What is browser isolation?

What is browser isolation?

August 11, 2021

Browser Isolation or Web Isolation is the technology that contains web browsing activity within an isolated environment. This environment is separate from the user’s normal working environment. This protects the user from malware because the malware does not actually enter the device directly. Instead, it enters inside the isolated environment where it can be isolated and stopped.This isolation can happen locally, or remotely. Browser Isolation technology provides protection against malware and hacking for browsing. It eliminates the opportunity for malware or hackers to be able to access the device in the first place.

what is browser isolation jimber

Browser Isolation secures any device or network from any outside web influence. It does so by simply not running websites directly in the browser. All traffic and websites normally handled directly by the browser are instead executed in this isolated environment.You could compare this to watching an explosion close by. You could technically take all the explosives to a field close to your home, try to somewhat get a safe distance, and watch the explosion directly.This makes it so that all possible threats are contained in this environment. They can not penetrate into the user’s ecosystem. Malware or hackers can never reach the devices the users are on. There is no way for them to gain access to things like hard drives, smartphones, laptops, or any other devices on the network.However to actually be secure, and to make sure nothing could go wrong, you could simply watch a video of an explosion. While sitting safely at home, never bringing any explosives close to you, but still being able to see the explosion.By making the threat remote, and only interacting through a video of the threat, you are protected without needing complex safety measures like an explosive-safe suit and goggles!Browser isolation basically does the same thing.

History of browser isolation

Businesses use a lot of software, but web browsers are key to any modern business process. Almost any and all organizations use browser technology either directly or indirectly. These browsers are a huge security liability as they are a major infiltration point for malware and hackers. Traditionally most security software would focus on what happens after malware is already in your system after it already passed the browser. Everyone knows the classic virus scanners.For security in the web browser often specific resources are blocked. Frequently there are very rigorous networking rules.While these approaches might be effective in some scenarios, they are often limiting and can have a negative impact on productivity. As a result, your business processes could become inefficient.In response to these issues, the idea of Browser Isolation arose as a solution to not encumber the user. This means employees can work without blocked resources, so their productivity isn't reduced. It is no longer necessary to selectively block specific resources, as all browsing happens in a remote and isolated environment.Browser isolation began as an evolution of the 'security through physical isolation' cybersecurity model. It is also known as the air-gap model by security professionals who have been physically isolating critical networks, users, and infrastructures for cybersecurity purposes for decades.This is essentially a network system where any physical access is refused except for approved personnel. You cannot remotely connect to it with your own device and have to be locally present. This separated security makes it so hackers need to actually be present to get in.Whilst there are ways to violate 'air-gapped' IT systems, they usually require physical access or close proximity to the air-gapped system in order to be successful. The use of an air gap makes infiltration into systems from the public internet extremely difficult, if not impossible without physical access to the system. The same idea of these separated networks is what was leveraged by the National Nuclear Security Administration at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories in 2009. That’s when browser isolation platforms based on virtualization were used for federal government users. Back then this was still simply connecting to virtual machines and launching a browser remotely there. Browser isolation technology has come a long way since then.In June 2018, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) announced a request for information for a "cloud-based internet isolation" solution as part of its endpoint security portfolio. As the RFI puts it, "the service would redirect the act of internet browsing from the end user’s desktop into a remote server, external to the Department of Defense Information Network." At the time, the RFI was the largest known project for browser isolation, seeking "a cloud-based service leveraging concurrent (simultaneous) use licenses at ~60% of the total user base (3.1 Million users)."Since then the technology has been researched and written about by many large security companies like McAfee and Cloudflare. But commercially ready implementations like the Jimber Browser Isolation remain hard to find.

browser isolation

How does web isolation technology work?

There are different variations of web isolation, but the most important things are the following.

  • All browser activity that is normally run on the user’s computer is instead run in a virtual environment. Separating the activity from the normal device usage.
  • At the end of every browsing session, the environment is destroyed, so each time a new and clean session can be started up. This isn’t a hard requirement of browser isolation technology, but it is one implemented by most forms of browser isolation.

