The internet can be a valuable education tool. In the UK, 85 per cent of pupils have access at school. Secondary schools have about one computer for every 3.6 children.
The internet will play an even greater role in the curriculum in years to come. This puts more pressure on web filter providers and school IT managers.
Social networking websites, for example, provide plenty of opportunity for students to waste school time and resources.
Also, education authorities have a duty to protect children in school against certain websites. As such, many schools routinely deploy web filtering technology to manage and regulate what children can and cannot access.
A survey of internet use at some 70 schools suggested that pupils sometimes accessed up to 4,000 unauthorised pages each day. In most cases, children were visiting social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace, but a few were also accessing material such as pornography or violent video games.
Technically savvy students may also know how to use anonymous proxies to bypass web filtering by schools.
Hundreds of new anonymous proxy sites are created each week. Some internet
filtering software solutions, which rely on static blacklists, are no longer
effective against them. However, some do provide proxy detection and blocking
Nearly all solutions on the market feature one or more databases, often with millions of categorised URLs. Websites are categorised by page content.
Web filtering databases must be updated at least daily.
Websites are organised and placed into categories in different ways by different products. Schools need an application with a large database that blocks the most popular sites in each category and automatically updates the lists to include new URLs as they emerge.
Other useful features include URL rewriting, which can automatically enforce ‘Safe Search’ tags for sites like Google images and video and prevent children from circumventing protection policies through the media caches of popular search engines.
Web filters also need to block Instant Messaging (IM), P2P applications, and other sources of inappropriate content and social networking applications.
Solutions should be easy to deploy and manage since many school IT teams have limited resources.
Web filtering that can also detect infections on Windows desktop computers or disable internet access from systems that have been hacked, hijacked, or otherwise compromised can also appeal.
Schools often have small budgets, yet many web filtering solutions are priced by the number of user licenses. Student populations are transient and schools tend to have times when the internet is not much used – such as during holidays.
The internet can be a valuable too for discovery and learning, but students need boundaries. Effective Web filtering solutions can help schools determine those boundaries and effectively intercept, manage and redirect the inquisitive minds of young web surfers.
Paul Thackeray is EMEA vice-president at Barracuda Networks
Infrastructure provider says international sales now make up 51 per cent of its revenue
SMART's UK managing director joins Lenovo to boost SMB business