For schools, libraries, and many other organizations, internet filtering is a necessary reality in daily operations. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) mandates that schools and libraries take steps to protect minors who might use their computers, network, and other digital infrastructure from accessing inappropriate websites. Such websites might share content that deals in issues of child abuse, racially insensitive subject matter, or sexually explicit material—CIPA aims to prevent minors from seeing this.
Passed in 2000, CIPA ties federal funding for a wide range of institutions—schools and libraries chief among them—to compliance with these requirements. The law also extends to protecting minors while using email and chat rooms, preventing minors from carrying out unauthorized activities such as hacking, and protecting the disclosure and dissemination of personal information about minors. Since its passage, CIPA has inspired states to enact similar laws of their own, with nearly 30 states putting legislation on the books requiring internet filtering on IT infrastructure that can be accessed by minors.
Internet filtering isn’t without its challenges, however, with such laws facing steady criticism from concerned third parties. For example, the ACLU has argued that this kind of filtering can prevent accessing and communicating around what they consider protected free speech. Additionally, the ACLU and other organizations have pointed out that internet filtering widens the digital gap between those who have unfettered internet access at home and those who don’t—ensuring that some can only access what schools and libraries permit them to access.
Regardless of these concerns, failing to comply with internet filtering regulations can spell bad news for funding for affected organizations. For managed services providers (MSPs) working with institutions and organizations looking to set up or improve their internet filtering operations, a new generation of cloud-based tools are available to help. By investing in these tools and setting up effective and responsible filters, MSP customers can prevent minors from accessing inappropriate information while having enough control to avoid limiting access to necessary educational experiences.
Why do schools have internet filters?
In short, schools, libraries, and other organizations relevant to CIPA have internet filters to be compliant with the federal and state regulations mentioned above. At the federal level, compliance is a prerequisite for receiving grants and discounts these institutions rely on. For example, Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants and the E-Rate Program help public facilities like schools and libraries invest in necessary technology and cut down on a range of costs in the process.
By instituting and maintaining internet filters, schools can stay on the right side of applicable laws, protect their students online, and act to secure their IT infrastructure. Effective internet filtering can prevent minors from seeing content considered inappropriate for certain age groups. Additionally, these filters can help schools protect their students from malicious activity conducted over email, chat rooms, and social media environments.
On top of protecting students from inappropriate material online, these safeguards can also help schools, libraries, and other institutions maintain effective cybersecurity practices. By filtering out potentially unsafe websites, monitoring email activity, and securing personal information for minors, schools are in a better position to defend against social engineering attacks, malware and ransomware, and the loss of private data.
What is web filtering software?
Web filtering software is the means by which organizations—independently or with the help of MSPs—can put internet safeguards into effect. The latest web-content-filtering software tools offer users a wide range of capabilities, all of which are designed to keep students safe online without exposing them to material that may be inappropriate for their age group.
In the past, schools had to install specific hardware in order to filter out inappropriate websites. However, the available hardware options made it difficult to fully customize, control, and update what material schools wanted to filter out. These blind spots also allowed web-savvy students to circumvent web filtering hardware using online proxy servers and other similar tactics that hardware producers didn’t anticipate.
Today’s web filtering software and employee internet filters are different. Thanks to cloud technology, MSPs can now leverage a new generation of cloud-based software to offer customers a greater degree of control over web filtering. With a centralized web platform from which to manage filters, cybersecurity, and other monitoring activities, schools and their MSP partners can bypass outdated hardware and get web filtering software tools up and running quickly—and with minimal startup costs.
How do schools filter websites?
To filter out inappropriate websites and keep students safe, schools and their MSPs have several strategies at their disposal when using cloud-based web filtering software. For example, these tools can utilize blacklists, category filters, and keyword filters. Blacklists block requests outright to online destinations that contain inappropriate material or that have been flagged for posing a cybersecurity threat. Schools may have their own lists, but internet service providers also likely have a log of their own sites that would fall into this bucket.
Next, category filters—as their name suggests—allow schools to block access to entire types of websites. This can be useful for administrators that want to prevent students from reaching proxy servers and anonymizer sites that students might use to try to circumvent web filtering. Finally, keyword filters can prevent students from accessing online destinations that contain a high volume of words and phrases associated with inappropriate content. These keywords can all be amended based on each district’s specific policies.
For MSPs charged with keeping a variety of customers safe, secure, and compliant with CIPA regulations, investing in the right enterprise web content filtering tools is essential. With SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM), you can consolidate your IT workflows in one comprehensive set of tools. From around-the-clock antivirus protection to highly customizable and granular filtering, RMM can give you the capabilities you need to protect your customers—and the potentially vulnerable minors they educate.