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Online Content Filtering for K-12 – Part 1

Why Content Filtering Is Critical to K-12 Security and Compliance

K-12 schools are relying more heavily upon the Internet to access educational and administrative resources, particularly through wireless networks and mobile devices. Just as businesses use this technology to improve operational efficiency and develop innovative solutions, school districts use technology to support new learning models and streamline processes.

Cybercriminals are very much aware of this trend, which is why security incidents and breaches in education are on the rise, according to Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report. In fact, the education sector reported almost as many incidents (292) as the retail sector (317). Across industry, more than two-thirds of system compromises went undiscovered for months.

Ransomware and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which can take down school networks for extended periods of time, are two of the most common attack methods used to target schools. However, almost three-quarters (72 percent) of security breaches in education target the personal information of students, teachers and staff.

In addition to keeping IT systems secure and available, K-12 schools have to comply with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations. FERPA protects the privacy of student education records, while HIPAA protects the privacy of medical records. School districts have to keep these records secure but also make them available to parents and eligible students upon request.

Another big concern for K-12 schools is CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) compliance, which protects students from harmful online content. There are four CIPA provisions that affect K-12 schools – the creation of an Internet safety policy, content filtering, user activity monitoring and the education of students about acceptable Internet behavior. By complying with these four provisions, K-12 schools can control the content accessed by students, prevent students from interacting with potentially dangerous users and protect against the exposure of personally identifiable information.

Content filtering is vital for the school districts in the Pacific Northwest. Cerium Networks supports Helena Public Schools, the largest school district in the state of Montana and Lake Washington School District, the largest school district in Washington State. Cerium has learned by its experience in public education that the learning and testing methods have changed to Internet-based and 802.11 wireless technologies. Internet and web-based content filtering is vital to ensuring that our students are safely accessing Internet learning and testing materials.

Content filtering is an essential part of the data protection and student safety equation by preventing inappropriate or even harmful content from being accessed. Based on the school district’s policy, a content filtering solution is configured to recognize and restrict access to content such as websites, social media channels, documents and emails. For example, if a student tries to visit an inappropriate or malicious website, the content filtering solution will automatically evaluate and deny that request and block access. Content filtering configurations can also be customized for different user groups such as administrators, teachers, students, etc.

Not only does content filtering help K-12 schools comply with CIPA requirements, but it also provides an effective layer of protection against malware, botnets and other security threats. When these threats get into your network, they can cause downtime and steal sensitive data. Content filtering can help prevent malware and botnets from infecting machines so IT teams don’t have to spend time and money responding to these attacks.

Content filtering also helps to prevent performance problems by ensuring that bandwidth is available for mission-critical applications. Schools can control access to bandwidth hogs such as video streaming services.

In the next post, we’ll discuss two content filtering solutions that we offer to help K-12 schools protect their resources and satisfy compliance requirements.

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