We know a lot of people are interested in the capabilities of our fairly new technology onGuard. We are going to showcase how it differentiates from nFilter URL filtering and dive into nMonitor’s reporting and alerting capabilities in this blog post with the help of our Product Manager, Chris Garstin.

How does onGuard compare to the URL filtering that we offer?

With web filtering, we look at what’s going on in the address bar of the browser. That’s not because we’re looking at the browser itself but because we are in the network and we can see the requests for these addresses going out across the network.

We categorize those websites. We’ve been doing this for many years with our category name service, which is a globally distributed categorization service for web content. We put tools into the hands of the system operators, so this could be educators, this could be businesses, this could be telecoms (to say which categories of content they would or would not like to allow their network users to see). So in an education setting, this is usually adult oriented content, drugs, pornography, things that are just not appropriate for people in the care of a school.

So, URL filtering is mainly focused on where someone is trying to go online based on the URL, the category that URL falls into, and whether or not the system operator allows someone to go to that URL. So, that’s a very powerful tool to protect pupils who are browsing online.

However, there are websites that contain harmful or inappropriate content for pupils and the content of the page is not clearly reflected in the URL. That problem has been around for some time and this has been presented on Facebook or Twitter (whereby people are posting content that you’d rather not let your pupils see because of the content but you can’t do that from the URL because the URL doesn’t give it away).

Tweet URLs are usually some sort of a code or some sort of number that will get you to the tweet but again, it’s not going to reflect the content of the tweet. So URL filtering kind of falls down in the area where you want to allow them to get to certain sites, but you want to be notified when the content on those sites is quite harmful.

So that’s where onGuard comes in.

With onGuard, we detect the text on the page, we’ve grabbed a screenshot of the text, and I can open that screenshot and have a look at that page and see what the pupil was just looking at.

You can see the compelling difference between the two, because with URL filtering, all you have is the URL and if this article’s URL was just a code, you’d have no idea of the nature of the content.

This is important because this means that a pupil who’s in a chatroom (where the URL is just hangouts.google.com), you’re going to see what they’re typing. If they’re having interactions with people on Facebook or Twitter, if the URL is benign, if the content the pupil is looking at is harmful or offensive or indicates that that user is at risk, then it’s going to bring it to your attention and that’s the really compelling argument for onGuard. So we go beyond the URL and we look at the content on the page.

If I’m an administrator, how do I get onGuard data?

The important thing to keep in mind is that when we built onGuard we built it on the existing Netsweeper platform. So this means that you can do all your URL filtering as well at your student monitoring in the same tool. We use the same reporting functionality, the same logging functionality. We did add some additional UI features into the WebAdmin to make it a little easier to find your way around and be a bit more compelling.

You mentioned before that you built onGuard on top of nFilter. Does that mean reporting is similar between the two?

Absolutely. You can select the email addresses of who you want reports to be sent to and include a subject line. And then you can say I want to email the reports or attach it as a PDF, you’ve got a number of different options.

You can also customize reporting based on the alert level. For example, you could have the P1 report run every 5 minutes and if there’s any incidents, it goes directly to the DSL. And maybe the P2 alerts run every hour or half day and those go off to someone else because maybe these DSLs are very busy, overworked. Maybe the P3s that are just a daily or weekly thing so people can see if there’s anything there of interest.

So reports can go to different stakeholders. Are there any limitations to that?

No, the reports can be configured to be sent to a list of email addresses. Again, it’s up to the user or the operators how granular they want to be. You could create reports that include P1 and P2 alerts and send that to a specific person, or to a number of email addresses. That’s all configurable through the reporter.

What are the next steps for onGuard as customers adapt to this technology?

I think what we’d like to do next is go beyond the reports that we have today. Currently, we can send them out as alerts to be sent out on a regular basis, as much as every minute if need be. But once you get the report, what do you want to do and how do you want to interact with that data further, and did you want to manage those incidents within the Netsweeper platform to make sure that the appropriate stakeholders are taking action on what’s there?

As a product manager at Netsweeper who’s been focused on onGuard for the past 2 years, building the technology from the ground up and getting it to the product which it now is, I’d like to look at how we can empower people to then take action through this data. So we’ve been talking to some of our customers and looking at how other products are approaching this. It will likely be some combination of a workflow in the WebAdmin. So maybe someone comes in, they see that a user has looked at something, they don’t like what they see, maybe we’ll include some actions where you can escalate or dismiss items. And if you escalate that item, it would go into a workflow that will need to be managed through until closure.

It would almost be like a technical support ticketing system. A ticket comes in, there’s a number of different states that ticket can be in, you work through that workflow and then you close that off. That’s something we’re considering, but we’ve also spoken to a number of customers who would prefer if this data could simply be exported into another system that already has that functionality. There’s a number of student information management systems, I believe they’re often called SIMS out there, where you can actually push this data into another system that’s already capable of managing the incidents to closure. So if we could find a way to get the data into that system and then maybe just flag the data to say it has been exported, then our customers can move into a more purpose-built system.

Any last words for anyone who’s on the fence about using onGuard?

Netsweeper gives educators two tools in one in an interface that’s fairly easy to use. As an educator, you need your DSLs (Digital Safeguarding Leaders) to be able to quickly go in and get to the information they need and with our delegated administration, it’s fairly easy to lock this down and make this interface so they can get in there and do their job and look at this information and make decisions on what they need to do. That’s what I’d say to our end users who are in the WebAdmin who are interacting with this on a daily basis and pulling reports and resolving issues within the student body.

To our partners and service providers that we work with who also deploy Netsweeper to bring it to the market and deploy to educational institutions — you’re getting URL filtering and monitoring in the same package, and that package (because Netsweeper has had a long history in working in very demanding environments) is very scalable and resilient for very large networks.

So for service providers who might be servicing tens or hundreds or thousands of schools, this is the solution that can go in and fit two needs, URL filtering and monitoring. So again, having this is a holistic solution that’s built around technology that can help protect students in education.

Watch Here

To learn more about how to ensure student digital safety with Netsweeper, be sure to check out our on-demand webinars featuring Product Manager Chris Garstin that provide an overview and high-level benefits of Netsweeper for content filtering and student online digital safety monitoring.