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Online Filtering Gets Smarter

<li>Restricted sites for students, not for teachers, staff


A new type of online filtering is sweeping across American schools, allowing staff members to go to Web sites from which students are blocked.

As IT staffs know, most online filters are meaningless given students' knowhow in finding proxy sites that allow them to check out sites that are inappropriate. But the School District of Fort Atkinson (Wis.) uses OpenDNS (Domain Name System) to block students from restricted sites and from using proxy sites to locate them, while at the same time allowing teachers to go to off-limits sites that can nevertheless have educational value to the students. "The kids have to stay on task," says John Ottow, district computer technology director. "We also set up multiple proxy servers and multiple degrees of fi ltering, but teachers can still go to YouTube."

At Duvall County (Fla.) Public Schools, three profiles are set up through the 8e6 technology content filter. "We have a separate file for staff members, a file for teachers, and a file for students," says James Culbert, the district's information security analyst. "That encourages our teachers to log on and get access to sites we would normally block."

For example, teachers can access sites such as YouTube or Google Video for class work, and principals and school resource officers can use WebMail.

The 8e6 system keeps a running tally of students' attempts at accessing inappropriate sites or proxy sites, Culbert says. Usually about 50 or 75 attempts are made daily, from the roughly 125,000 students in the district. When it happens, it kicks the student off the Internet for 30 minutes, sends a warning page to the student, and sends Culbert an e-mail about it. In December, Culbert says a high school student was suspended for 10 days after he set up an external Web site and posted pictures of blocked pages. "The teachers are thrilled this year because it's keeping kids on task," he says.

Other filters and access control tools include Nevis Networks' Network Access Control, which help schools control who gets to enter their local area networks, where they can go, and what resources they can access. iPrism's Internet-filtering appliance ensures appropriate Web use among students and staff across various locations, and Cyberoam's unified threat management system is a centrally managed solution with Web-based controls over all security features, under one platform.