Remote browser isolation (RBI) has become an increasingly important cybersecurity technology in recent years. As more business is conducted online, organizations must find ways to protect themselves and their users from internet-based threats. RBI provides an extra layer of security by isolating the browser from the rest of the endpoint system.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about remote browser isolation.
What Is Remote Browser Isolation?
Remote Browser Isolation (RBI) is a technology that provides an extra layer of security when browsing the internet or clicking on links within emails. It works by executing all web browsing activity in a remote virtual browser that is isolated from the user’s computer and local network.
When a user clicks on a link, the request is forwarded to the isolated browser session which loads the website and renders it safely away from the user’s machine. This virtual browser has no access to the local computer, network, or file system. Even if the isolated browser gets infected with malware from a website, it prevents that malware from spreading to the user’s device.
RBI gives a major security advantage for organizations. By isolating all web browsing activity away from endpoint devices, cyberattacks have reduced vectors to penetrate local browsers and spread malware. Even advanced persistent threats (APTs) struggle to compromise machines when all web code executions happen remotely in containerized browsers that get frequently reset and have no network access paths to reach endpoints or servers.
Why Is Remote Browser Isolation Important?
Remote browser isolation is important for several key reasons:
Protects Endpoints from Web-Based Threats
RBI protects endpoints like desktops, laptops, and mobile devices from web-based cyber threats. This includes:
- Malware infections from compromised websites
- Drive-by downloads that install malware without the user’s consent
- Phishing attacks designed to steal sensitive information
- Exploits of browser vulnerabilities that allow hackers to gain remote access to the endpoint
By isolating the browser, these threats have no way to reach the underlying endpoint if the browser is compromised.
Limits Damage from User Errors
With RBI, user errors like clicking malicious links or enabling browser extensions have fewer consequences. If a user accidentally triggers malware in the isolated browser, it doesn’t impact the rest of the device. This improves security without limiting the user’s browsing experience.
Centralized Browser Management
RBI solutions allow centralized configuration, management, and policy enforcement for browsers across multiple endpoints. IT can push browser security policies to maintain consistent protection for users across the organization.
Works with Legacy Hardware
Unlike many endpoint security tools, RBI works even on older endpoints without the latest hardware upgrades. This allows organizations to improve their security posture without costly hardware investments.
What are the Types of Remote Browser Isolation?
There are two main types of remote browser isolation solutions:
With client-side isolation, the isolation software runs locally on the user’s device to containerize the browser separate from the operating system. It virtualizes the browser so no browsing content ever touches the local network.
In server-side isolation, all browser processing occurs remotely on a server. The user’s device displays images of the rendered web pages as if they were viewing them locally. Clicks and keyboard inputs get sent to the remote browser which does the actual accessing of websites.
Both client-side and server-side RBI have pros and cons. In general, server-side RBI offers stronger isolation with less compatibility issues. However, it depends more heavily on network connectivity and resources which can impact performance. Most organizations choose RBI solutions that offer a hybrid of the two isolation methods.
Benefits of Remote Browser Isolation
Adopting an RBI solution provides many security and productivity advantages, including:
- Malware Prevention – Prevents 99% of browser-based malware from reaching local networks and endpoints. This significantly reduces infection risk.
- Ransomware Protection – Stops ransomware injected via malicious ads, downloads, or compromised sites from encrypting local files. Browser activity stays isolated from OS.
- Phishing Protection – Malicious links clicked within an isolated browser deliver phishing sites to a remote disposable container instead of the user endpoint.
- Improved User Experience – Users can click links worry-free without risk of malicious payloads impacting their device. IT avoids restricting web access.
- Faster Remediation – Infections stay contained in the isolated browser with no need to clean or reimage affected endpoints. Simply close the browsing tab.
- Centralized Policy Control – Enforce web access policies, security settings, allow/block lists across all managed browsers in the environment.
- Works on Any Device – As a cloud-based solution, RBI works the same on PCs, Macs, tablets, and mobile devices with no client-side upgrades needed.
Overall RBI delivers robust protection against web-based threats with little disruption to users’ normal browsing activities. For modern remote and hybrid work environments, it’s an essential security tool.
What are the Disadvantages of Browser Isolation?
While RBI has many benefits, it also comes with some potential downsides to consider:
Because RBI solutions inspect web code in an isolated environment before allowing access on the local browser, page load times are usually slightly higher than normal. For server-side isolation this overhead can be more pronounced.
Limited Browser Support
Some older or less common niche browsers have compatibility issues with certain RBI products. Support is best for mainstream browsers like Chrome, Edge, Safari and Firefox.
