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Understanding Content Filtering: A Guide for Internet Users
Updated · Aug 26, 2023
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The Internet contains a vast pool of resources for its 5.16 billion user base. However, it has always been perceived as a double-edged sword. It’s advantageous for doing daily tasks and staying connected, but it also contains multiple dangers.
The negative side of the Internet is a breeding ground for online dangers, such as malware, fraud, and cybercrime. These parts threaten Internet users’ privacy and security.
That said, content filtering is a crucial tool in the Internet. This lets you access any online content that is deemed valuable while blocking those that are considered harmful.
Continue reading to learn more about content filtering and why it is important.
What Is Content Filtering?
Content filtering is the process of screening and restricting access to unwanted content. It involves using hardware or software to block content like email, web pages, etc. This process is also called information filtering.
For instance, companies impose content filtering on office devices. It helps them apply their corporate policies when using information systems. It also restricts access to social media, shopping, or streaming sites, helping increase work productivity.
Content filtering is also a security measure. It protects users from suspicious sites with various types of malware or viruses, letting more people enjoy safer browsing.
💡 Did You Know?
Content filtering is one of the most effective tools to protect kids from the many dangers of the Internet. This process lets schools and parents filter out inappropriate sites that show porn, hate, criminality, and more.
Learn more about content filtering in schools by watching this short informative video:
How Content Filtering Systems Work
Content filtering functions by identifying content patterns. In most cases, it specifies character strings. If matched, they consider the content harmful and block access to it. The obstruction can include the following:
- Text strings
- Any detail showing undesirable material
Content filtering systems work in various ways. They can operate on DNS servers and mail servers. They can also be an effective tool for firewall and router content filtering.
📖 Firewall Definition
A firewall ensures security between incoming and outgoing network traffic. The idea behind “firewalls” comes from physical walls that prevent fire spread.
Check out this article to learn more about the definition of a firewall and what it does.
Network administrators can also make content filters work on servers or hardware as a content filter network. They can also set a cloud-based and mobile content filter for every user.
Some content filters come with subscription services. These services provide an updated blocklist containing malicious domains and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.
No matter which method, every content filtering system has the same goal: to block unwanted or malicious content.
Types of Content Filtering
Content filtering systems come in many types. Some of the most shared content filters are:
Internet Content Filter
As mentioned, the Internet sees billions of daily users of over 50% of the world’s population. Many contents are found online; some are good, others bad.
That’s when internet filters come in handy. They are the most common type of content-filtering system. From its name, it blocks access to internet pages or even entire sites.
These filters run through firewalls that provide access online. It can also run as a browser-based filter. In most cases, this type of filter comes from browser extensions.
One notable internet content filter software is Norton Family.
Norton Family has a ‘Blocking and Filtering’ feature that stops harmful content from appearing on a device.
👍 Helpful Article:
Norton Family is regarded as one of the most reliable parental control software, keeping kids safe while they browse the internet.
You can avail of Norton Family’s 30-day free trial. You can also start your subscription right away for only $14.99 a year.
Search Engine Content Filter
A search engine content filter allows users to activate filter settings while searching. This system filters out inappropriate content from the search results page.
You can find search engines offering child-oriented filters. These versions only allow child-appropriate sites and content in the search results.
💡 Did You Know?
Google has advanced tools that can filter your search results. It’s called SafeSearch. Turning it on lets Google detect explicit content and remove it from the results. This is Google’s default setting when the user is below 18.
You can also blur explicit images that may appear on the results.
Here’s how to turn SafeSearch on:
Step 1: Conduct a Google search. Once on the results page, click “SafeSearch” below the search bar.
Step 2: Pick the setting you want to apply. You can choose between “Filter explicit results” or “Blur explicit images.”
DNS Content Filter
From the name itself, this content filter works on the DNS layer. It blocks domains with policies that don't fit your organization's rules. For this reason, it's a helpful filter for companies.
This type of filter can also be a valuable home content filtering tool since it can suit parental control settings.
⌛ In a Nutshell:
DNS filtering enhances security by blocking access to unwanted websites. This setting protects users against websites harboring malware or phishers waiting to attack.
Email Content Filter
This is also called a spam filter, determining whether an email is infected by a virus. It checks every email's header, subject, body, and attachment for unwanted content.
💡 Did You Know?
According to email spam statistics, the United States is the leading country in sending spam emails.
That said, an email content filter is a helpful tool to block malicious emails from entering your system. This filter can also work by accepting, classifying, and rejecting incoming spam emails.
Moreover, there are 3 kinds of email filtering employed by organizations:
On-Premise: This system deploys software installed on office premises. The organization’s IT staff manages it. The goal of on-premises email filtering is to keep the company’s data internal.
Cloud deployment: The email filtering software is accessible to all IT staff members in a company. This system is faster than on-premises deployment. With cloud deployment, companies need less management effort thanks to automatic and real-time updates.
Hybrid: This arrangement employs both on-premises and cloud deployment systems. An organization’s IT staff can employ this model in various ways, depending on available resources.
