What are Content Filters?
Content filters (also known as Internet filters) are programs designed to block objectionable websites and undesired internet content. Settings on the filter ditermine what it will block. A user of a device with a filter on it will be unable to acces sites and content on the internet which are blocked by the filter.
Content filters are an important aspect of internet safety and security. They will protect a device both from malware as well as hinder users from viewing content that would be considered inappropriate. Content filters are a useful tool for parents and others to help protect internet users from undesirable and dangerous content.
Content filters for computers
If you are considering using a content filter for your computer you have many, many options. But you don't have to start from scratch; the wiki has already done a lot of the research for you. You can check out our list of content filters below. We are always adding and updating products/services to the list.
- Arm Adult Filter
- BSecure 6.1 Plus Antivirus
- BSecure Internet Filter 6.1
- Child Control 2010
- Covenant Eyes
- Cyber Sentinel
- CyberPatrol Online Protection
- CyberPatrol Parental Controls
- Dolphin Secure
- K9 Web Protection
- Kids Watch
- McGruff Browser for Kids
- McGruff SafeGuard
- Net Nanny 6.5
- Net Nanny for Mac
- Net Nanny Home Suite
- Noah's Internet
- PC Pandora
- ProCon Latte
- Safe Eyes
- Salfeld Products
- Windows Live Family Safety
For cellphones and tablets
Mobile filtering must be addressed by the functionality of individual devices.
For iOS devices, see iOS Content Filter Browsers.
For Android devices, see Android Content Filter Browsers.
For parental controls for these devices, see Parental Controls.
Content filters for an entire network
It is also possible to filter the internet for all devices connected to a network. While most network wide filtering solutions are aimed at large organizations, there are still many which are usable on a smaller home network. The primary advantage of network wide filtering is all devices that use your home internet connection can be filtered automatically and you do not need to use different filtering solutions for different operating systems or devices. For example, if your child's friend brings over a tablet and connects it to your WiFi network, it will be filtered regardless of the software or apps they have installed. One notable disadvantage to network wide content filtering is if you take a device and connect it to different network it will no longer be filtered. Network wide filtering solutions generally rely on either changing settings on your home router (e.g., OpenDNS), buying a specialized filtering appliance (e.g., iboss) or registering for a filtering service from your internet service provider.
Concerns for Parents
Content filters are essential for two reasons:
- It's easy to accidentally stumble upon pornographic or otherwise inappropriate websites. Having a good filter will prevent you and your kids from accidentally viewing objectionable content.
- Curious kids and teens may attempt to deliberately access bad websites. Having a good filter will hinder them from intentional viewing of pornography or other inappropriate material.
Of course, no filtering software is perfect. Inappropriate sites will occasionally leak through, perfectly appropriate sites may be mistakenly blocked and a clever teenager likely could find a way around a filter. However, an imperfect filter is certainly better than no filter at all.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
- Content filters by themselves will not protect your children while they are on the internet, however, installing some sort of filtering software on your computer is an important thing you can do to help keep your kids safe online—and it doesn't have to be complicated or expensive.
- There are other strategies besides filtering that can help keep your family safe on the Web. If your chosen filtering package doesn't include a monitoring component, look into installing a monitor as well. Your operating system should also come with a set of basic but free parental controls.
- Many great Internet filters are now available online. Which one is the best? This depends on the needs of your family or organization. Each filter has different strengths, weaknesses, and emphases.
How Do Filters Work?
There are three basic ideas the software operates on: blacklisting, whitelisting, and dynamic filtering.
- A blacklist is a list of entities (usually websites, URLs, email addresses, etc.) that are not allowed.
- A whitelist is a list of entities (also usually websites, URLs, email addresses, etc.) that are always allowed.
- Dynamic filtering refers to when the software decides whether certain content should be allowed or not as it is being downloaded.
Content filtering software is most effective when all three ideas are employed. Using only one approach could lead to inappropriate content being accessed. Using all three helps the filtering software be most effective. Here are some scenarios:
- Using only blacklist
- Advantage: Explicit control of which websites are not allowed
- Disadvantage: Must manually add a website when it should not be allowed; somewhat time-consuming and is unlikely to yield a exhaustive list.
- Only whitelist
- Advantage: Explicit control of which websites are allowed
- Disadvantage: Must manually add a website when it should be allowed; somewhat time-consuming and annoying.
- Dynamic filtering only
- Advantage: Able to flag and not allow inappropriate content as it is downloaded
- Disadvantage: Sometimes the filter is unable to correctly distinguish what the nature of content really is, either letting bad things through or blocking good sites.
- Blacklist, whitelist and dynamic filtering
- Advantage: Explicit control of which websites are or are not allowed, as well as flag and not allow inappropriate content as it is downloaded.
- Disadvantage: Must manually add a website when it should or should not be allowed; some content may be flagged incorrectly.
With these scenarios in mind, parents can discuss with children the family's needs for content filtering and make decisions how best to proceed. Although no solution is completely perfect, the best defense is to be prepared with multiple layers.