At any given moment of any random school day, chances are high that your students are online. No big deal, right?
Think again. Internet access is just as dangerous as it is beneficial to your digital school system. Whether in the classroom or at the library, minors are only a few clicks away from inappropriate content, which could violate the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
Even worse, students that access harmful content may be in danger — not only in terms of their personal information but also their physical and emotional well-being. With a risk as big as that, content filtering is absolutely essential. In fact, it’s the law.
This guide’ll connect the dots between CIPA compliance and content filtering. From where they overlap to how they work, we’ll give you everything you need to know about CIPA-compliant content filters and how you can start protecting children from digital harm.
Understanding CIPA compliance
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a law that impacts almost every public school district and library in the country. Congress enacted the bill in 2000 to address concerns about minors accessing obscene or harmful content online.
At the time, lawmakers were worried that pervasive exposure to explicit material could have lasting consequences on children’s mental and physical health — and they were right. Studies show a child that consumes harmful content is more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors and experience anxiety, depression, and self-harm.
It’s also important to note that CIPA compliance is intertwined with E-Rate funding. The E-Rate program is a federal initiative that provides financial assistance to schools and libraries that are struggling to obtain affordable internet access. Covered entities violating CIPA regulations may lose their program eligibility, thereby losing their discounts.
Okay, but what does CIPA actually require? According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — the agency that oversees CIPA compliance — schools must adopt an internet safety policy that addresses the following:
- Inappropriate content: Think of it as encompassing any web content that could be considered obscene, harmful, or even illegal. That includes anything appealing to sex, nudity, violence, or lacking educational value.
- Unlawful activities: You’re also legally obligated to ensure students are using the internet with lawful purpose. Examples of unlawful activities include hacking, which the FCC terms “unauthorized access,” or the distribution of child pornography, which may occur if students are “sexting” one another on school-issued devices and in school-provided technology (such as Gmail, Google Docs, etc.).
- Unauthorized disclosure: Schools must prevent the unauthorized use and dissemination of personal information regarding minors, whether it be due to a data breach or leak.
- Internet safety: The FCC says administrators are responsible for protecting children using “electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communication.”
Another key requirement of CIPA compliance is that a school’s internet safety policy must include a technology protection measure that blocks or filters access to harmful and adult content. In other words, schools are legally obligated to implement a content filtering tool to monitor and regulate students’ online behavior.
Content filtering 101
Content filtering — also known as web filtering and internet filtering — is a process of restricting access to particular types of internet content (in this case, anything deemed impermissible for a child).
Schools implement a filtering solution such as ManagedMethods to block particular websites or harmful material automatically. Aside from protecting children, content filtering is also important to your school’s cybersecurity posture.
Think about it: If someone accesses a malicious website, they may download an attachment and unwittingly infect your district with malware. With an internet filter, you can stop hackers from obtaining your students’ personal information by rendering the incident impossible in the first place.
How does content filtering work?
Filters work the same way data loss prevention (DLP) tools do. They allow you to create a set of predetermined rules that dictate how your filtering solution operates.
Based on these preferences, the tool will identify content patterns like text strings or specific objects within an image or website. Once a pattern is detected, the filter either blocks or screens the content according to your parameters.
Most internet filtering solutions use a combination of the following methods:
- Keyword filtering: The filtering software scans content for specific words and phrases that are associated with objectionable content.
- URL filtering: URL addresses are checked against a database of blacklisted or whitelisted websites, blocking access to any that are prohibited.
- Image analysis: Content filtering tools scan visual features and video metadata for certain qualities, such as nudity or violence.
- Category filtering: Users can filter content based on categories deemed inappropriate, such as adult content, gambling, or social media.
What to look for in a content filter
It’s important to note that not all content filters are made the same. Some work better than others, so you should deploy a solution that won’t fail when needed.
Don’t worry — we’re here to help. When searching for the ideal platform, keeping a few things in mind is best. Here’s what you should look for when shopping for a content-filtering solution:
- Customization: One-size-fits-all filters don’t suffice. Ensure your service provider allows you to tweak rules according to your needs, as they will change over time.
- Reporting and analytics: Look for a tool that empowers you to make the best decisions possible. How? Through robust reporting and actionable insights. The best solution will equip you with information to keep students safe and your district compliant.
- Ease of use: What good is an internet filter with a lousy interface? None at all. Protecting children is hard enough without the frustration of a poorly designed platform. That’s why a seamless, frictionless user experience is essential. Find a tool that gives you everything you need in one single pane of glass.
- CIPA compliance: CIPA compliant content filters remove the pain of managing your toughest regulations. Because compliance is baked into the design, you never have to worry about jeopardizing personal information or allowing harmful content to fall through the cracks.
- Cloud security: Content filtering is a step in the right direction, but no school is safe without a layer of cloud security.
Let’s unpack that last point a little further. Most schools operate in the cloud using Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, but few have resources dedicated to protecting cloud data. That means student information is more at risk than ever before.
Luckily, ManagedMethods is bridging the gap between content filtering and cloud security. With our platforms, you can effectively cover your CIPA compliance bases from Chrome to Google Workspace, to protect your students from harmful content anywhere they might encounter it online.
Remember what’s at stake here: Inappropriate content and malware are only a few clicks away. The good news? Our solution is even closer. Schedule a demo today to find out more about our content filtering and coud security solutions.