IP Whitelisting in 2023: Everything You Need to Know

The whitelisting of IP addresses is an important part of networking security since it can significantly reduce the attack surface and risk associated with unauthorized access. Let's break this topic down and describe how it can help your business.

GoodAccess IP whitelisting explained

Table of Contents

What is an IP address?

What is a whitelist?

What is IP whitelisting?

IP packets explained

Why IP whitelisting Is a good choice for your business

The benefits of IP whitelisting

The cons of IP whitelisting

How to start with IP whitelisting via a VPN

IP whitelisting in 2023: A fresh perspective

Key Terms:

What Is an IP address?

An IP address is a unique number that gets assigned to your device when you connect to the internet.

This unique code helps devices talk to one another and exchange data on the internet.

There are two main types of IP addresses:

You can learn more about static and dynamic IP addresses in this blog post.

What Is a Whitelist?

A whitelist (allowlist) is an administrator-defined register of entities approved for authorized access to digital resources such as networks, apps, or to perform specific actions.

Whitelisting can be used to improve security by ensuring that only approved users or devices have access to sensitive data or systems. It can also be used to ensure that only authorized actions can be performed on critical resources.

Whitelisting is a stringent cybersecurity technique that, if done correctly, can prevent many cybersecurity issues by default. However, it may be time-consuming and inconvenient for administrators and must be implemented and maintained precisely. It isn't, however, an impenetrable barrier to assaults.

How does a whitelist work?

Think about it like a guest list for an exclusive event. If your name is on the list, you get access to the event without any hassle. If your name is not on the list, you will be sent away.

A whitelist will restrict network access to anyone whose IP address does not match one on the list. This improves your security.

Only users with approved devices have access to your data or systems.

Typically, a whitelist would be created to allow an authorized user to do things like access a network.

With a whitelist in place, no one can access your exclusive online event unless they are invited, either.

What Is IP Whitelisting?

The whitelisting of an IP address is a cybersecurity technique that gives IT administrators control over who can access business systems and resources.

IP whitelisting (allowlisting) involves creating a list of trusted IP addresses (dedicated static IP addresses are necessary), assigning them to a user or group of users as a unique identifier, and permitting the IP address on the target server only.

As a result, any system inside the LAN, datacenter or third-party SaaS application can be set up to be accessed only by users with the organization’s IP address, whether they connect from a private corporate network or through a VPN gateway. Unknown entities trying to access the system from an unlisted IP address will be restricted.

A cloud VPN service like GoodAccess can help you set up a whitelist with static IP addresses.

IP whitelisting is typically handled on

GoodAccess Security group settings

Fig 1: IP whitelisting settings in Amazon AWS (so called security groups). This example shows allowing TCP/UDP traffic only from GoodAccess VPN gateway.

Amazon AWS settings of GoodAccess VPN Gateway

Fig 2: Whitelisted IP address of the GoodAccess VPN gateway in Amazon AWS settings.

How can I whitelist an IP address?

If you want to create an IP whitelist, you would need to decide which devices and users are allowed to access your business systems.

Once you have a list of approved IP addresses, web applications, or users, you can add them to your whitelist using the network settings on your computer, router or firewall.

You may need to configure a router to create the whitelist or edit firewall rules on your device. This will depend on your setup and security requirements.

This would be similar to compiling a list of attendees for your exclusive event in real life and then passing the list on to the doorman at your venue to manage entry.

The process of IP whitelisting is not straightforward, though, and you can easily make mistakes. GoodAccess acts as the perfect doorman and makes IP whitelisting and managing access simple.

How can IP whitelisting IP addresses help my business?

IP whitelisting puts you in the driver’s seat.

Other than advanced security, an IP whitelist also allows you to manage your remote team effectively.

It puts you in control when it comes to which employees can access different levels of your company’s information and who can perform specific tasks.

For example, you can give your senior management team permission to change documents stored on your server. Junior staff, however, would not receive the same permissions.

IP Packets Explained

Now—for the nitty gritty—let’s explain how IP whitelisting works.

Every communication between servers or clients, over the Internet, LAN, or a private virtual network, always sends data in packets.

Each packet contains the source and target IP address. These addresses are always public because they tell Internet routers where to direct the data.

Once a packet reaches its destination, the target device/server/service reads the source address and if it is whitelisted, the packet is accepted. If not, it rejects the data, i.e. informs the sender of rejecting it, or discards the packet altogether.

This means the following:

Why IP Whitelisting Is a Good Choice for Your Business

If your business has software, systems, and stored data, you need to protect them. You must ensure nobody can access this information unless they are an employee.

