What Is Whitelisting and How Do You Use It?


With ransomware and phishing attacks at an all-time high, no amount of prevention or mitigation is enough for securing your systems, applications, and online assets.

In the war against cybercrime, “whitelisting” plays an integral role. But what does it actually entail? Can a whitelist also be used for emails, applications, and IP addresses? What are its major benefits? Let us find out.

What Does Whitelist Mean?

A whitelist is a security list that provides access to only pre-approved programs, IPs, or email addresses. Whatever is on the “list” gets access to system resources, whereas the rest are denied access.

Whitelisting is the opposite of blacklisting, as you might expect. Blacklisting blocks specific sites, services, or apps, whereas whitelisting uses specifics to place more control in the hands of network administrators.

Any program wanting to run on the network is matched against the “whitelist” and is allowed access only if a match is found.

Whitelists can be customized according to the unique needs of the employees and the network administrators. Best of all, they can be implemented for just about anything from emails, applications, IP addresses, and gaming servers.

Let us explore the different types of whitelists now.

Application Whitelists

The most widely used whitelist is the application whitelist, which allows a certain set of applications to run on a secure computer or network.

The purpose of an application whitelist is to guard against two key threats:

  1. Malware Prevention: Malicious software, including keyloggers and ransomware, are prevented from executing if they are not on the whitelist.
  2. Shadow IT Prevention: Without an application whitelist, end users can download and install any programs, including rogue programs as well. With an application whitelist in place, all unauthorized downloads are prevented unless the administrators have whitelisted them. The IT department also gets notified if any unauthorized downloads are attempted.

How Does an Application Whitelist Work?

Setting an application whitelist is straightforward if you ensure a good baseline and review your whitelist policies regularly. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology also provides a useful guide to application whitelisting and how it can be implemented.

An application whitelist is created by first defining a list of applications that you approve of. This is achieved by using a built-in feature of your OS or by using a third-party application. An application whitelist is not static but is dynamic because you can always modify it per your needs by adding and removing applications.

Ways to Whitelist Applications

Here are a couple of identifiers that you can use to set up a whitelist in your system:

  • By Filename: By identifying an application’s filename in the whitelist, you can determine if it is permitted or not.
  • By File size: Malicious applications can sometimes change the file size of the modified programs. Therefore, checking for file size should be set as a criterion for your application whitelist.
  • By File Path: Applications can also be whitelisted from a specific file path or directory.
  • By Digital Signature: By verifying the application’s digital signature or the file path, the sender’s authenticity can be verified.

Email Whitelists

Email is the leading tool of communication in the cyberworld. Ironically, most cyberattacks are also carried out through emails via phishing scams or email spoofing attacks. Therefore, having a curated list of approved email addresses can be a godsend as it secures your email communications and saves you the dilemma of sorting through junk folders.

By approving known and trusted email addresses through a whitelist, you can ensure that your email client delivers the emails directly to your inbox instead of the spam or junk folder.

Ways to Whitelist Emails

To whitelist an email, you have to add the sender’s email address to your whitelist manually. Different email providers have different ways to address this, but Gmail, in particular, has an option for filtering and blocking email addresses.

If you are a product or service provider, you can request your recipients to add your address to their whitelist if they wish to keep receiving updates from you.

Related: How to Whitelist Email Addresses in Outlook

IP Whitelists

IP whitelisting is where a single or a specific range of IP addresses are given access to systems or resources. Whitelisting IPs are beneficial for many situations, such as accessing a corporate network that only accepts incoming connections from specific addresses.

If your device’s IP is whitelisted, you can access it from anywhere, whether working remotely or traveling.

Ways to Whitelist IPs

As opposed to application whitelists, IP whitelists are not dynamic in nature and are implemented through static IP addresses. The reason is that dynamic IP addresses frequently change, preventing you from accessing the whitelisted resources.

Gaming Whitelists

Even the gaming world requires whitelists to prevent unauthorized players from accessing your servers. If you are a big-time fan of Minecraft (a sandbox video game) or run a gaming server, be assured that you can set up a whitelist for that.

Ways to Whitelist your Gaming Server

A whitelist for your gaming server such as Minecraft can be created by adding official Minecraft user names to the list. This way, only the names in the list will be allowed entry to your server, while the rest will be denied access.

Related: How to Join a Minecraft Server

Benefits of a Whitelist

No matter which type of whitelist you craft, here are some major benefits of having one.

1. Improved Cybersecurity

Whitelisting is a very effective threat mitigation technique against cyber attacks such as ransomware as it only allows whitelisted IP addresses access to system resources and folders.

Whitelists are also a huge deterrent for malware attacks which normally spread from one individual to another within an organization.

2. Boost Employee Productivity

Nowadays, most people prefer using smartphones and their own personal devices at work. While BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies boost productivity and convenience, they also increase the risks of cyberattacks.

Whitelisting provides a middle ground for such situations where you want your employees to stay productive while preserving your corporate data as well. By limiting your employee’s access to a preset list of websites and applications, you can prevent them from accessing unsafe resources.

Enhanced Resource Management

Besides offering security controls, whitelisting can also provide the luxury of resource management within a network. Since only whitelisted applications are allowed to run, system crashes and lags are reduced significantly even if the network resources scale up.

Boost Security and Create a Whitelist

security computer icon

By providing centralized control for all your resources, whitelisting provides an added layer of security to high-risk environments where threats such as phishing and ransomware are rampant.

If you are searching for a more effective solution than traditional blacklisting, then give whitelisting a try. A whitelist offers you more control over the entire process and provides better security options that traditional security measures often overlook.


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