is Server (cmd > Systeminfo > OS Configuration). Network Protection is only supported in Inspect mode on Server devices, which is responsible for securing traffic across Chrome/Firefox.

  • Unassigned devices will have incorrect data shown within the report. In the Report details > Device groups pivot, you may see a row with a blank Device Group field. This group contains your unassigned devices before they get put into your specified group. The report for this row may not contain an accurate count of devices or access counts.