You also need a way to ensure that your remote employees can access your systems safely and securely.

IP whitelisting helps you achieve both of these things.

Let’s unpack some of the circumstances where IP whitelists would be useful for your organization.

Network Access Control

One of the most common use cases is restricting network access to your internet-facing services by using a firewall, where only whitelisted IP addresses are allowed to connect to the service. Only with a static IP can you define a firewall rule that remains valid indefinitely.

SaaS Access Control

Blind trust in SaaS provider security measures might be tricky. To further harden cloud resource security, SaaS applications such as Salesforce, Amazon AWS, Office365, etc., usually allow the whitelisting of an IP address within provider security settings.

Remote Access Enablement

Remote users connect via networks where company policies cannot be enforced, such as a home office or public wi-fi at airports, hotels, and cafés.

So it makes sense to protect the connection to target systems via, e.g., a VPN gateway with whitelisted static IP. First, the user connects to the gateway via a client app installed on a particular device, and after authentication and verification, access is allowed to specific systems.

In such a scenario, the user’s connection is protected from any device where they successfully log into the app.

IoT Security

You may want to secure Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as cameras, sensors, or building controllers that use a public network to communicate with other devices.

IP whitelisting is a simple way to ensure that only trusted users can access your IoT devices.

GoodAccess - Access card - system access control on VPN level

Fig 3: When you combine IP whitelisting with system access control, you have a comprehensive way to ensure that only authorized users access your services. (source: GoodAccess feature named Access Cards)

Unifying access control on the network layer

Software and systems often require users to perform something called two-factor authentication. This is an additional security measure to ensure that users are permitted to access the software.

It can, however, become problematic if you have many software applications requiring two-factor authentication.

By having an IP whitelist and VPN gateway in place, you are already authenticating the user, so you will not need two-factor authentication, too.

The Benefits of IP Whitelisting

We have already mentioned why IP whitelisting is a good choice for your business if you are looking to boost your security measures. Here are some further benefits to consider:

The Cons of IP Whitelisting

The downside to IP whitelisting is that it is a repetitive and time-consuming process, especially if you have network administrators who manage large networks with many users and devices.

Especially those IT admins who manage large networks with tons of users and devices, may suffer from the following:

However, there are ways to make the whitelisting process smoother and more efficient.

Instead of whitelisting the IP address of each device (which is virtually undoable due to the need for many static IPs), IT administrators can only whitelist the dedicated static IP address of the VPN gateway.

With modern cloud VPNs, which also provide zero-trust access control, such as GoodAccess, this is a very convenient approach to reduce the complexity of IP whitelisting and preserve a high-level of security:

This approach minimizes manual configuration and centralizes whitelist management on the VPN level so that businesses can enjoy benefits of whitelisting IP without the sacrificing valuable time of its administrators.

GoodAccess - Access card - system access control on VPN level

Fig 4: IP whitelisting combined with system access control on VPN level reduces complexity (source: GoodAccess feature named Access Cards)

How to Start with IP Whitelisting via VPN

  1. Ensure you have a VPN gateway in place.
  2. Ensure you have a dedicated static IP address for your team.
  3. Navigate to the settings of the target device, service, or firewall and add a rule that allows incoming traffic to the protected service or network only from the static IP which is assigned to the VPN gateway.
  4. Deny all other incoming traffic.
  5. Before confirming these settings, be sure you are connected to the gateway in order not to lose network access.
  6. Test the connection from a public network (via a smartphone, for example) to prove that nonwhitelisted IPs cannot access the service.

IP Whitelisting in 2023: A Fresh Perspective

IP whitelisting is a powerful security technique for businesses to use, but it is not the ultimate answer to all your remote working security concerns.

However, when IP whitelisting is done correctly, it can significantly enhance the protection of business resources and also help your business to comply with regulations that require data protection and strict access control (such as NIS2).

As it follows the principle  “deny all, permit some,” it restricts external traffic to a preselected number of IP addresses and, by design, reduces the attack surface and risks associated with unauthorized access.

There are also drawbacks which make working with whitelists a tough job. Especially the labor/time-intensity of setting up and maintaining IP whitelists as well as the additional complexity of managing whitelists in different places (firewall, VPN, SaaS app, etc.).

But there are ways to make whitelisting simpler, such as using a cloud VPN like GoodAccess which lets you:

If you want to try out IP whitelisting via GoodAccess business VPN, and other remote access and security features, check out the full-featured 14-day free trial here.