Five pitfalls of free web filters

Using a web filter has become the status quo in schools, for a number of good reasons. Not only do web filters help schools limit access to inappropriate content, regulate bandwidth usage, and reduce malware exposure, they are also a requirement for schools to receive federal e-Rate funding.   

However, web filters vary widely when it comes to their feature set and pricing. On the upper end are enterprise-grade web filters that may not be reasonable for schools’ budgets or needs. But far more commonly, schools find themselves considering the lower end of the spectrum — free web filters. 

If considering a free web filter, there are a few good reasons to reconsider. Here are a few pitfalls of free web filters. 

1. No automatic filtering (more manual work) 

Free web filters typically decide which sites to filter based on blacklists. IT teams can enter blacklists detailing websites that are known to contain malware and/or offensive content, and the filter will block access to those sites.  

However, keeping up with finding and uploading blacklists is a daily chore that most IT teams do not have the time to perform. Moreover, blacklists only contain known threats — new malware will be allowed to slip through until a threat researcher discovers it and adds it to the list, which can take days, weeks, or months. 

Instead, look for a filter that uses artificial intelligence to automatically identify and categorize sites and has the ability to detect zero-day (brand new) malware. This not only keeps the school network safe from the latest threats, it saves time every day. 

2. Rigid policy management 

Free web filters typically take a one-size-fits-all approach, meaning all devices and users are limited by the same access rules.  

This can be challenging in a school setting, where certain sites might be appropriate for older kids but not the younger ones. Or, teachers may need access to a certain site that would be distracting for students. 

Look for a versatile web filter that allows for customizable access policies at the user level. Ideally, it will also enable specific policies based on time, day, groups, and other common delineations. 

3. No student mental health information 

Free web filters may not include advanced features that help schools keep students safe from internal threats, such as cyberbullying. Unfortunately, these threats often need addressing as part of a school’s overall safety program. 

Filters that are limited to blacklist-defined filtering do not scan student conversations taking place on school devices. That means they miss out on important cues that indicate a student is being cyberbullied, discussing violence, or self-harm. 

Look for a web filter that provides keystroke alerts when students enter terms that point to concerning behaviors. These conversations can be flagged and intervened upon if necessary. 

4. Strict device or user limitations 

Often, free web filters place limits on the number of devices or users that can be covered. As a school managing a large number of devices and users, having strict limits can be unworkable, especially as device programs grow.  

Even if there are no plans to adjust an existing 1:1 program, device limits may hinder the ability to incorporate BYOD policies. The decision to allow some devices to remain unprotected may leave networks exposed to potential malware and other attacks. 

Instead, look for a web filter that provides protection to all devices that will connect to the network — and school-owned devices that will travel home with students. Choose a filter whose pricing will scale as devices and users are added without significantly increasing the cost. 

5. Browser compatibility 

Similarly, some free web filters are limited in their browser compatibility. This may not seem like a concern at first glance if students are expected to primarily use school-approved browsers. However, the same students who are likely to download an unapproved browser are also more likely to use it for unapproved purposes. 

Free web filters that only work on one or two browsers expose networks to cyber threats. 

Look for a web filter that will cover a multitude of browsers. When considering the high cost of a ransomware attack or other data exfiltration schemes, paying for this protection is well worth it. 

Lenovo NetFilter makes web filtering easy 

Lenovo NetFilter delivers scalable and comprehensive cloud-based web filtering capabilities, including AI-driven threat detection that can automatically block zero-day threats as well as blacklisted sites and malware. Moreover, it provides flexible user access policies allowing individual or group access to websites on a granular basis. 

Upgrading to Lenovo NetFilter+ further provides access to keyword monitoring so educators can monitor and address student mental health concerns like cyberbullying and conversations about violence or self-harm.  

Both versions of Lenovo NetFilter are compatible with mixed environments and a multitude of browsers, and mass deployment to one or multiple schools is easy through a single dashboard.  

Make Your Budget Go Further with Lenovo Bundles 

Using a premium web filter doesn’t have to mean overextending budgets. Lenovo provides a variety of education bundles that include Lenovo NetFilter or Lenovo NetFilter+ at a discounted rate, along with other popular education solutions from our ecosystem. 

See education bundles 


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