What is K12 DNS Content Filtering for K12 Schools?

The Children Internet Protection Act, (CIPA) is a law that requires publicly funded schools and libraries to put in place mechanisms to protect children from harmful information on the internet in order for them to receive E-rate discounts from the government. Essentially, they're required to have web content filtering for children accessing the internet within the school to protect them from things such as pornography, obscene pictures, substance abuse, terrorism and much more.

K12 DNS content filtering is a type of web-based platform that is installed into the school's network and helps in identifying websites with inappropriate information or malicious software from being accessed by children. The administration inputs the keywords and categories they deem inappropriate which then the content filtering platform checks against every time a child accesses a website.

K12 DNS Content Filtering

How Content Filtering for K12 Schools Works?

K12 content filtering does exactly that, filters the content being accessed by a child from the internet. In the early days, it was tedious work that involved installing hardware and software into the network and manually customizing them individually to meet the CIPA requirements. However, the process of setting up the K12 content filtering platform has improved thanks to the advancement in technology. There are three steps involved in K 12 web filtering:

I. Creation of Category filters and Keyword filters

Ever heard of the term GIGO, garbage in, garbage out? The computer will do exactly what you tell it to. You must, therefore, give specific instructions for it to perform the specific task you want it to do. The first action, therefore, in K12 DNS content filtering is to ensure that the system is populated with filters that tell it what type of content is prohibited for the children. These filters may exist as categories of sites that should be blocked or keywords that may bring up harmful content.

Take for instance a child innocently typing in “porn” instead of “prom.” Without blocking the word "porn" in the content filtering service, the child would be showered with obscene pictures that might affect them psychologically. However, if the word "porn" is blocked, a message will be displayed that the information cannot be accessed and that they should check the spelling or type in something else. Category filters, on the other hand, will group all websites that are known to contain a certain type of information such as violent videos, PG 18 content, etc.

II. Updating blacklisted websites

After the filters, the K12 DNS content filtering platform must be updated with a list of blacklisted websites. These are websites known to potentially contain malicious software or inappropriate information for children. These websites are regularly updated and installed into the database allowing the filtering service to block these sites from being accessed by children. These blacklists can be obtained from Internet safety groups and they're usually updated as soon as websites are identified as hosting inappropriate material or malware.

III. Blocking the black-listed sites and those with inappropriate keywords

Before accessing any site, the request will pass through the K12 DNS content filtering service and check the site through the above filters. If it's not flagged, the site will be accessed and vice versa. It is, therefore, important to ensure your content filtering platform is regularly updated to avoid loopholes.

How Modern K12 Web Filters have Become Easy to Use and Flexible?

In the early days, schools needed to install hardware in the network as well as content filtering software. They had to manually configure the system and install it on each device. This was tedious. Updating of the filters took long and exposed the children to unwanted material. It was easy to circumnavigate these filters as the technology was not as advanced as it is now.

Fast-forward and the next generation K12 DNS content filtering is a state of the art, cloud-based system that offers more functionality. Interestingly, some schools still use the older platform and they risk either over blocking material which may be deemed as a denial of access to information or providing less content safety. The modern K12 web filters have advanced functionality and are easier to use and much more flexible. Here's how:

I. They’re Cloud-based

Unlike the earlier versions, today's K12 content filtering is a web-based platform that can be configured using a web-based tool. It requires no internal host and can easily be accessed from anywhere. This makes it much cheaper to run and operate and offers more security as well as privacy.

II. Centralized administration

The older versions required each device accessing the network have its own content filtering software installed in the browser. This made updating and setting up new protocols tedious for the administration. Nowadays, K12 content filtering is based on the cloud and anyone with "cloud keys" can access the server and update new filters as well as removing older ones. They can easily monitor the student's activities all from one place and set up new safety measures even for the entire district.

