What’s The Best Content Filter For Schools?

Content filtering is an essential part of the K-12 cybersecurity and safety landscape. But which content filter is best for your school district? Read on to learn all you need to know about web filtering and choosing the right solution.

Understanding K-12 content filtering

Filters can be overwhelming if you’re new to the topic. Let’s review the basics of content filtering and how it works:

What is a content filter?

Content filtering — sometimes called web filtering or internet filtering — is the process of restricting internet access to specific types of web content (i.e., digital media). The term “content filters” refers to the technologies and solutions that make this possible.

Therefore, a web filter or content filter is a tool that regulates access to certain websites, applications, and digital resources that might pose a risk to online safety, productivity, or cybersecurity.

For example, parental control software allows guardians to monitor their children’s screen time, promote healthy digital habits, and block adult content. Likewise, enterprises use web filtering software to eliminate distractions, enforce internet usage policies, and reduce network traffic that would otherwise overload their bandwidth.

Content filtering for schools, however, is primarily about blocking inappropriate content, such as pornography, social media, or online gaming.

What types of web filtering solutions are there?

Content filters come in many forms, each serving a slightly different purpose:

  • Search engine filtering: This type of web filter specifically restricts internet access based on search engine queries. In other words, it aims to prevent users from accessing inappropriate or harmful content through search engine results pages, like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. For example, Google’s native safe search function won’t display explicit results, but a student could still access sites directly if they type in their URLs into the address bar.
  • Device-level filtering: In this case, your IT staff installs filtering software on each individual school-provided device. This allows for more granular filtering controls but is impractical for larger school districts with many laptops, tablets, and computers.
  • Network filtering: This filtering solution acts as a secure web gateway to your school network, intercepting and analyzing traffic. This is a great option for regulating internet usage at scale, but if a student uses their personal device, they won’t be subject to your filtering controls.
  • Browser-based cloud filtering: A browser-based filter is delivered over the internet by a third-party cloud service provider. That means you don’t have to worry about physical installation, as deployment happens within minutes. Typically, it involves using a remote server, hosted in the cloud, to analyze and categorize web content in real time. Best of all, this approach works across school network devices anytime a student or staff member uses their account, such as a Google Workspace profile.

How does content filtering work?

Most content filters use numerous tactics to regulate internet usage. This includes both basic and advanced techniques, such as:

  • URL filtering: This involves blocking or allowing access to specific pages based on their web addresses. IT administrators create lists of URLs corresponding to permitted or prohibited pages, enabling the filtering solution to inspect traffic and enforce their policies. For example, your district may allow a certain website because it has educational content, but could decide to block the site’s gaming features.
  • Domain Name Server (DNS) filtering: Rather than specific URLs, DNS filtering blocks entire domains. This prevents any student or staff member from accessing any page on particular sites, such as social media platforms or online shops. If they attempt to do so, the web filter intercepts the traffic and redirects it before the connection is established.
  • Category filtering: This approach classifies websites into predefined buckets based on their content or purpose — social media, online gaming, shopping, adult content, etc. It’s a great way to block entire categories at scale without having to configure as many policies individually.
  • Keyword filtering: For more granular control, you can also use web filtering to block media based on specific keywords or phrases. Let’s say you wanted to block the term “online gambling” and all related content. Creating a policy around this topic allows you to do exactly that.
CONTENT FILTER >> Schedule a demo today! Introducing Content Filter by ManagedMethods >> REQUEST YOUR DEMO HERE

Why does content filtering matter?

According to the Children’s Online Protection Act (CIPA), K-12 school districts have a legal obligation to protect underage children from harmful content online. Originally, Congress passed the bill in 2000 to address growing concerns about minors being exposed to explicit material on the internet.

Lawmakers and parents were worried that prolonged access to inappropriate content could have lasting impacts on the nation’s children. Today, we know they were right: Research indicates kids who are exposed to harmful digital media are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors and experience mental health disorders.

Specifically, CIPA compliance requires schools to adopt an online safety policy that addresses:

  • Inappropriate content: This includes anything deemed obscene, explicit, or appealing to sex, nudity, and violence.
  • Unlawful activities: Students may use the internet for illegal purposes, such as pirating movies or “sexting” classmates — which could constitute the distribution of child pornography.
  • Unauthorized disclosure: Districts must prevent students’ personal information from leaking online.

Critically, CIPA stipulates districts must use filtering software to mitigate these risks. Violators risk losing E-Rate eligibility — a program that provides discounted internet access to schools and libraries in need of financial assistance.

K-12 uses cases for web filtering solutions

You may not realize it, but content filters have numerous applications across the K-12 landscape. From online safety and digital wellness to student learning and data loss prevention, the right filtering solution can do far more than restrict internet access.

Let’s explore content filtering’s biggest and most important use cases:

Blocking inappropriate content

Regulating student internet usage is what first comes to mind when you think about web content filters. Since CIPA came onto the scene, districts have used filters to protect underage children from anything that could cause them harm:

  • Adult content.
  • Graphic violence.
  • Self-harm information.
  • Hate speech and discrimination.
  • Drug use.

Nowadays, that’s only scratching the surface of what students might find online. According to a study of schools in New Zealand, students made nearly 400 million attempts to access inappropriate media in just one month. Luckily, internet filtering software blocked them all.

Improving student safety

Web filtering is a highly effective way of safeguarding students from mental, emotional, and physical dangers. For example, you can use filtering controls to block websites and social media platforms, which kids commonly use for cyberbullying and harassment.