To really understand how it works, we have to take a look at how websites actually work. Websites actually consist of lots of code. Things like CSS, HTML and Javascript code are sent from a server to your computer. Your browser then has specific rules that are able to translate this code into the text and images that actually make up a website. So in essence this code actually runs on your computer, smartphone, laptop or whatever device you use your browser on. When vulnerabilities or hack attempts are hidden away in this code, your computer will execute them. Then it’s up to the browser and other security to realize this code is malicious or not. The responsibility is left with the actual computer the website is displayed on, and the user.With browser isolation we no longer send this CSS, HTML and Javascript to the user at all. All this code is instead being run in an isolated environment, basically a second computer or container.In this container, all this code is being run and is translated to a website. Instead we create a data stream to this computer, and only send the input and output. Think of it as watching a live security camera stream. If something happens to the container or isolated environment, nothing bad will happen to you, because you are only watching a video of it.If this isolated environment gets a virus, we don’t really care. We are just watching a video of the environment being hacked. The isolated environment just restarts. You immediately reconnect to a new one and the virus can’t do anything, as the malicious code never even reached the user’s computer.These isolated environments don’t contain any info or files, they are simply dummy environments. If they get hacked it does not matter. If they get a cryptolocker or other forms of ransomware, there is nothing to ransom. In an age where everything happens in the cloud, why would we still allow potentially browser code to be executed on our own devices?

browser security

What is the difference between local and remote browser isolation?

There are actually two types of browser isolation: local and remote isolation.Local isolation is the traditional way isolation is done. It involves using either a sandbox or a virtual machine on the user’s local computer to isolate the data.With local isolation, code does not actually run on another device. The original device is split into two devices through software. One is set up to be the host and another to be a virtual device that only exists through software.With remote isolation the virtualization and isolation happen on a remote server. The user’s browsing activity is actually moved to a remote virtual environment. Only a real-time visual stream of what is happening on the server is sent to the user’s device. This means you only see a video stream of the data, rather than actually downloading the potentially malicious data to your own device.Jimber Browser Isolation uses remote isolation technology. Possible threats are contained in the isolated virtual Jimber container and can’t infiltrate any of the user’s devices or network. Remote isolation is always the more secure option as you actually have two different devices, rather than only having a software layer between the isolated environments. That in itself could be targeted by malicious code or hackers.For clarity, in previous examples we have always talked about remote browser isolation by representing it as a video stream. However this can also be partially implemented.In the Browser Isolation world a lot of support has risen for DOM Mirroring. This is usually a mix of video streaming the data, and sending some actual code. This is not full isolation but can provide the best of both worlds when used correctly. In case of DOM Mirroring, some code is still allowed to run on the client’s computer. Specifically code that is pretty much never harmful. While other code that could possibly be harmful is only sent through a video stream.

Why do you need it?

Classical approaches or trying to track down malicious websites and blocking them is simply fighting a losing battle. Domains are plenty and cheap, and hackers will always simply keep creating new website versions faster than you could blacklist them.Overzealous security rules often cause your employees to be locked out of functionality they actually need to use their job. Sometimes these firewall rules have to be too strict and limiting, causing other software to malfunction or certain info not being accessible.This causes a decrease in productivity. Websites being blocked by firewalls is one of the main complaints from employees browsing on a company network. By using browser isolation we don’t need to block any websites, as even malicious websites can’t do any harm. It’s simpler for the IT department and also easier for the other employees. They can use their browser normally as they would outside of the company network, without any risks involved.Even with all this protection, all it takes is one employee to be targeted by so called social engineering attacks. To give some website permissions into the network, or to bypass a restriction and access a malicious website that was supposed to be restricted. Maybe the restrictions also missed a malicious URL. No matter how much you invest in security, security will always be as strong as your weakest link, the user. Because of this you need to invest into a solution that covers everything. Only covering the data or links deemed malicious by a virus scan or firewall solution is not enough.Web browsers inherently do the most dangerous things any software can do, downloading and executing unknown code. We place way too much trust in browsers to filter out any and all malicious situations. History has shown many exploits that can bypass original browser security, and more are being found constantly.Why wait until the next hack is found, why risk all your data every day? Simply don’t allow browser code to be run on your device in the first place. Hackers are modernizing every day, and so should your security solutions!No need for imagination, these are the benefits of our Jimber Browser Isolation for your company:

  • low chance of compromise
  • prevention of browser hacks
  • viruses can't communicate
  • user-friendly
  • extremely affordable

Why choose Jimber?

Jimber is not just one of the many existing security companies jumping on browser isolation as a delayed response. Our company was founded around Browser Isolation. We have years of experience on a topic many companies have only yet begun to look at. The Jimber team consists of people with security coding backgrounds and actually use our own software on a daily basis. We don’t just create software to sell but create a solution we ourselves want to use all the time. In short: we are a team of highly experienced security specialists and developers, believing in rock-solid solutions and a close connection with our clients.Do you want to know more? Learn about our hassle-free secure browsing solution.Learn more about Browser Isolation: https://www.zscaler.com/resources/security-terms-glossary/what-is-remote-browser-isolation

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Kristof Van Stappen en Jonas Delrue van Jimber
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