Row of computers in a school classroom

Premium vs basic web filtering: What’s the difference and does it matter?

All web filters are not created equally – so how do we tell the difference between standard web filters built for a corporate environment, and those that are suitable for education? Why does this difference exist? Does it matter? 

Corporate users have long dominated the direction of IT products and services – and with good reason. The corporate market is huge, with a projected 3.8 trillion dollars spent in 20191– more than the GDP of France. Education meanwhile spends nowhere near as much, and so doesn’t get nearly as much attention from the big players. This is a challenge because educators needs are diverse from those of business. 

In the field of safeguarding, these needs are more pronounced than others. Many of the tools we use in safeguarding aren’t even present in the corporate world, and the concepts and ideas don’t follow through.

A corporate web filter, for example, might be there to ensure productivity by denying the major social networks, or head off a lawsuit by keeping porn from office PCs. However, it’s likely to serve other functions like preventing leaks of sensitive information and is often chosen on how little impact it will have on day to day operations.   

There are a number ofeducationfocussed vendors – some of whom offer a strong, premium web filter and safeguarding offering, and others who have added these features to a broader set of tools like classroom management. It’s important to set these apart so we know we are doing best for the young people in our care.  

Thekey signs your web filter wasn’t tooled for education 

The filter is an add-on to a security suite – many security suites from major UTM vendors add URL filtering as an add-on. Often these URL lists come from 3rd party vendors as the company isn’t invested in maintaining their own. These will do a good job of categorising the surface of the web and are likely to be fairly easy to apply a blanket policy. Don’t expect the sort of AI functionality needed to address user-generated content and the websites students use to work around these types of filter.   

Policy Tools are limited – in standard web filter configurations, there might be simple policy for user groups pulled from AD. Educators know that flexible policies are essential because the ages and requirements of students in a given school can vary wildly. In addition, schools are more likely to use diverse systems, or modern cloud-based office suites like GSuite, where a straight AD connection is no longer sufficient.  

Diversity of language is another are where schools have a tougher ride than most – so filtering needs to keep up. Any tool that can’t handleunicodedomains with non-latincharacters, oris unable to scan pages in non-English language will struggle to be effective in a school. This is particularly noticeable in filter solutions tacked on to IT management products for schools.BYOD and authenticationisanother essential requirement, particularly in independent schools. So many students want to bring their latest iPhone – but how can we ensure they’re filtered, and that their web usage is logged against their username? DNS based filters are good at blanket filtering, but authenticated access is non-existent. 

Logging is a key component of your safeguarding efforts. Without evidentiary standard logging it’s impossible to prove that a user has been op to no good, and even more difficult to satisfy law enforcement if they make requests under RIPA. With additional legislation such as PREVENT being introduced frequently, it’s important your filter is capable of recording everything. 

Finally, your filter should be part of an education focussed suite. Some filter vendors produce only a web filter, or, more commonly are part of a larger security suite, including tools like DLP and Malware Sandboxing. The sort of tools you might want if you had a security team at your school! Education users should look for filtering technology that sits as part of a wider suite of ed-tech products, usually, these will include safeguard monitoring tools, and perhaps classroom management. It’s also important to consider any integrations offered. Truly education focussed vendors will offer integrations with tools such as MIS, and safeguarding record keeping. These kinds of integrations are a good sign your vendor cares about your environment and understands the workflows within a School.  

If you have a question or would like to learn more about the UK’s No.1 Web Filter, please get in touch. We’d be delighted to help.

https://www.smoothwall.com/education