Toxic behaviors such as these are a growing problem in the United States. Notably, they’re often a driving force behind mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, which increase a young person’s likelihood of self-harm and suicidal ideation. Even worse, bullying is an often-cited factor in cases of school violence.

Content filters not only prevent students from accessing websites that relate to suicide or school violence, but they also alert administrators when they attempt to do so. This empowers school leaders to connect at-risk kids with the appropriate resources, providing students with the help they deserve.

Preventing malware risk

It’s not uncommon for students or staff members to unknowingly access malicious content. Some websites appear completely safe, but in reality, they’re designed to steal login credentials and infect their device with malware, ransomware, and other viruses.

This is an obvious cybersecurity risk. It takes just one incident to go unnoticed for the entire school network to become infected. And, in that case, it’s more than likely hackers have already gotten their hands on a host of sensitive data.

Blocking known threats is an easy way to fix the underlying issue. In other words, a web filter acts as your first line of defense, stopping users from making a critical mistake in the first place.

Maintaining compliance

Aside from CIPA compliance, school districts are also beholden to their state’s data privacy laws. Every state has different rules and regulations regarding cybersecurity. For example, some have strict breach notification requirements that mandate schools report incidents within a certain timeframe.

Filters help you detect possible threats early, allowing you to get ahead of the compliance curve. Moreover, by preventing risks to begin with, you have an easier time satisfying your legal obligations.

Eliminating distractions

Not to be neglected, education also stands to benefit from content filtering. Why? Because filters eliminate many of the distractions that plague today’s digital-first learning environment.

Online games, social media, YouTube — you name it. Filtering controls keep students focused on their studies and not on what’s happening in the digital world.

CONTENT FILTER >> Schedule a demo today! Introducing Content Filter by ManagedMethods >> REQUEST YOUR DEMO HERE

Choosing the best content filter for schools

By now it’s clear content filters are essential to the K-12 landscape. But which one is best for your school district?

Let’s review the five most important criteria to consider when evaluating your options:

1. Features

A web filtering solution is only as good as its core capabilities allow it to be.

Look for a filtering provider that offers the breadth of coverage you need to stay protected. Kids are creative when it comes to evading parental control programs and content restrictions, so it’s best to implement a tool that blocks more than just direct web traffic. Ideally, it’ll also capture embedded traffic, such as YouTube videos within Google Docs or referral links on websites.

Likewise, ensure your solution is customizable and offers a diverse set of filtering options. Category, keyword, and URL filtering are essential if you want to cover your bases.

However, filtering aside, today’s school districts need more than just blocklists and allowlists. From self-harm and cyberbullying to suicide and school violence, numerous student safety risks are compelling administrators to increase visibility and early threat detection. The right solution should provide built-in safety monitoring and data loss prevention tools that allow you to leap into action at a moment’s notice.

2. Ease of use

User experience (UX) can make or break any security tool — filters are no different. The last thing you want is a web filtering solution that’s simply too clunky or confusing to use on a regular basis. Moreover, you don’t want it to disrupt the classroom environment.

For the best possible UX, prioritize solutions that are user-friendly from top to bottom. Browser-based tools, delivered as a cloud service, are much faster and easier to implement. In fact, they take just minutes to deploy and don’t require manual updates. The best of the bunch will natively integrate into your cloud domain, such as Google Workspace, for a truly seamless experience.

That way, students can safely navigate the web without interruption. Plus, administrators won’t have to jump between disjointed solutions when managing their filters and policies.

3. Customer success

Let’s face it: School districts don’t always have the resources to hire full-time cybersecurity and IT experts. A 2023 government study confirms that most lack the time or manpower to stay ahead of emerging risks.

That’s why customer support is an absolute must-have. The right filtering provider will stick by your side to answer questions, troubleshoot problems, and offer expert guidance whenever you need it most.

4. Price

Another open secret about K-12 is that many districts don’t have the freedom to let money go to waste. Rather than spending funds on just any solution, it’s important to consider which filtering provider offers the best value for your money.

Look for a vendor that’ll let you try their solution on for size before committing to a purchase. Moreover, prioritize solutions that offer configuration support and training to licensed customers and trial users at no additional cost.

5. Suitability

Not every web filter is the same. Some are made for enormous enterprises and corporate environments, while others are best suited for parents simply hoping to monitor their children’s behavior. Fortunately, there are also solutions made specifically for K-12.

However, even then, consider which one meets your exact requirements. Ask yourself these questions when evaluating solutions:

  • Will this software scale up to the size of my district?
  • Can it help me recover lost or stolen devices?
  • Which filtering techniques does it provide?
  • Does this solution integrate with my cloud domain?

Making the switch to Content Filter by ManagedMethods

There’s a lot to think about when choosing a new web filtering solution. The good news? We’re here to make it easy.

Content Filter by ManagedMethods is a cloud-based tool made to help you protect students from cyber threats of all shapes and sizes. With native integration into the Google Admin console, it uses URL, keyword, and category filtering to block inappropriate content. Better yet, our platform allows you to:

  • Customize policies by organizational units or the entire domain.
  • Leverage artificial intelligence to scan activity, keywords, and content for signs of self-harm, suicide, sex, and toxicity in Chrome and Edge browsers.
  • Remotely lock lost or stolen devices to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Use pre-built blocklists to automatically restrict over 300,000 websites.

Critically, Content Filter won’t slow down device performance or impact student learning, providing a seamless end-user experience.

Our solution, made specifically for K-12, takes just minutes to install. Want to give it a try? Request your free demo of Content Filter today.

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