Fastvue TMG Reporter gives you great insight into what sites are being accessed. Forefront TMG administrators are often surprised to see sites in their reports that they believed were being blocked by their Forefront TMG access rules. By running reports on these sites, they often discover that it is due to an unintended consequence of another access rule that permits traffic for a different situation.

I thought it would be useful to review the various methods of site blocking to ensure that your rules are as broad or as specific as they need to be.

URL Filtering Concepts

Most companies implement URL filtering or site blocking to some extent.  This is done for various reason such as keeping users productive or  securing them from malicious sites. Forefront TMG access rules contain a source and destination where you can add a Network Entity (also often called Network Objects).  These are specified in the From and To tabs when creating your access rule:

The types of Forefront TMG Network Entities include:

  • Networks
  • Enterprise Networks
  • Network Sets
  • Computers
  • Computer Sets
  • Address Ranges
  • Subnets
  • URL Sets
  • URL Categories
  • URL Category Sets
  • Domain Name sets
  • Web Listeners
  • Server Farms

Choosing the right type of Network Entity is critically important when creating Internet access rules that restrict users from specific sites.

Blocking Sites with Forefront TMG

Forefront TMG makes it easy to implement the appropriate level of URL filtering, whether it be high level or very granular.  When blocking a site, you are mainly interested in using one of the following four network entities:

  • URL Category Sets
  • URL Categories
  • Domain Name Sets
  • URL Sets

Each entity above has a different level of granularity.

To illustrate the various options we will look at blocking the site imo.im. IMO is a cross platform messaging application, enabling chats between different IM networks such as Skype, Gtalk, Yahoo etc.

Forefront TMG URL Category Sets

At the highest level you can utilize Forefront TMG’s 11 URL Category Sets such as Communication, Entertainment, and General Productivity.  These contain various URL categories such as Chat, Blogs/Wikis etc, which can be edited based on your organization’s requirements.

The default Category set that imo.im falls into is Communication that contains the following categories:

  • Blogs/Wiki
  • Chat
  • Digital Postcards
  • Forum/Bulletin Boards
  • Online Communities
  • Sites
  • Usenet News
  • Web E-mail
  • Web Phone
  • Web-based Productivity Applications

Using a Category Set would work, but it would also impact a huge amount of other sites.

Forefront TMG URL Categories

The next level involves utilizing Forefront TMG’s 80 URL Categories.  These categories contain various URL’s that are dynamically sorted into one or more of the categories. Categories can be overridden by specifying the URL pattern and an alternate category.

The list of categories is fixed in that you cannot add your own custom URL category.

The URL category that imo.im falls into is Chat.  This category also includes a load of other chat sites such as:

  • imo.im
  • Meebo.com
  • Skype.com
  • chat.yahoo.com
  • chat.zoho.com
  • www.ebuddy.com

If blocking all IM traffic is your goal, then blocking at the URL Category level may be an appropriate option. But if you only want to block imo.im, then this method will block a large amount of other sites that you may want to grant access to.

Forefront TMG Domain Name Sets

Forefront TMG’s Domain Name Sets are very useful when you need to block or allow a single domain.  You can also utilize wildcards such as *.google.com.  The restriction is that the wildcard can only be at the beginning or the end of the specified domain.

You could block imo.im using a wildcard such as:

  • *.im

This would effectively block the site but would also block

  • Chat.im
  • Messenger.im
  • Gtalk.im
  • All site that belong to the Isle of Man National Top Level Domain (.im)

Specifying *imo.im would work, but would also block sites ending in imo.com such as proximo.com and limo.com. *.imo.com would be a better option to block the entire domain and its sub-domains.

But lets say for arguments sake that you only want to block part of the domain. In this case *.imo.im is still too broad.

Forefront TMG URL Sets

Forefront TMG’s URL sets have the advantage of being very granular.  You can also specify either HTTP or HTTPS.  The drawback is that you have to be granular when you configure them.

URL Sets enable you to grant access to a specific part of a site while blocking access to another.  This is something we would not be able to do with a domain set.

Back to our example, we could configure a URL Set as follows:

  • imo.im/*

This will block all access to http://imo.im, however IMO predominantly communicates over HTTPS, which would still be allowed using the above URL Set.  To block HTTPS, we also need to include the port in the URL Set:

  • imo.im:443
  • imo.im:443/*

Your URL set should now look like this:

This is a very granular way to block access to IMO.

But lets say that you want to allow access to the sub-directory imo.im/information.  To do this, you can add an exception using the following URL Set :

  • imo.im/information/*
The TO tab in your Forefront TMG access rule would contain the following network entities:

This would allow access to the /information/ subdirectory but block everything else.

One thing to note is that it is not possible to specify subdirectory path information if HTTPS is used. The exception for the sub-directory is therefore only possible for HTTP traffic and not for HTTPS.

Conclusion

The four URL Filtering methods above can be used in various combinations to achieve the desired level of control and access.

However, as more rules are added over time, it can be very easy to configure rules that conflict in some way, such as inadvertently blocking white listed sites or vice versa.

Fortunately TMG Reporter can help you identify sites you thought were blocked, or other sites that should be blocked. By running reports on these sites, you can easily identify the access rules that are allowing or blocking the traffic.

Using TMG Reporter and your knowledge of the different levels of URL Filtering above, you can consolidate your rules making them easier to manage and maintain, and providing more effective protection for your network.

For more information on URL Filtering concepts and how to fine-tune TMG Reporter for your requirements see Customizing Website Categories with Forefront TMG’s URL Filtering.