III. Real-time updates

With increased internet connectivity and high speeds, K12 DNS content filtering now have real-time updates of category filters as well as blacklisted websites. And as new websites get created each day, it's important to ensure that those with inappropriate information are identified immediately and flagged to avoid exposing children to such information. Real-time updates also help ensure that new styles of circumnavigating the filters are identified instantly and the loopholes closed. There's, therefore, better protection from harmful information as required by CIPA.

IV. Customized filtering

You can now configure your DNS content filtering to grade groups, age, time of day, etc. As we all know, older students are smarter and therefore, they can be able to bypass filtering. However, this can be made harder for them through enhanced safety protocols targeting their age groups. Library visit time can be used to apply different types of filters depending on the school and their culture. We, however, do not want to limit access to information as some of the material students may be looking for may be educational. Customized filtering comes in handy in such situations.

How to Prevent Bypassing of Content Filtering in K12 Schools?

Some children are mischievous, especially the old ones. They won't take it lightly when their attempts to access inappropriate material is blocked, and they will try tricks to circumnavigate the K12 DNS content filtering. In such instances, you need to have a mechanism in place to prevent such mischief, and there are several ways to ensure that they do not succeed. Notably, none of these methods guarantee 100% job well done, and educating children against accessing harmful content is your best bet. That notwithstanding, here are ways to prevent bypassing of Content Filtering in K12 Schools.

I. Blocking VPNs and Proxy websites

VPNs are applications installed in computers to create virtual networks that hide the computer from being seen on the internet. Proxy websites are sites or browsers that hide your identity, eg. Tor Browser. When a child uses these, they become anonymous and may be able to access the school network without being seen by the content filtering DNS. Blocking these apps and programs is therefore important to prevent such mischief.

II. Using multi-lingual keyword filtering

As we all know, Google and many other search engines now understand other languages other than English. Students can search for inappropriate information using different languages and since the keyword filters are in English, the K12 DNS content filtering may not pick it up. Integrating a multi-lingual approach is therefore important to help detect keywords with inappropriate material from different languages and, hence, block them.

III. Scrutiny of the SSL certificates and HTTPS websites

Older versions of K12 web content filtering were unable to scrutinize SSL certificates of sites leaving the school network vulnerable to malicious software on the internet. Enhancing your firewall and antivirus programs that scrutinize SSL certificates and security of websites is important to avoid malicious sites from accessing the devices and blocking your content filtering.

IV. Banning the use of USB browsers

USB browsers can allow remote access of websites through the USB, and this may be able to bypass the content filtering. They should, therefore, be banned from the school network.

Protecting K12 School Children from Inappropriate Content While Maintaining Privacy

I. Educating children on importance of safe browsing.

Ultimately, education is the best form of protecting our children from accessing inappropriate material on the internet. They should be educated on why such material is harmful to them because they may still be able to access it in other unchecked platforms.

II. Engaging Parents

Parents should be involved in ensuring their kids engage in safe internet access and help protect their children from giving out personally-identifying information as COPPA (1998) stipulates.

III. Identifying cases of cyber-bullying

Children are prone to cyber-bullies especially since they may not know how to communicate with strangers leaving them vulnerable. When such cases are identified, the culprits should be brought to book instantly. This will help create a culture of responsible internet browsing.

NuEduSec K-12 School Cloud Security

Protect your children from inappropriate material in the internet by employing this state of the art K12 web content filtering, NuEduSec, designed to help schools and educational institutions become CIPA and COPPA compliant. The privacy of the children is guaranteed while ensuring inappropriate content is kept at bay. Being a cloud-based platform, you do not need extra hardware or software and just directing all the traffic to the K12 DNS content filtering will have your children protected within minutes.

The platform also monitors students’ activities online and enforces safe internet usage while allowing proactive shared roles and responsibilities, device tracking and management as well as secure web filtering and enhanced visibility. You can try it for free with no upfront commitments. Just your name and how many people you need to protect. You will be surprised how effective it is.