How to transition to a new school web filter 

Schools have always had to accomplish a great deal on a limited budget. As edtech purchases have begun to claim a more significant portion of those budgets, IT teams and other decision makers have been tasked with prioritizing technology purchases in a way that maximizes school IT budgets while also effectively protecting students, teachers, devices, and networks from online dangers. 

Most school IT teams recognize the importance of deploying a web filter — but with free web filtering options available, many have opted to cut costs by using a lower-tier product that doesn’t offer as robust protection as needed. That can lead to devastating consequences for students, teachers, and staff as cyber threats continue to rise and student mental health concerns become more prevalent in the online space.  

If it is time to upgrade a free or under-performing web filter for a more robust, AI-driven, cloud-based filter, here are a few tips for a successful transition. 

Considerations for choosing the right web filter 

Web filters exist to help schools block access to unwanted websites on their network — whether those sites are inappropriate for students or contain malicious content like malware. While many school web filters may share the same basic goal, they range widely in their features and functionality. 

How they work 

The most basic free web filters enable IT teams to upload and enforce a block list they have created themselves and/or lists they have downloaded from a security feed. Of course, new cyber threats emerge every day. To truly secure their infrastructure from cyber threats, IT pros would have to stay up-to-the-minute in their knowledge of the threat landscape and make multiple, manual updates per day. This is unsustainable for most school IT teams, which is why many resort to scheduling daily, weekly, or monthly updates, and hoping they don’t fall victim to an emerging threat in the meantime. 

More secure web filters not only automatically update block lists based on security feeds and a constant influx of information, but also use AI to dynamically recognize and block sites that seem suspicious, compromised, or potentially threatening in other ways. Instead of requiring constant manual work to stay secure, these web filters are pro-active in keeping school networks (and, therefore, students) protected.   

Where they work 

Some web filters are hardware-based, requiring school IT teams to install a physical appliance on their school campus to filter web traffic. In this scenario, when student and teacher devices are used off-campus traffic is not filtered, potentially exposing students and endpoints to inappropriate and threatening content. 

Modern, secure web filters are software-based, so their protection travels with school devices wherever they go. When a student is doing homework or learning from home, they will still only have access to the websites their school or web filter AI have deemed safe and appropriate. 

Advanced functionality 

Inappropriate content and third-party cyber threats are not a schools’ only safety concerns. Cyberbullying is a major issue for children of all ages that can have emotional consequences for everyone involved. In addition, today’s students continue to struggle with mental health challenges that can lead to thoughts of self-harm and violence. 

Advanced web filters not only have the ability to block unwanted web traffic but can also monitor conversations taking place using school accounts. This software uses AI to monitor device keystrokes and flag potentially concerning conversations so administrators can investigate the context and intervene with students as appropriate. This includes conversations that appear to contain cyberbullying, threats, or indications of self-harming or suicidal ideation. 

Determining your filtering rules 

Although a good web filter will help determine which sites are safe and appropriate, it will also allow for customization. For example, schools may want to set a rule that students who are taking a media arts class can access YouTube, while others cannot. Other schools may want to block bandwidth-intensive streaming sites during school hours but enable access to them during aftercare or electives.  

Schools may also differ in their approach to determining safe and appropriate content. What may be appropriate for a high school student may not be right for K-6, and schools at any grade level may differ in their tolerance for non-educational web content. A good web filter will give schools the flexibility and granular control they need to set access rules and restrictions that make sense for them. 

Planning a migration 

Once a new web filter is selected, it is time to plan the migration. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • When do the licenses for the current web filter expire?
  • What are the new web filter’s features? And how can they be utilized to the fullest (e.g., setting custom rules based on the needs of different classes)?
  • Do you want to incorporate feedback from the educators on their web filtering preferences and needs?
  • How long will it take to install and configure the new web filter?
  • Will there be any downtime? (Ideally, administrators will start using the new web filter before decommissioning the old one.)
  • When is the best opportunity to make the switch?
  • Who should be included in communications around the change?
  • If adding keystroke alert functionality, determine how to communicate this with administrators and educators?
  • What policies need to be created for intervening when a concern arises based on keystroke monitoring?
  • How will success for this investment be defined?

A thorough plan should make for a smooth migration to the upgraded web filter — increasing the safety of the students and network while reducing the amount of time spent on updates and administration.

Make the switch to Lenovo NetFilter and Lenovo NetFilter+ 

Lenovo NetFilter recently received distinctions from THE Journal, the Campus Technology 2022 New Product Awards, and The Edison Awards as one of the industry’s top web security solutions. Lenovo NetFilter delivers advanced, AI-driven web and threat filtering that protects students and school devices wherever they are used. Lenovo NetFilter+ monitors student keystrokes for concerning conversations and behaviors, so schools and parents can intervene to help the students who need it most.  

Schools can bundle these solutions with other software from the Lenovo education ecosystem to receive great discounts that maximize IT budgets. Learn more about our education software bundles here.  


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