Access Control Limitations
Granular whitelist/blacklist website filtering at the domain level is not possible with some RBI products. Category-based access policies can only reduce risk so much.
Higher Costs Than Software
As a cloud-based security solution, RBI has a monthly or annual subscription cost that makes it more expensive than traditional endpoint protection software over time.
Server-side isolation and some hybrid RBI offerings require a consistent internet connection to function, limiting usefulness for offline/Airgapped environments.
These potential disadvantages should be assessed against the strong security value RBI otherwise provides to determine if it aligns with an organization’s threat protection needs and budget.
How Does Remote Browser Isolation Work?
Remote browser isolation solutions use a variety of methods to separate browsing activity from the endpoint, but fundamentally they all follow the same basic steps:
- User Initiates Browser Session – The RBI-protected browser opens on the endpoint device just like any other browser.
- Browsing Session Gets Remoted – Behind the scenes the browsing session gets remoted into an isolated container or virtual browser on a remote server.
- Virtual Browser Handles Site Access – Now isolated, this remote virtual browser fetches web pages and runs any associated code away from the local endpoint.
- Clean Rendered Page Gets Displayed – Only a clean rendered version of the allowed web page gets sent to the user’s browser for local display, containing no active webpage code.
So in practice the user browses as normal while threat isolation happens invisibly in the background. No malware or exploits can escape the disposable remote container to reach the vulnerable endpoint.
Challenges of Remote Browser Isolation
Though it mitigates many web-based threats, RBI also introduces some implementation and management challenges that IT teams should be prepared for:
Choosing the Right Solution
Many vendors now offer RBI products utilizing different isolation methods, policies and access controls. Assessing technical capabilities, compatibility, and total cost of ownership takes research. Going with the cheapest option isn’t always best.
Integration with Existing Security Stack
Balancing Performance and Latency
The security advantages of RBI mean little if browsing performance degrades too much for users. Monitoring isolation environment capacity and network optimization is key to finding the right balance.
Training Users on Expected Changes
As RBI changes visual cues in browsing, users need explanations of why page loads may take longer at times or display indicators of isolation mode. Proactive communication prevents confusion or complaints.
Managing Ongoing Operation
Like any security solution, RBI products requires ongoing monitoring and management. IT teams must budget time/resources for administration, troubleshooting issues, and responding to alerts.
For organizations considering adopting remote browser isolation, working through these challenges is essential to ensure a successful and sustainable implementation. Aligning stakeholder expectations while demonstrating the post-implementation security and productivity benefits of RBI leads to the highest long term ROI.
Do I Need Remote Browser Isolation?
So how do organizations determine if adopting an RBI solution makes sense for their specific IT environment and cyber risk profile?
Asking the following key questions can help assess current web-based threat exposure and whether existing controls provide adequate protection:
- What is our current infection/compromise rate from web-based malware? Not tracking this metric closely underestimates risk. Without isolating browsers, one poisoned website visit can spark a major breach.
- How delayed or difficult is recovery after browsers get infected? If reimaging endpoints and restoring from backup after infections takes significant effort/downtime, RBI consolidation of damage has appeal.
- Can our current defenses stop all drive-by and phishing threats? If phishing training isn’t working and endpoints still get infected from web browsing misuse, RBI offers another layer of safety.
- Is our browser attack surface expanding with remote and hybrid work? More browsing on home networks and personal devices means riskier user behavior. RBI reduces the effectiveness of attacks.
- Are we spending too much time restricting websites instead of enabling them? If the answer is yes, RBI delivers security without limiting utility by removing risk of access.
For leaders that want to reduce dependence on restrictive web controls and cumbersome endpoint monitoring, eliminating the underlying browser infection vector with RBI is becoming a cyber risk management best practice.
In today’s web-driven world, browsers have become a prime target for cybercriminals to gain that initial foothold into organizational networks. Through compromised websites, phishing links, drive-by downloads, and plugin exploits, endpoints face continuous attacks from all corners of the internet.
Remote browser isolation breaks the infection chain by preventing browser-based threats from ever reaching vulnerable endpoints. By isolating browsing sessions away from local devices and networks, RBI neuters these common attack vectors organizations confront daily. It restores secure access and safeguards productivity without over-burdening IT or restricting users.
For any enterprise serious about building cyber resilience against constantly advancing threats, implementing remote browser isolation has to become a priority in the coming years as browsers will only grow riskier. RBI solutions empower organizations to embrace cloud transformation, mobility and the consumerization of IT without sacrificing critical data protection in our increasingly digital-first economy.