Definition

browser isolation

Contributor(s): Sarah Lewis

Browser isolation is a cybersecurity model for web browsing that can be used to physically separate an internet user’s browsing activity from their local machine, network and infrastructure. With this model, individual browser sessions are abstracted away from hardware and direct internet access, trapping harmful activity inside the disposable environment. Browser isolation may also be referred to as remote browser isolation, web isolation or remote browsing.

A major weakness in popular security tools is protection from web or browser-based attacks, malware and ransomware. The development of browser isolation technology was meant to combat that weakness. By separating browsing activity from endpoint hardware, the device’s attack surface is reduced, sensitive data is protected and malware or other known and unknown security threats are minimized. This is an evolution of the cybersecurity concepts of security through physical isolation and air-gapping.

How it works

Browser isolation works by providing users with a disposable, non-persistent environment for browsing. This can be executed through a variety of methods but typically involves virtualization, containerization or cloud browsing. When a user closes the browsing session or the session is timed out, the isolated environment is reset or discarded. Additionally, any malicious code or harmful traffic is discarded as well, preventing it from ever reaching the endpoint device or network.

The browser isolation method treats all websites, files and content equally by labeling them as untrusted or blacklisted unless otherwise specified. Within the isolated environment, files can be rendered remotely or sanitized without the need to download them. This is different from other security methods that do not treat information equally and filter content based on potential threatening signs.

Browser isolation vendors

Browser isolation technology is typically delivered to customers through a cloud browser, a container, a virtual machine or browser isolation technology hosted on a server. A few popular vendors in the browser isolation sector include:

  • Apozy.
  • Authentic8.
  • Ericom.
  • Menlo Security.
  • Symantec.
  • WEBGAP.

Advantages and disadvantages of browser isolation

The primary benefit to browser isolation is reducing the spread of malware through web browsers. This has proven to be more effective than other anti-virus application methods since it does not need to be programmed to find specific threats or risks. However, the installation of browser isolation technology can be complex or expensive. This usually means an organization has to hire IT professionals with the right expertise or contracted service providers to oversee and troubleshoot isolation efforts. Additionally, browser isolation may cause users to experience slight delay or lag times when browsing.

This was last updated in May 2019

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