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DNS Filtering in Schools

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DNS Filtering in Schools

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools experienced significant cyber-attacks during 2020 and 2021; these attacks included phishing, DDoS, and ransomware. Lost learning time ranged from 3 days to 3 weeks, with recovery taking 2 to 9 months. Financial costs ranged from $50,000 to $1 million. Many of these attacks originated via phishing emails and the associated malicious websites used to infect devices and steal login credentials.

Blocking, filtering, and monitoring online content is mandated by the CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) regulation of 2000 if an educational institution receives E-rate funding for Internet access. CIPA requirements can be enforced using DNS filtering solutions for schools that are used to block malicious websites and filter harmful and inappropriate content. More than ever, schools need to use DNS filtering to keep their institution and students safe.


Why do Schools Need Content Filtering?

A DNS or web content filter provides the protection needed to stop cyberattacks and inappropriate content from interfering with the education of students. DNS filters protect students, staff, data, and general educational resources from malicious attacks. They also ensure that students do not view inappropriate or harmful content.

Malicious Cyber-Attack Prevention

Schools and other educational establishments have been at the sights of cybercriminals for many years. However, some of the most damaging cyberattacks have occurred in recent years. In September 2022, the FBI published a joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) on the hacking group Vice Society as part of its #StopRansomware initiative. The notice states that:

"K-12 institutions may be seen as particularly lucrative targets due to the amount of sensitive student data accessible through school systems or their managed service providers."

The group uses many tactics to infect devices, including incorporating phishing emails that can lead a victim to an infected website. Once a student or staff member enters the site, their device may be compromised, or login credentials and other data stolen to infect the educational establishment with ransomware or other malware.

Schools are also increasingly seen as a pool of identifying and sensitive data that cybercriminals can use. Research has shown that U.S. educational establishments have leaked 28.5 million data records since 2005. The U.K. also has a problem with data breaches in the education sector, which is the second hardest hit by data breaches in 2021.

With the focus on educational data and the variety of tactics used to gain unauthorized access to these data, educational devices, and networks, closing off routes to infection via infected websites is crucial.

Harmful and Inappropriate Content

Malicious cyberattacks that take advantage of web content are not the only way DNS filtering helps schools. A DNS filtering solution can also help prevent students from accessing harmful or inappropriate content. Take cyberbullying, for example. In the USA, as of 2020, cyberbullying was at an all-time high, with 36.5% of students affected. DNS filters can be part of a holistic approach to stop bullying by preventing students from accessing sites known to harbor bullies, such as social media sites. In addition, if the student uses a school-issued device, DNS filter policies can be configured to prevent access to these sites, even at home.

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How DNS Filtering works

A DNS or Domain Name System is the foundation stone used to match a website domain name to an I.P. address, making the delivery of web content to a browser seamless. A DNS filter works with the process used to match a URL to an I.P. address. The primary method DNS filtering solutions use to block access to a malicious or inappropriate website is to block access based on a ''blocklist'' of URLs. Any student that attempts to navigate to a blocked I.P. address will be prevented from doing so. DNS filtering works on a granular and per-device basis, which is ideal for applying  filtering policies to education sector Chromebook users.

Some advanced DNS Filtering solutions, such as WebTitan, use sophisticated AI-driven engines to make use of data from hundreds of millions of end-users as the source to generate a "threat corpora." This vast data set helps to train human-supervised Machine Learning algorithms that actively update lists of dangerous URLs, including emerging URLs, that are not part of known phishing blocklists. AI-driven DNS filters can quickly react to the changing cybersecurity landscape to block malicious content in real time.   


Features of DNS Filters

The main features of a DNS filtering solution are:

  • Block or filter internet access using blocklists. Some advanced systems like WebTitan enhance this capability using AI-driven URL filters.
  • Monitor online activity to provide a school with data on student internet usage patterns.
  • Block pornography and obscene content. WebTitan provides Google integration that enforces safe search, allowing you to filter out adult content in search results.
  • Help minimize cyberbullying by preventing access to specific social sites - if a school-owned device is taken home, a BYOD policy will follow the device.
  • Prevents phishing attacks by blocking malicious content at the source.
  • Stops mistyped URLs (typosquatting/URL hijacking). Cybercriminals exploit common typos so that if a student mistypes a URL, the student will land on a phishing website.

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Features of WebTitan DNS Filtering solution

WebTitan is an advanced, AI-driven DNS filter with sophisticated extended features that include easy deployment and configuration. WebTitan receives consistently high client reviews: G2 Reviewers gave WebTitan a "High Performer" for Winter 2023.

The comprehensive, flexible, and powerful features offered by WebTitan are why WebTitan received a "Best-Of Web Security" award from Expert Insights. The researchers at Expert Insights stated that:

"WebTitan is a particularly strong solution for education environments, allowing admins to configure policies to protect students and ensure that educational compliance standards are met."


Some of the Key Features of WebTitan

Schools need sophisticated capability from a DNS Filtering solution alongside value for money and ease of deployment. Some of the key reasons why WebTitan is well-suited to an education environment are:

  • Real-time updated response to malicious content using a URL Classification database augmented with an AI-driven threat database used by over 650 million end users.
  • Out-of-school protection (24/7 network protection) for BYOD policies.
  • Low Management Overhead as School / Campus IT staff can centrally manage WebTitan through a centralized cloud-based management console.
  • Excellent reporting capabilities
  • Scalable to accommodate changing student and staff numbers and patterns of work.
  • Solutions that fit the smallest school to the largest school district.
  • Direct integration into Google to stop searches for inappropriate content.
  • Fantastic customer support
  • Tried and tested and used daily by 100s of schools


To see how WebTitan can help protect your school, staff, and students, ask one of our specialists for a free trial. WebTitan only takes minutes to activate and configure, enabling you to control Internet access almost immediately with minimum disruption.

Discover how WebTitan Content filter can protect school students and staff. Book a free demo.

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