In the United States, “Best Internet Filtering Software for School” is a hot topic, often researched online. School principals, professors, IT managers in schools, universities and educational institutions, also in Italy, look for an answer to the question: what are the best Internet filters to use in schools? In this article we will try to provide an answer to this question.
1. What is an “Internet Filtering Software for Schools”
“Internet Filtering Software” refers to a tool for the control and block of Internet navigation towards some websites. It can be a small software to install on single devices, a component of a navigation program (Google SafeSearch) or of a web service (YouTube) or else a centralized service to be configured directly on the company router/gateway. The tool is useful and even necessary in some environments, from companies to public infrastructures, households and schools. At home, it is used to protect the navigation of the youngest and most vulnerable, and the same goes for public institutions like libraries and educational institutions. Its idea is not only to protect minors from offensive websites but also to prevent them from “getting distracted” navigating on the web or on social networks.
Although you may think that all filters function in the same way in all contexts, there are actually some differences. This is why there exist filters for navigation in Schools or Universities that are more appropriate than others.
It is important to be convinced right from the start that a pay-for Internet filtering software is necessary, since the available free solutions have several limits. Generally, they cannot be personalized, have fewer functions, can be easily bypassed and the engine that supports them is often not precise enough. But at School, you cannot risk it: granting parents maximum protection in the use of computers is a precise obligation. In fact, during a potential legal proceeding, an educational institution could even lose if proven negligent.
Speaking of this, we shall remind that in some countries there exists a direction model, like the PUA in Italy (Acceptable and Safe Usage Policy for Schools), which requires the installation of navigation filters and that has already been adopted by several schools.
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2. How does a filter for web searches work?
How does a filter for web searches work? The aim is to block access to websites deemed inappropriate for a given public. We are thinking about offensive websites, pornography or sites that, somehow, can create a risk for navigation.
The functioning criteria on which the best Internet filtering softwares for schools are based is similar for all of them. The service exploits the memorized information that “describes” a given website. This information is used to fill in several databases, structured by category and specifically built, distributed in some datacenters in the world. A website is added to a given category depending on the key words that define it. At this point, before publishing the results for a user’s Internet search, the engine will have already filtered the websites, and the contents that it knows it must not show, without the user noticing anything. Because all of this happens in a matter of infinitesimal time.
It shall be specified right away that the best Internet filtering software for schools does not only monitor Internet navigation following a research on whatever engine, it also checks all clicks on links. This is because blocking the navigation from Google or from other search engines is not enough, there is also a need to monitor the links that the user receives in other ways, for example via chat or email.
It stems from the discussion above that Google SafeSearch, for example, may not be sufficient. The filter integrated in the Google navigation program protects exclusively from navigation through Google itself. And this is the same for all blocking functions present in all types of navigation programs and in all services based on the web like, for example, YouTube.
So, in order to have full protection, it is better to rely on a more advanced filter like, for example, FlashStart. Available as an application to install on the single devices or as a centralized service, the tool acts at the DNS level.
This means that FlashStart controls in real time if the DNS (Domain Name System, the name of the domain) is part of a special list of websites deemed offensive or dangerous (blacklist). If this is the case, the user’s navigation towards that website will be blocked, or else the website will be excluded from the beginning from the search results, whichever the browser used.
This is because, thanks to an option available on its dashboard, FlashStart allows for the activation of safesearch for Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and YouTube. Moreover, with FlashStart, the user cannot remove the protection, hence granting maximum security in the school context.
FlashStart has distinguished itself among webfiltering services for its speed of response, since it can count on an Anycast network and on the integration with the Microsoft Active Directory, which is not offered by all services, in order to grant a higher quality of its service on Microsoft networks and with several connected devices.
3. Choosing the Best Internet Filtering Software for Schools
Let’s now try to understand what features must have the best Internet filtering software for schools. First of all, it is better to choose a centralized solution, meaning a service that can be configured on the router/gateway where all the web traffic goes through. It is also possible to install a dedicated device, an appliance,which connects to the devices that manage the school network. In this way you would avoid setting up, installing and doing service maintenance on every single device.
Another fundamental element on which you should base your decision is the possibility and ease of personalization. Every educational institution can have different needs, for example it can choose to block access only to some categories of websites. Moreover, you need to be able to count on a filter that limits the instances of false negatives. For example, think about a school research on special topics like sexuality. Well, a low quality filter could block access to websites and documents that deal with the topic from a scientific point of view and that have actually nothing to do with porn sites.
Also, it is better to opt for a web content filter capable of protecting from malicious websites as well, to avoid phishing and malware attacks. Not all products available on the market include this option. Finally, other elements to take into consideration are price – in this regard FlashStart definitely distinguishes itself from its competitors -, the width of the Anycast network on which the service is based and integration with the Microsoft Active Directory, since an educational institution may easily be using the Microsoft platform.
4. A list of Best Internet Filtering Softwares for Schools
The market offers some Internet Filtering Softwares that are specifically designed for Schools and the Education industry. Just as an example we will list here some of the best ones, but we shall highlight once more that the choice must weigh the various points we discussed above.
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A list of the 5 Best Internet Filtering Softwares for Schools – excluding the FlashStart tool, which we have already discussed -, in rigorous alphabetical order, can be this one:
» DNSFilter. Like several other solutions in the industry, this one as well uses Artificial Intelligence and is based on approximately 66 external sources to provide a service as accurate as possible.
» FortiGuard Web Filtering Service. Here is a web content filter developed by a producer of complete platforms for cybersecurity. Almost all of them integrate a navigation filter of higher or lower quality, and it is up to the client to understand whether it is worth investing in a protection platform that is definitely more expensive than the single filter.
» Lightspeed Filter. This solution distinguishes itself for the maximum compatibility of its platform, from Chromebook to Mac, Windows and iOS. Interestingly, Lightspeed Alert identifies ex-ante the threats based on students’ behavior. It goes hand-in-hand with Lightspeed Classroom Management, a solution for the management of classes.
» Smoothwall. This solution by the Linewize group focuses on real-time analysis of the requested content and context for each single page. It also deals with filtering the contents of social network platforms and protecting access on the devices of guests who access the school network.
» TitanHQ WebTitan. The specificity of this solution regards the variety of set-up options – from the virtual appliance to the simple filtering service based on the cloud, both for wired and wireless networks -, the configuration by user groups ans SSL inspection.
Among the 5 listed alternatives, and considering also the other solutions offered by competitors, there are no tools that provide the possibility to block requests based on the geographical location like the Geoblocking function by FlashStart, which prevents navigation towards websites whose domain is physically hosted in countries at high risk of malware and compromising.
At a time like this, preventing traffic to entire areas may be the best solution to avoid not only hacker threats, but also violent and inappropriate content for minors.
You can activate the FlashStart® Cloud protection on any sort of Router and Firewall to secure desktop and mobile devices and IoT devices on local networks.