In 2000, the Children´s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law – an Act that stipulates publicly-funded schools and libraries will only qualify for E-rate discounts on Internet access if they implement web filtering for K12 schools. A legal challenge to the Act by the American Library Association was defeated in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.
Subsequent to the passage of CIPA, twenty-four states have also enacted statutes relating to web filtering for K12 schools and libraries – many of them mirroring the federal legislation that requires “a technology protection measure that protects against access to visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors”.
However, in the early years of the twenty-first century, web filtering for K12 schools was expensive and primitive. Each school had to purchase hardware-based filters that were difficult to configure and lacked flexibility. Administrators subsequently blocked access to important educational material – prompting objections to the law by teachers, parents and civil liberty groups.
Since then, web filtering for K12 schools has evolved to such a degree that any objections to the law are now obsolete. Schools and libraries have access to cloud-based filtering services that require little management overhead, and “cloud keys” that can override filter parameters when access to blocked websites for “bona fide research or other lawful purpose” is required.
Twelve states require Internet filtering controls to be deployed and thirteen states have now passed laws covering filtering, blocking and usage policies in schools that require acceptable use policies to be implemented.
How Internet Filtering for K12 Schools Works
Internet filtering for K12 schools works using a three-tiered filtering mechanism comprising of blacklists, category filters and keyword filters. The mechanism not only prevents children from accessing online content prohibited by CIPA, but also protects computer networks and mobile devices from the installation of malware, ransomware and other web-borne threats.
- Blacklists can be provided by a filtering service vendor or downloaded from the websites of Internet safety groups. They are effectively lists of websites known to harbor malware or contain visual depictions that are harmful to minors. Some filtering solutions also include SURBL and URIBL filters to prevent users accessing websites known to have been used in phishing attacks.
- Category filters control access to specific categories of online content. Schools and libraries can select which category filters that want to apply – not only to block access to pornographic websites, but also those promoting racial hatred, sexual prejudice and religious intolerance. Category content is regularly updated by the filtering service vendor.
- Keyword filters can be used to fine-tune the category filters or to control access to websites containing specific words that parents and teachers might not want children to use or understand. In circumstances where the word(s) might be used in a literary context, exclusions can created to prevent educationally-important content from being excluded.
When children type in a URL or click on a hyperlink, the filtering mechanism compares the request to visit the website against the installed blacklists, category filters and keyword filters. If the child is attempting to visit a website prohibited under CIPA, access to the website is denied and a message appears on the child´s computer or mobile device explaining why.
Modern K12 Web Filters are Easy to Use and Flexible
Whereas K12 web filters of a decade ago were hardware-based solutions that each had to be configured and updated separately, the filtering parameters on modern K12 web filters are applied from a centralized web-based management portal that can be accessed from any Internet-enabled location. Administrators can set acceptable use policies for a whole school district from a single location.
Software updates, additions to blacklists and category updates are performed in real time by the service provider, and – via the management portal – administrators can set different filtering parameters for different age groups, so that younger children are not exposed to material that may be relevant to older students – for example teenage support groups.
One further development in Internet filtering for K12 schools since CIPA was enacted is that the filtering mechanisms can now be set by time. In libraries that operate a reservation system for Internet use, it is now a simple operation to turn on the filtering parameters at the beginning of a child´s Internet session, and turn them off again when the sessions expires.
Preventing the Circumnavigation of Content Filtering in K12 Schools
Children being children, once an Internet filter has been implemented, they will attempt to circumnavigate the filtering parameters at the first opportunity. In order to prevent the circumnavigation of content filtering in K12 schools, category filters can be configured to block access to anonymizer services, VPNs and proxy websites. Other measures that should be implemented are:
- Multi-lingual keyword filtering options should be used.
- Access to cached web pages should be blocked.
- SSL inspection to decrypt HTTPS websites should be applied.
- Access to numerical IP addresses should be filtered out.
- Browser settings should be password protected.
- Children should be prevented from using a USB browser.
Internet filtering solutions produce usage reports. These reports can reveal attempts to circumnavigate content filtering in K12 schools. System administrators should customize their reporting options to identify tell-tale signs such as high bandwidth consumption on individual devices or Internet traffic over non-standard ports.
More about Protecting K12 School Children from Inappropriate Content
Protecting K12 school children from inappropriate content is not just about implementing web filtering for K12 schools. Schools and libraries must adopt online safety policies that address such issues as protecting K12 school children from inappropriate content when using email, social media portals, chat rooms and other forms of online communications.
In order to qualify for the E-rate discounts, schools also have to develop a policy for educating children on appropriate online behavior. This should include the proper level of online interaction, the protection of personal information, how to identify cyberbullying and how to respond to it. Schools also have to introduce measures to ensure these policies are implemented.
Wherever possible, schools should engage parents in jointly protecting K12 school children from inappropriate content and continue the education of children in the home environment. In some States, parents are required to specify the level of Internet access their child may have in schools, whereas in others, the school must provide filtering software for children who work from home.
Speak with WebTitan about Web Filtering for K12 Schools
WebTitan is a leading developer of online security solutions. Our portfolio of products include a cloud-based web filter suitable for schools, libraries and educational institutions of all sizes – WebTitan Cloud. Being cloud-based, there is no need for schools and libraries to purchase expensive hardware or install software onto servers or individual devices. A simple redirection of the facility´s DNS will be sufficient to start filtering the Internet within minutes.
WebTitan Cloud is a flexible and scalable web filtering solution that protects devices from online threats and has the versatility to comply with all federal and state legislation relating to web filtering for K12 schools. WebTitan Cloud is compatible with all operating systems and enables district administrators to monitor web activity by individual location or over the district as a whole.
For schools and libraries that provide wireless networks, WebTitan Cloud for WiFi is equally as effective at providing content filtering in K12 schools. Again, all that is required to start protecting K12 school children from inappropriate content via a wireless network is a simple redirection of the facility´s DNS. Thereafter, schools can control and monitor the websites that K12 children access during lessons and from their personal mobile devices.
Try a Modern K12 Web Filter for Free
If your perception of web filtering for K12 schools dates back to 2003, but you have responsibility to protect your school network and the students who connect to it, you are invited to take a free trial of WebTitan cloud. There are no credit cards required nor contracts to sign in order to start your trial. Simply click on the “Start Free Trial” link at the top of the page and enter a few details about yourself and the number of users you need to protect.
Alternatively, for more information about web filtering for K12 schools, and the benefits of WebTitan Cloud, please do not hesitate to contact us and speak with one of our helpful sales technicians. Our team will be happy to answer any questions you may have about protecting K12 school children from inappropriate content and providing a safe browsing environment for students of all ages.