Apr 02 2009

In With the Good — Out With the Bad

Consider these five strategies for Internet filtering in a one-to-one environment.

Anyone who has run a one-to-one program in their school system will tell you that things operate differently than in a system without one. Internet content filtering, for instance, truly changes when every student has a notebook.

Here are five strategies to help:

1. Don’t use manual proxy settings.
If your students have to manually enable an Internet proxy when they come on campus and turn it off when they leave, then you are bound to experience more help-desk calls. Consider a filtering solution that uses pass-by technology or a gateway filter, or automate settings for them.

If you set manual proxies, push out Web Proxy AutoDiscovery settings using the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Remember: Not all browsers support WPAD settings, and students could run another browser from a USB thumb drive or a download.

2. To filter at home, or not to filter at home?
This is a tough issue on which to achieve consensus. If you filter students’ activity while off campus, is your administration prepared to take disciplinary action based on inappropriate web surfing — as it would if the same surfing were done on campus?

Few systems offer content filtering for mobile users. 8e6 Technologies uses agent technology that validates every request before allowing access. Such systems may impact Internet bandwidth, depending on the architecture of the system you are considering. Open-source fans can configure a proxy server with Squid and open it up to the Internet so that students can access it from home. But beware: You will want to consider setting up authentication so you aren’t running a proxy for hackers.

3. Find a filter that can stop malware.
When students have 24x7 access to a computer, you are bound to see more malware than on computers kept at school. Students will click on absolutely anything.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing programs often can be grouped with malware because of the disruption they can cause on educational networks. Most content filters should be able to prevent this, and any Internet filter worth its salt will help you identify and quarantine those notebooks infected with malware.

4. What about logs and authentication?
Nearly all content filtering systems provide some reporting. For it to be effective, you need to correlate user names to web activity. Some systems require that a program be launched upon network login (often via script); others require that a pop-up window remain open; and still others check against logon servers and correlate user names to IP addresses.

There are pros and cons to each, and you need to compare them and test them to see which works best in your environment.

5. Do you have the cache?
Some filtering systems will let you cache frequently downloaded content. If you have a teacher who asks all students to visit the same website, then each student’s computer has to reach out to the Internet and download the content. If you are using a caching engine, only one computer goes to the Internet while the rest pull content from the caching engine. Some schools have seen 30 percent to 40 percent of their Internet activity come from cache. For schools that have a slower Internet connection, a cache engine is critical.

A one-to-one student notebook program can present many unique challenges, one of which is how you handle Internet filtering. Many schools debate whether or not to filter. But if you are in the market for a new Internet filter, make sure it fits the needs of the one-to-one program.