As part of it’s Managed Network package, N4L provides all schools a comprehensive web filtering service. As part of Safer Internet Day, let’s explore what these filtering services are and examine some real world examples of how (N4L supports) schools can create safe online environments for their students.
First of all, the N4L Managed Network is covered by the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System which blocks websites that host child sexual abuse images. This service is managed by the Department of Internal Affairs.
In addition to this, N4L also provides a customisable filter that blocks known website addresses (URL filtering) and can also identify a website as inappropriate by scanning the written content on it before it is displayed on the screen (keyword filtering).
When schools choose to use N4L’s Web Filtering, a master set of categories are blocked. The N4L filter comes built with a range of categories that can be managed and schools can choose to block or allow specific categories as needed. Schools can then manage and adjust the settings within these categories for both URL filtering and keyword filtering.
Let’s look at these filtering options in more detail:
URL filtering is a service by which N4L’s software scans web addresses and based on a range of databases, determines the reliability and reputation of a website.
This URL filtering will identify if a website is inappropriate, but cannot determine or tell the user what the specific content on this website actually is. Some websites will be blocked, some will be flagged as inappropriate (and users should proceed with caution), and those deemed safe will be allowed.
Keyword filtering is another method of online safety provision, in which the N4L filters use a series of keywords to block or allow content. The standard keyword dictionaries applied by the N4L Web filtering are extensive, but schools can also add and manage their own lists of keywords as necessary.
Keyword filtering is often reactive as language, slang and meaning are in constant flux. The filters will only search for words, not media content. As such, the filtering cannot determine what content will be in the video or visual media, but can only apply filtering to the words used on the webpage.
Both of these filtering services offer a range of protections, but there is increasingly a range of online content that cannot be filtered using these methods. This content is often in the form of video content on sites like YouTube or social media sites like Tumblr.
These sites use internet security protocols to ensure secure and trusted connections between users and themselves. To help explain this, let’s briefly explore what these technologies are.
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remain private. This video explains the process in more detail.
- Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which data is sent between your browser and the website that you are connected to. These secure connections ensure all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
Both of these technologies are vital for identification and security on the internet. A real world example is that these technologies ensure that any information that passes between your online banking website and your computer is encrypted and cannot be viewed by malicious third parties.
Increasingly it’s Google and other web developers’ policy to have all of their services and websites accessed via HTTPS. This ensures that all traffic between their servers and your computer is encrypted and confidential. These tools and protocols are important for online safety and privacy of users around the world, but it also means that any website that uses HTTPS cannot be effectively filtered using URL or keyword filtering by either N4L or other commercially available filtering services.
Content sharing sites like YouTube and social media sites like Twitter all use HTTPS/SSL protocols. A service to provide SSL decryption is currently being trialled, and N4L aims to make this available to an increasing number of schools throughout 2015.
Managing YouTube Access
Google has built a number of policies and services to help schools and parents manage access and keep students safe when using YouTube. You can use these services to further ensure protection from inappropriate content.
If your school is using Google Apps for Education, you can ensure the correct age restrictions have been set for the student in their accounts. YouTube classifies content as safe and gives age ratings to posted content. The only time that over 18+ content will be displayed is if the user is logged in and has their age specified over this. More information on age restrictions can be found here.
“Safe Mode” can be enabled at a browser level on your devices. This browser mode uses a range of signals to filter out inappropriate content. More information can be found here.
Youtube has a curated and filtered section of their site called YouTube for Schools. Schools get the ability to access a broad set of educational videos on YouTube EDU and to select the specific videos that are accessible from within their school network.
In practice this site has been very restrictive for schools, and teachers have to add any content they find and wish to use manually. Schools and teachers will need to explore the use of the site to see if it can be integrated well.
Any pornography is a breach of the Youtube community guidelines and as soon as the video is reported, this is will be reviewed and taken down. Schools are able to actively report any inappropriate content. Further information can be found here.
In summary, there are a range of options that are available to help prevent student access to inappropriate content, in particular on YouTube. None of these methods are able to be guaranteed 100% effective at blocking every inappropriate piece of content on the internet.
It is vital that any tool used needs to be reinforced with clear and carefully applied digital citizenship policies in your school. The behaviours of students in the online and offline world can be managed by technology, but more importantly their positive behaviours and engagements in both worlds must continue to be fostered by the adults around them.
N4L is committed to managing and supporting the technology that underpins the safe and effective use of the Internet in your school community. Please contact us if you wish to discuss any of these issues in more detail.