Web Content Filter
This is best for website filtering since it blocks a browser from loading several sites. The restricted areas can be particular or categorized websites.
This filtering system establishes rules and patterns to determine harmful websites. Once established, the filter seeks unwanted content within images or text strings.
When a website that contains harmful content seeks access, the web content filter denies it.
Proxy Content Filter
A proxy server is a liaison between your device and the Internet. Once you request access to a website, the request goes through the proxy server first. After that, it finally connects to the website.
A proxy content filter works like a connector, similar to a proxy server. However, it’s between a user's device and a specific server this time. This system can be a bridge between network users and the web.
It allows administrators to filter and block access to specific sites. It's a typical school filter that lets students and teachers access the web at different access levels. For instance, some students use proxy servers at school to unblock Instagram or other inaccessible websites.
Governments also use it for censorship. It limits or blocks citizens' access to sites containing content that threatens national security or the government itself.
Benefits of Content Filtering
Content filtering may sound confining to some web users. However, it offers plenty of benefits for companies, schools, and homes.
Here are some of them:
Protects children from inappropriate sites and content
Content filtering protects children from the Internet’s dangerous side. It restricts children’s access to harmful and inappropriate content with violence, fake news, or pornography on the Internet. With these filters, kids can't access websites containing malicious content.
Lessens malware risks
There are over 1 billion malware pieces circulating the web. These malicious software are waiting to attack and steal your data.
Content filters reduce the probability of accessing sites with high-malware risks. It is effective with DNS filtering systems since they limit the threats.
These filters also lessen the workload for IT professionals and even MSPs. Moreover, you can use a content-filtering firewall. These filters can scan web pages to block any threat.
Prevents exploit kits
A cyberattack refers to hackers trying to endanger a computer system. With the continuous development of technology, cyberattacks continue to evolve, bringing exploit kits into the scene.
📖 Exploit Kits Definition
Exploit kits are tools cybercriminals use to attack a vulnerable system. It involves code that attacks web browsers through plugins and extensions
Content filters can detect exploit kits and block their access before you download anything.
Increases work productivity
The majority of companies use social media for business. There are over 200 million business profiles on Instagram alone.
Meanwhile, employees use social media too. According to statistics, 77% of workers use social media during work hours. This behavior becomes a typical problem in a work environment.
If there's a content filter that blocks access to social media, workers can be more productive.
Other than site restrictions, content filters can block suspicious file downloads or emails from unknown contacts.
Improves bandwidth consumption
Employees that access non-work-related sites can affect bandwidth. If you have a content filter, you can improve the bandwidth performance. As a result, the entire office can utilize a faster connection.
Lessen phishing risks
According to statistics, over 3.4 billion phishing emails were sent daily in 2022. They lead to identity theft, data breaches, and other cyber attacks.
The good thing is content filters can protect users from the risks of phishing attacks. The system can detect any instances of phishing attacks before they even progress.
Content filtering systems help companies keep a check on the web usage of their staff. As a result, they lessen their liability for anything an employee can do online.
For instance, a company can be liable if an employee posts offensive content or downloads copyrighted content. A content filter protects a company by limiting what employees can do and access online.
The Legality of Content Filtering
Content filtering is a legal activity in compliance with regulations. In most cases, companies, universities, and schools have content filtering.
There are regulations related to the use of content filters. One is the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which demands using content filters to block inappropriate sites to protect children.
Here’s what CIPA requires, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):
The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Before adopting this Internet safety policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal.
Most universities and schools need to comply with this regulation. Otherwise, they can face penalties or even be rejected for funding.
In business sectors, compliance regulations require businesses to use content filtering.
These policies typically apply to the healthcare sector. The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Privacy Act (HIPAA) covers this sector. This regulation mandates healthcare organizations to impose content filters to protect patients’ data.
This is the HIPAA privacy rule according to the CDC:
The Privacy Rule standards address the use and disclosure of individuals’ health information (known as protected health information or PHI) by entities subject to the Privacy Rule. These individuals and organizations are called “covered entities.”
Vulnerable business platforms are susceptible to over 30,000 websites being hacked daily. Today, content filtering systems prevent data breaches.
Despite the benefits and regulations, content filtering remains controversial that revolve around the following:
- Content filtering can block valuable sources
- Content filters are only applicable in school settings
- Students and employees usually find ways around these filters
With content filtering, you can allow access to valuable content and block harmful ones. It's an efficient tool to solve issues regarding proper web usage.
Moreover, content filtering lets you manage what sites and content you can allow and block. It's not the perfect solution since these filters have limitations and downsides. However, it still supports safe, secure, and productive web browsing.
How do you avoid content filters?
You can use a VPN or proxy to avoid content filters. VPNs and proxies give you an IP address from another region or country. This new IP allows you to access restricted content and bypass content filters.
What is the disadvantage of content filtering?
One common disadvantage of content filtering is the restriction of essential websites. Some content filters are so restrictive that they block access to something you need.
How does a filter work in coding?
A filter in coding refers to a passthrough code. This code takes input and makes decisions about it. It usually changes the data or passes it to another program through a pipeline.
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