Content Filtering on School Networks Now Required

Image via NetSpark

Image via NetSpark

The government has adopted a policy which states that if a school receives E-Rate funding for internet connectivity, they must adhere to new rules about how to appropriately use the internet. Schools must provide parents with reasonable notice and conduct at least one public meeting before adopting the policy. Here are the key points of the policy that must be implemented:

  • Policy and technology measures to restrict access by minors to inappropriate internet content
  • Security measures to protect minors who use email, chat rooms and other direct electronic communications
  • Rules regarding unlawful online activities by minors, including hacking and other unauthorized access
  • Protections against the unauthorized disclosure, use or dissemination of minors’ personal information

Luckily for schools, the Children’s Internet Protection Act has been around since 2001, and many schools who already implement it have their policies online, so you don’t have to create it all from scratch.

Best Practices For Content Filtering and Monitoring

CIPA requires that schools use “a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors.” The law also requires that schools monitor activity of minors online to detect potential inappropriate use.

The bottom line is that all schools covered by E-Rate must perform content filtering that blocks inappropriate content. Typically, schools will install a dedicated content filtering device that goes into the network and evaluates all requested webpages. These devices, available from manufacturers such as Barracuda Networks, Lightspeed and Dell SonicWALL, provide administrators with an interface that allows them to configure the filtering parameters and provide regular updates to the filtered site list.

Administrators responsible for maintaining these filters should never forget that students can be quite resourceful when wanting to bypass content filters. When schools first introduced content filters, many students quickly found out that most could be bypassed by adding HTTPS to the front of the URL, thus making the filter “safe” even if it wasn’t an appropriate website. After content filtering companies blocked this approach, students discovered the existence of online proxy servers that weren’t blocked by content filters, which allowed access to any other site on the internet. Content filtering companies quickly moved to add proxy sites to the blocked list. Today, enterprising students use cloud service providers to create their own private proxy servers that aren’t included on filtering lists and aren’t currently blocked.

The struggle between students and administrators for effective content filtering is a cat-and-mouse game that will never end. While CIPA requires technical filtering measures, these will never be sufficient to completely protect students from inappropriate content. School administrators must monitor ­student activity with old-fashioned shoulder surfing and watch for signs that students have found a method to bypass filters. Using traditional disciplinary techniques to punish students who bypass the filters sends a strong message and may deter future unauthorized access attempts.

Another great tool is monitoring the actual screen of computers. There is plenty of different software that does this, and could be worthwhile looking into it if your devices are connected to the network.

Overall, the best thing to do is to teach kids good digital citizenship and how to use the internet appropriately online. With that, students will be able to learn and grow with the internet as a great tool.

(Story via EdTech)