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Cisco Meraki Documentation

Content Filtering

For Content Filtering details when running MX 17 firmware, please refer to this document.


Content filtering allows you to block certain categories of websites based on your organizational policies. You can also block or allow list individual websites for additional customization. For example, if you block the "Internet Communications" category this also blocks and because both websites are communication platforms. You can allow list and to make sure that both websites are fully operational while all other websites providing chat functionality are blocked.

Content Filtering can be configured under Security & SD-WAN > Configure > Content filtering. There are several options for Content Filtering:

  • Blocked website categories: Select the categories you wish to block.
  • URL category list size: Select "Top sites only" for higher performance or "Full list" for better coverage. When "Top sites only" is selected, the list of top sites in each of the blocked categories will be cached locally on the appliance. In this mode, client requests for URLs that are not in the top sites list will always be permitted (as long as they are not in the blocklist). If "Full list" is selected, a request for a URL that is not in the list of top sites will cause the appliance to look the URL up in a cloud-hosted database. This may have a noticeable impact on browsing speed when visiting a site for the first time. But the result will be cached locally. Over time, the "Full list" performance should approach the speed of "Top sites" option.
  • Web search filtering: Enable this setting to enforce Safesearch for Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for all users in your network. This will not affect SSL/HTTPS searches.
  • Restricted YouTube content: Enables restricted YouTube content functionality which leverages DNS-based enforcement. Once enabled, the YouTube restriction level option appears which provides a drop-down where either Moderate or Strict can be chosen. More details about restriction levels can be found here.
  • Blocked URL patterns: Enter specific URL patterns you wish to block, one per line. See below for details on pattern matching.
  • Allow listed URL patterns: Enter specific URL patterns you wish to explicitly allow, one per line. See below for details on pattern matching.

Traffic Analysis must be enabled under Network-wide > Configure > General > Traffic analysis for Content Filtering to function.

If communication to the cloud hosted lookup server is blocked or disrupted upstream while utilizing the "Full list" option the security appliance will default to block the URL that was submitted. Inversely if communication to the cloud hosted lookup server is blocked or disrupted upstream while utilizing the 'Top lists' option the security appliance will allow the URL that was to be categorized.

IP addresses are a supported option in Block/Allow listed URL pattern fields. The MX will process IP address as such.

The content filtering feature is available only with Advanced Security Edition licensing.

Using the Catch-All Wildcard (*) in URLs

The asterisk symbol has two primary uses in URLs for content filtering.

  • Standalone Catch-All Wildcard
    • The " * " (asterisk) symbol when used on its own line is an all-inclusive wildcard which represents all possible entries
    • When used on its own line in allow listed URL patterns, ALL URL patterns are allow listed
    • When used on its own line in blocked URL patterns, ALL URL patterns are blocked, except those that are explicitly allow listed
  • In-URL Asterisk Character
    • The " * " (asterisk) symbol when used as part of a URL or in line with a URL is simply a regular asterisk symbol and is interpreted as part of the URL, NOT as a wildcard
    • Note that this is very rarely useful, except in URLs that actually require asterisk symbols, such as*/

Patterns for Blocking or Allow Listing Specific URLs

Whenever a device on the network accesses a web page, the requested URL is checked against the configured lists to determine if the request will be allowed or blocked.

1. The full URL is evaluated 
"" is compared in its entirety and blocked or allowed if it matches an entry in either of those lists.

2. The URL is reduced down to its domain and subsequent parameters, then evaluated
"http://www." (protocol and leading 'www') is removed from the front of the URL

3. The URL will be reduced to only the domain along with its directory structure
The "" will be reduced to "" by removing "?abc=123&true=false". 

4. A multi-step evaluation that removes pieces of the directory structure, a level at a time, starting from the last directory.
Directory structure removed and evaluated: "" is reduced to "" which is then reduced to ""

5. Subdomains are removed in another multi-step process.
Subdomains are removed from the left to right, eventually being reduced to the top-level domain ( .COM). In this instance, "" is reduced to "" and eventually to ".com"

6. Finally, the matching mechanism will check for the single asterisk character, used as a catch-all wildcard, in both the "Allow" and "Block" lists. 
Step 6 is used to match the lone asterisk character to the "allow" and "block" lists. 

If any of the above steps produces a match, then the request will be blocked or allow listed as appropriate. The allow list always takes precedence over the blocklist, so a request that matches both lists will be allowed. If there is no match, the request is subject to the category filtering settings above.

URL Parsing Steps Current version of URL at this Step Evaluated/Processed URL(s)
Full URL
URL reduced down to its domain and subsequent parameters

Domain along with its directory structure 
Sub-Domains Removed
Wildcard (asterisk - '*') catch-all None *  (lone wildcard asterisk)


2017-08-02 08_28_06-Content Filtering - Meraki Dashboard.png

In the example above, the specific (longer) URL is allowed because it is the longest match, whereas any other access to domain will be blocked.

Blocking all Websites Using Content Filtering

An MX Security Appliance can be used to block all web content then configured for specific websites only. This can be specifically important when needing to be in a very controlled environment such as a school. 

1. Navigate to Security & SD-WAN > Configure > Content filtering

2. Place an asterisk (*) in the Blocked URL patterns section

content filtering blocked url.PNG

HTTPS filtering

HTTPS requests can also be blocked, but because the URL in an HTTPS request is encrypted, only the domain URL checks will be performed in the following order:

  4. .com
  5. * (the special character for catch-all URL)



In the example below all web pages are blocked except for and

2017-08-02 08_26_04-Content Filtering - Meraki Dashboard.png

Group Policies

Once your Active Directory server settings are entered into Dashboard, you can click Refresh LDAP Groups to populate a list of user groups in your domain. You can then select individual groups and apply configured Group policies to them. For information about configuring Group policies, see the Group policies page.

Content Filtering Rule Priority

There are a number of different ways on the MX to use content filtering to block or allow access to websites. In circumstances where different filtering options contradict one another, the following priority applies (from highest to lowest priority):

  1. Blocked and allow listed URL patterns.

  2. Content filtering rules applied via Group Policy (using Active Directory or otherwise).

  3. Global content filtering rules.


Practically speaking, with these rules in mind, consider the following best practices for content filtering design:

  • Global content filtering rules should be designed as the "default" network experience.
  • Group Policies should be used to create a "custom" network experience for users, which can be made either more or less restrictive than the default.
  • URL patterns should be used to append or allow list a specific URL from the configured blocked categories.