Register Your Site With The Web Filter Companies

Trend Micro Site Safety Center
 
Among the many simultaneous technical projects at the Connecticut-based healthcare company where I work, we’ve rolled out a fairly significant medical imaging solution providing mobile and web access for referring physicians and others.  For aesthetics and marketing purposes, we chose to launch this Internet-facing platform using a new dot-com domain name rather than use a subdomain of our existing web presence.  From a technical standpoint, all of this is very straightforward so far.

Recently we began hearing that our new domain name and web site were being blocked by the web filtering products used at two hospitals, one of which may be the most well-known health system in the state.  So I began talking with the technical folks at the first hospital system.  Initially I was told that we’d need to secure the signoff of one of their Department Heads or Vice Presidents in order to get an exception added to their web filter that would allow their users to access our site.  Of course I found it a bit curious that they would trust the algorithms and definition files of a faceless security vendor over the judgement of their rank-and-file staff.  At any rate, they eventually relented and granted the exception.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that most hospital systems, corporations and schools trust software from companies like Websense, Barracuda and Sophos to properly scrutinize and categorize web content and either block or allow it.  An internal administrator using one of these products typically allows or blocks whole categories of content at a time rather than concern themselves with individual sites.  They might allow news or healthcare categories while blocking access to gambling, pornography or hate speech.  So I decided to go to the source(s), and try to get our new site properly classified.

The following is a list of the web security vendors that I contacted, hyperlinked to the relevant page as of the date that this article was posted.  Feel free to add additional web security vendors as comments.  Bottom line, after launching any new web site, it may be worth a few minutes to contact these services that act as gatekeepers within thousands, perhaps millions of organizations.  And if you hear that your site has been blocked, try to identify the product that is blocking it, and work directly with that security vendor for a resolution.  This effort will have a much wider impact than trying to work with the IT team at every individual institution that can’t access your content.

Getting Started With Selenium IDE

As a technology geek, there’s perhaps no greater feeling than learning something new.  Ironically, we may all have times when that feeling comes less often, the further we progress in our careers.  Luckily for me, last Thursday was one of the more eye-opening days that I’ve had in awhile.

In my current role as a Senior Systems Administrator, I’m probably more concerned with setting up and maintaining file, application and web servers than with anything else.  It was in this capacity that I had a visit on Thursday from our Technical Account Manager for a leading provider of information security and compliance solutions.  While working with this vendor’s web application scanning product, an ancillary discussion turned me on to the free utility that we’re going to talk about today.

Selenium IDE is a Firefox plugin that allows one to record and play back any interactions that we could have within the web browser.  Do you need to test authentication to a web site or web application and execute a particular series of steps?  No problem.  Record it yourself and play it back when desired.  Do you need to run it a significant number of times as part of quality assurance or load testing?  Selenium can help you with that as well.  While Selenium wouldn’t necessarily replace purpose-built load-testing software, it’s more than adequate for repeating a consistent series of actions within a web application.  Let’s get started.

We’ll begin by downloading Selenium IDE.  (You might bookmark this page first, as you’ll want to refer back to it.)  After following the link, look for the words ‘Download latest released version,’ currently 1.10.0.  You’ll have to allow Firefox to install it, and then restart your browser.  Once you’ve installed Selenium IDE, let’s also install Selenium IDE: Flow Control.  Allow this installation and then restart Firefox one more time.

Once Selenium IDE and accompanying Flow Control are installed, you’ll see Selenium IDE as another option under the Tools menu in Firefox.  Go ahead and launch it.  Before we go any further, I recommend setting one Selenium option that has proven necessary in every instance of my very limited use so far.  Within Selenium’s Options > General tab, select ‘Record absolute URL’ as shown below.  I’ve yet to change any other options from the defaults.  Once you’ve set this option, go ahead and close Selenium for now.

Selenium Options

Having set our options, let’s talk about how to use Selenium.  When I’m ready to record a series of actions, I start with a blank tab in Firefox, and with Selenium closed.  Launching Selenium brings it up in record mode.  Simply complete a desired series of steps, and then stop the recording when finished.  At the end of the process, we’re left with a script that we can save and/or play again as desired.  Feel free to quickly record a process yourself.

Selenium script

Selenium IDE has recorded a series of web actions.

Now lets say that you want to repeat a series of actions several times without having to manually initiate it each time.  While Selenium supports variables and looping, I ran across a solution as simple as my first day of BASIC programming as a kid.  (Credit for this solution goes to Junior Mayhé via Stack Overflow.)  As we’ve already installed Flow Control, we can simply add a label at the top of a script and a gotolabel at the bottom, as illustrated below.  When Selenium reaches the end of your script, it will go to the beginning and continue.

Selenium labels

Begin with label your_start_point. End with gotolabel your_start_point.

With great power comes great responsibility.  It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to come up with various uses – both good and ill – for repeating a set of web actions ad infinitum.  Voting more than once to name something after Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central may well be harmless fun.  Contacting your Congressman 5,000 times regarding a single piece of legislation may not result in the outcome you were hoping for.

In completely unrelated news, the movie Zero Dark Thirty surged from seventh place to first place on the eve of the Academy Awards in one non-scientific opinion poll hosted by a major US entertainment magazine.