Web Filtering for K12 Schools

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, multiple states 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”.

At the time, 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. Consequently, access to important educational material was often inadvertently blocked – prompting objections to the law by teachers, parents, and civil liberty groups.

However, web filtering for K12 schools has now evolved to such a degree that any objections to the law are obsolete. Modern K-12 school cloud security solutions are lightweight software solutions with low management overheads that are quick and easy to implement and that enable schools to start filtering Internet content in a matter of minutes.

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 a safe search feature. The mechanism used by a K12 web filter 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 from 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 they 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.
  • Some harmful online content can be disguised as educational material or might not fall into a category classification. For cases such as these, the safe search feature blocks potentially offensive search results on Google, Bing, and YouTube unless a specific domain has been whitelisted to avoid inadvertently blocking educationally important content.

When K12 students type a URL or click on a hyperlink, the filtering mechanism compares the request to visit a website against the installed blacklists, category filters, and safe search results. If the student is attempting to visit a blocked website, access is denied and a message appears on the student’s computer or mobile device explaining why. Most content filtering software for schools includes the option of customizing block pages to include school branding and bespoke messaging.

Modern K12 School 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 controls 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 by the service provider, and – via the management portal – administrators can set different cloud group policies 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 is On-The-Go (OTG) roaming agents that can be installed on laptops and Chromebooks to extend filtering controls to students’ homes. The lightweight roaming agents are quick and easy to download and install on multiple devices in a single set-up process, enabling schools to apply the same filtering policies to each device regardless of which network the device is connected to.

How OTG Roaming Agents Better Protect K12 Students

Prior to the development of OTG roaming agents, if a student took their laptop to school, it would be on the school district’s network; and, when they took their laptop home, it would be on the home network. In theory, schools and parents could apply the same filtering policies, but this would not protect students from malware or inappropriate content if their device was connected to any other network.

One solution is to install a VPN on each device that routes all Internet traffic through the school’s filtering policies. This is not only expensive and administratively burdensome, but the process of rerouting traffic via a VPN is slow and places excessive demands on school district servers. It can also encourage savvy students to find ways of circumnavigating the VPN and the school district’s filtering policies.

OTG roaming agents enable students to experience the same learning environment – with the same protections – whether their laptop is in the classroom, at home, or connected to the Internet anywhere else. The agent connects directly with the service provider’s cloud platform, which compares requests to visit websites with the policies applied by the school – making it an easier and more effective way of better protecting K12 students from malware and inappropriate content.

Preventing the Circumnavigation of Content Filtering in K12 Schools

Once an Internet filter has been implemented, some children are likely to try to circumnavigate the filtering controls. 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.
  • Students 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 study from home.

Speak with WebTitan about K-12 School Cloud Security

TitanHQ is a leading developer of online security solutions. Our portfolio of products includes a cloud-based web filter for schools, libraries, and educational institutions of all sizes – WebTitan Cloud. Cloud-based web filtering for schools is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way of controlling what types of content can be accessed by students.

Cloud-based content filtering for schools does not need any expensive hardware and software does not need to be installed on servers. A simple redirection of the facility´s DNS will be sufficient to start filtering the Internet, and that takes just a few minutes. Most schools will have implemented the solution, applied their settings, and be filtering the Internet in under an hour.

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 you have the 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 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 to find out how to stop your k12 students from accessing inappropriate websites, speak with TitanHQ about WebTitan Cloud. 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.


What is appropriate k-12 content filtering?

Appropriate k-12 content filtering aims to prevent students accessing obscene images and other potentially harmful material. That means blocking pornography, hate speech, websites that promote alcohol consumption and the use of illegal drugs, child abuse images, terrorist content and extremist material. A web filter for k-12 should also block compromised websites to prevent malware downloads.

Is cloud based web filtering for schools better than a k-12 web filtering appliance?

Cloud based web filtering for schools is better than a k-12 web filtering appliance because appliance-based content filters for schools involve a large initial cost, maintenance costs are higher, and schools may pay for capacity that is not used. Cloud based filters spread the cost, are maintained by the service provider, and are usually more cost-effective as schools only pay for the capacity they need.

Does CIPA content filtering for K-12 schools apply to staff members?

CIPA content filtering for K-12 schools does not apply to staff members. However, it is advisable to have some level of filtering applied to staff members to mitigate the risk of devices that may be used by students being exposed to malware, to prevent shoulder surfing when a member of staff is viewing content that could be harmful to minors, and ensure that students are not exposed to inappropriate content if they obtain a member of staff’s login credentials.

Why is Internet filtering for schools necessary?

Internet filtering for schools is necessary to ensure access to online content that could be harmful to minors is blocked, such as pornography, child abuse images, and terrorist and extremist material. Internet filtering can also help to keep students focused on learning, can help to prevent cyberbullying, and protects minors from scammers and hackers looking to steal sensitive personal information.

Will a web filter notify the administrator if an attempt is made to access prohibited web content?

A web filter will notify the administrator if an attempt is made to access prohibited web content if notifications have been activated in the admin portal. Some web filters allow administrators to select which categories of prohibited web content should be notified to reduce the number of notifications or enable administrators to identify and prioritize areas of concern.

Is web filtering mandatory in all K-12 schools?

Web filtering is mandatory in all K-12 schools that wish to benefit from E-Rate discounts for Internet access and, in some cases, computer equipment. Web filtering is also mandatory across all public K12 schools in states that have passed legislation “to identify and prevent objectionable material from entering the school through the data network”.

Do OTG roaming agents work on all laptops?

OTG roaming agents work on laptops using macOS 10.11 or later and Windows 7 or later, and on most Chromebooks using Android v6 or later. If you need to install an OTG roaming agent on an unsupported laptop, you should speak to your web filtering software vendor as they may have a solution or integration that will be equally as effective.

Can you use an OTG roaming agent and a VPN on the same device?

It is not recommended to use an OTG roaming agent and a VPN on the same device because any software that redirects DNS requests may interfere with the agent’s ability to filter DNS traffic. Additionally, some AV solutions may use encrypted connections to send DNS requests between the device’s web browser and their DNS servers. This issue is usually surmountable, but may increase the administrative burden.

Who decides which categories of web content should be inaccessible to K12 students?

The decision about which categories of web content should be inaccessible to K12 students is made by a school board, local education agency, or other local authority. Parents also have some input on which categories of web content should be inaccessible to K12 students in public meetings, while school principals usually decide which teachers are responsible for educating students about appropriate online behavior as required by the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.

Is a K12 web filter sufficient to qualify for E-Rate discounts?

A K12 web filter is not sufficient to qualify for E-Rate discounts by itself because, under CIPA, schools are also required to certify they have an Internet Safety Policy that monitors the online activities of students and that educates students on interacting with other individuals online. Ideally, Internet safety training should include appropriate online behavior on social media sites and in chatrooms, how to recognize cyberbullying, and how to respond.

How can schools prevent miscategorized websites being blocked?

Schools can prevent miscategorized websites being blocked by adding the website’s URL to a “whitelist”. Websites included on a whitelist do not go through the three-tiered filtering mechanism (blacklists, category filters, and safe search), enabling instant access to miscategorized websites of educational importance.

How does content filtering in K12 schools prevent phishing?

Content filtering in K12 schools prevents phishing by blocking access to websites recorded on the URIBL database. This database includes websites known to have been used as landing pages for email phishing attacks. Therefore, if a student receives a phishing email, and clicks on a link to visit a website which could harvest personal information, the content filter will block the student from visiting the website.