While the internet has made the world more connected and accessible, the unfortunate reality is that it has also made it more dangerous, especially for vulnerable users like our nation’s children. Today, cyberbullying, predators, scams, and a host of other online threats are common in K-12 schools across America. To keep our children and youth safe, schools must become proactive about protecting their students against cyber threats using a variety of means including education, awareness, and most directly by implementing a web content filter.
In fact, a web content filtering solution is not only a socially responsible, proactive safeguarding investment, but also a legal requirement for schools in America. It greatly increases the safety of students while removing unnecessary distractions, allowing them to focus on their lessons without limiting their access to the growing number of online resources teachers rely on. With the right AI-driven filtering solution, schools can monitor, log, and report student activity across multiple devices, both on and off the school network, providing transparency and accountability on a scale simply not possible through human interaction alone.
Online Threats Are Increasing
While it’s clear that online threats are on the rise, what may not be as obvious is how these online attacks have evolved over the past decade. We’ve seen a change in the nature of threats which shows they are more sophisticated, targeted, and dangerous than ever before and will undoubtedly continue to mutate, requiring schools to implement solutions that are just as dedicated to providing an effective defence.
According to Microsoft’s Global Threat Activity Tracker, the month of September 2022 saw 3,554,509 devices with malware encounters in the United States alone and on a global scale, the Education sector continues to significantly outrank all other industries with 7,466,015 reported encounters; an alarming 80.13% of the pie.
On a more personal and disturbing level, May 2022 saw FBI San Francisco issue a warning about an increase in sextortion schemes targeting boys between the ages of 14 to 17 years old. Sextortion schemes involve online predators who pose as young girls to deceive and manipulate young males into participating in explicit activities on video, which are secretly recorded and used as leverage to extort money in exchange for not releasing the content online. A similar warning was issued in July by FBI Atlanta with the office revealing that while only halfway through the year, they had already received a 42% increase in sextortion reports over the previous year.
These examples show only two of a growing and constantly changing number of online dangers students and schools are facing. The full range of cyber threats are many and varied and require greater and greater efforts to combat them. Tools such as web content filters are not only effective, they are invaluable.
Benefit from Compliance
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a bill enacted by the United States Congress in 2000 which among other things, requires schools to install filtering software on all computers used by students, teachers, and staff in order to qualify for funding from the E-rate program. Employing a comprehensive content filtering solution not only promotes student safety and satisfies compliance requirements, it also provides extensive logging and reporting features that confirm such obligations are being met.
CIPA compliance is especially important for schools where students use laptops and tablets or mobile devices such as smartphones, which can access the internet from anywhere on campus. Whether a school distributes these devices to students or students use their own, it’s crucial to ensure the population is protected from inappropriate content and sources of harm.
Protect Our Youth
Many of us are familiar with the notion that the internet can be a dark and dangerous place and it’s no secret that some users choose to abuse it for malicious purposes. However, many people still may not be aware just how vulnerable children can be to these dangers. From generally inappropriate content to more intrusive violent or pornographic material, cyberbullying, grooming, privacy intrusion, scams, and extortion, today’s youth face countless mental, emotional, and physical dangers not seen before by past generations.
Web content filters are a first line defense against external threats, but they can also serve another valuable service by safeguarding students from dangers they may be experiencing on a personal level. Searches and interactions involving drug abuse, mental health, and self-harm can be identified and the proper safeguard leaders alerted for proactive intervention to occur. Such requests for help which might otherwise go unnoticed due to the sheer number of students vying for each teacher’s attention, are brought to the forefront with the help of AI-driven content filtering.
Focus On Learning
Although web content filtering promotes a safer environment, ultimately, it’s more about focus than control. Teachers want and need students to access resources that contribute to their curriculum and the migration of those resources from textbooks to online is steadily increasing. The key is providing access safely and without interruption.
The ability to connect to the internet also introduces additional distractions such as social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, or apps and games that can compete for a student’s attention. A content filtering solution enables teachers and IT administrators to create custom lists of approved websites and specific pages, easily granting access when needed, as well as monitoring and flagging inappropriate content as it’s discovered. When access to social media and search engines is required, SafeSearch features can be enforced.
Visible and Accountable
Simply blocking unwanted content isn’t enough if you’re serious about student safety. The ability to monitor, log, and report activity across multiple devices, as well as on and off the school network means that trends can be identified and potential threats can be flagged, promoting proactive and interactive intervention. Such transparency can be extended to parents as well as staff and what could have gone unnoticed becomes an opportunity for better understanding and cooperative safety initiatives.
This same level of detail and reporting provides schools with the data-based evidence they need to measure their efforts and share the results as needed for compliance or responsibility purposes. Such data can help shape policy, direct future safeguarding efforts, and reinforce accountability.
More Than Essential
If your school doesn’t have a web content filtering solution in place, or if your current solution isn’t meeting your needs, now is the time to act. The reasons why web content filtering is essential for K-12 schools are many, but we’ve introduced some of the most important here, including being compliant, protecting students from online threats and inappropriate content, focusing attention on learning, and introducing transparency and accountability into an otherwise potentially clouded and chaotic environment.
Don’t underestimate the importance of providing a safe and secure online student experience. If you’re looking for ways to make sure your school has effective security measures in place, contact us today or book a demo!