Web Filtering in K-12 Schools: The Past, Present, and Future

TomSecurly1

By Tom Walker

cloud-based web filtering solution for K-12 schools versus web filtering appliances

A Brief History of Web Filtering in K-12 Schools

When I started my career in K-12 IT, web content filtering in schools was a fairly new creature.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was still in its early stages and various approaches to content filtering began to emerge.

A handful of companies began to surface as the leaders in providing appliance web filtering solutions to deploy in the K-12 infrastructure. Open-source alternatives were also available, but tended to require a bit more expertise to implement and manage.

In any event, the options were there, but could be costly, time consuming, and ultimately ineffective in the long run.

Early Problems

Whether it was using an out-of-the-box purchase for a content filter or testing an open-source alternative, I remember the first thought I always had was, “Is this even going to work?”

I would spend numerous hours going over network configurations to make sure the filter was working in the manner it should. Even if it was working correctly, the students could seemingly always find a way around the web filter.

There was always a new, non-educational website that would come through each day. It seemed like I was blacklisting websites on a regular basis that our filters simply were not catching.

Lastly, teachers always needed a site whitelisted for a project or other education-related function. I always felt like I was constantly opening and closing doors.

A Changing Landscape

As time passed, so did the dynamics of how we were doing things in technology. The once familiar large servers used for e-mail, archival, and other roles began to vanish into the cloud. It was a good transition.

No longer did I have to worry about our own physical issues with downtime and I was able to shift my energy over to other projects.

At the same time, I still had several in-house web filtering appliances throughout our schools that were in need of replacement.

As we had already gone cloud-based with so many other services, it made sense to take our filtering to the cloud as well. This not only was cost-effective, but also ended up saving countless hours in the process.

Filtering has become smarter, easier to manage, and at the same time, a variety of safe search options have also become more prevalent. While the filtering concept hasn’t changed, it is getting more intertwined into the fabric of K-12 IT through cloud-based solutions.

The Road Ahead

As we begin 2016, the future is bright for content filtering. Cloud-based solutions have simplified a once laborious process, all the while helping to maintain CIPA compliance.

For something I used to worry about on a daily basis, filtering is now another established cloud based service that I can fully depend on.

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Taking a Safe Approach to Online Activity

TomSecurly1

By Tom Walker

SafeSearch, parental controls, safe image search, home internet security, kids safe search

A piece of advice I always give people in regard to their online activity is to be mindful of the sites they visit. This is especially true in the K-12 space, where we need to be careful of the content that our students can access. Here are some tools and suggestions to stay safe while living online.

1) Safe Searching

Google SafeSearch

Google SafeSearch is a filter built within Google that can be turned on or off at a user’s discretion. As Google says, “The SafeSearch filter isn’t 100% accurate, but it helps you avoid most adult content.” At our school district, the SafeSearch filter is turned on by default for the students and cannot be turned off. At home, if you are worried about what videos or images may appear while you or your children browse, SafeSearch can be helpful at avoiding objectionable material. The SafeSearch setting can also be locked if you have children that use your computer at home.

Bing SafeSearch

Microsoft’s Bing also offers a SafeSearch setting. The SafeSearch within Bing can also be turned on and off, but has a moderate setting as well. When in strict mode, Bing will filter adult oriented text, images, and videos from the searches. In moderate mode, Bing will filter adult oriented images and videos, but does not filter any text. The third setting turns SafeSearch off. Much like Google, Bing states that their SafeSearch, “won’t catch everything.”  However, Bing does include a link to a form that can be filled out that sends a support ticket to Microsoft regarding objectionable content that comes through the filter.

Yahoo SafeSearch

Yahoo also offers a SafeSearch filter, much like Google and Bing. Yahoo makes a similar statement, “While SafeSearch won’t catch everything, most adult content won’t show up in your search results.” The Yahoo SafeSearch also offers strict, moderate, and off settings as well. Like Google, the Yahoo SafeSearch can also be locked.

 

2) Safe Browsing

Google offers a service called Google Safe Browsing which is provided in the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari browsers. This service contains a list of URLs that are known phishing or malware websites. The nice thing is that Google Safe Browsing is built-in protection. When a user comes across a known malicious website using one of those browsers, a notification is displayed warning the user that the website may contain malware.

Microsoft offers a similar built-in service called SmartScreen, which was introduced with Internet Explorer 8. It is still a key component of the new Microsoft Edge browser that comes with the recently released Windows 10.

 

3) Safe Clicking


In my experience as an IT director, some of the worst issues tend to come from those who click questionable links while surfing the web. Doing so not only opens up the potential for viruses, but your private information can be subject to being stolen. It sounds menial, but pay attention to what you click and what you open. This is especially important now that ransomware attacks have increased in the last couple of years. This is a good conversation to have with your students and children as well. Don’t be — click happy!

 

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