What Is Content Filtering? Definition, Types, and Best Practices

Last updated on April 17th, 2022 at 09:11 pm

Content filtering refers to the screening and removal of access to emails or web pages that aren’t suitable. Content filtering systems work by defining content patterns and incorporating text strings or images.

If the patterns match and the software deems the content offensive, it blocks or flags it for removal.

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What Is Content Filtering?

Content filtering refers to the screening and blocking of access to websites that are considered to be undesirable.

Content filtering systems work by defining patterns for the content, which include text strings and images. If the patterns match, the software declares the content as objectionable and then blocks or flags it for removal.

Content filtering on the web, commonly referred to as filtering content, refers to a collection of tools used to control and block access to web content that is insensitive, dangerous, offensive, or harmful. Companies make use of content filtering via firewalls.

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Although it isn’t common, homeowners are also using content filtering software. Home filters for content safeguard children from inappropriate content in the corporate world, while the home environment employs this method to restrict access to specific kinds of content.

How Content Filtering Works

content filtering system

Many of the most popular online firewalls include content filters as an inbuilt feature either in software or hardware. The benefit of content filtering is security and corporate policies regarding using information systems within the corporate.

For example, the filters prevent dangerous websites (cyber security) and unsuitable social media sites (as per the company’s policy).

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Nowadays, companies seek to create safe working environments with minimal interruptions. Content filters play a crucial part in achieving this aim.

In the workplace, unacceptable or illegal content shouldn’t be available since it could result in an issue for the company and could compromise the well-being of employees or the integrity of the system.

For instance, pornographic material can easily result in sexual harassment and an unpleasant or hostile work environment. Additionally, sites that contain spam pose a greater chance of sending malware to computers at work.

Other examples of harmful sites include obscene and violent material that could harm the safety of employees and the company’s image, as well as social networks that can hinder the efficiency and productivity of employees.

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Content filtering software provides an explicit definition of corporate policy regarding these issues by preventing access to harmful websites at the workplace. It helps to demonstrate the indifference of the company to objectionable, unlawful or inappropriate content.

Channels for content filtering 

The effectiveness of content filtering could be increased by using such solutions across different channels, such as:

Email: Today, and particularly in remote working environments, email is the top way of communicating for most businesses. Email is also attacked by hackers and are among the most vulnerable mediums for malware and other harmful content.

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Content filters enhance the security of emails by implementing a various methods. They scan the contents within the emails. Suppose specific terms, phrases or attachment types or other information is found.

In that case, they can put the message in the recipient’s junk folder or even mark it as undeliverable to be delivered’ to bounce back the email.

Internet: The internet is the vitality of all businesses, and content filtering services can help to keep the company’s resources protected by filtering the web’s traffic according to a set of established guidelines.

Files for programs: Many employees do not have the technically proficient. Sometimes, employees attempt to download and run harmful programs. Content filtering is used to stop the program’s files before they harm the user’s system or damage the company’s network.

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The purpose of implementing content filters is to prevent access to material that might be considered unpalatable. These restrictions can be applied at all different levels, from a single user who blocks spam to the authorities implementing rules across the country.

Social and ethical concerns aside, the range that content filters can be massive, and the solutions could help in the direction of solid personal, organizational security for the nation and individual.

Types of Content Filtration

The internet, also known as the “information superhighway”, can be an enormous boon to knowledge transfer. However, it hasn’t been a completely secure platform to distribute content.

The average user of the internet is always vulnerable to malware, lousy information and other dangerous elements. So, content filters must be utilized to safeguard users and the systems that are browsing the web.

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Content filters assist administrators of systems, employers, government agencies, individuals to protect themselves and their family members from unwelcome content.

Because of the variety of software, you can find a variety of content filters, and the majority of them can be tailored to meet the specific needs of particular users.

types of content filteration

Server-side filtration

Server-side content filters control the web traffic of every user on a particular network. The administrator or provider can install these filters in a central location that connects to all computers in the network.

These solutions for filtering content are helpful to keeping track of the internet’s usage within large corporations.

Because these solutions run on servers, they permit administrators to design a single set of rules to filter content and then implement it across all of the people of the network.

Contrary to ISP-based filters, complete control is kept by the business, thus making the customization process dynamic and accessible.

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The ability to assign different access levels to various classes of users is a breeze with server-side content filters. Many service providers provide pre-built content filters that need only minor modifications at the organization level.

Client-side filtration

A content filter for the client can be installed onto the user’s computer. However, the user can not alter or remove the application. This limitation is usually accomplished by protecting the application’s password or restricting the user system’s abilities via administrator rights.

By limiting the functions of the client-side filter, the administrator can be confident that the user will not circumvent its limitations. Client-side filters can be used at home.

They also work well in workplaces that require filtering for specific computers. But, it can be tedious (or in some instances nearly in some cases, impossible) to manage content filters for clients as the size of an organization expands.

ISP-level filtration

Internet service providers (ISP) can restrict internet traffic according to rules set by an organization or a government to filter content to a greater extent. If the ISP implements filtering of content, the restrictions will affect all users.

The ISP can block inappropriate web traffic, as well as keep track of chat or mails. Like other content filters, ISPs can also dynamically stop or remove services as the guidelines change.

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Based on the service provider’s policies, ISPs can allow clients to choose the kinds of content that will be restricted to specific user groups.

But, it is to be remembered that the transfer of content filtering to an ISP eliminates direct control and can speed up the modification process if modifications are needed.

Search engine filtering

Remote work is becoming commonplace during the COVID-19 epidemic. Solutions like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 for Business allow businesses to manage user activity without requiring a VPN or client-side software. 

Through the control of the internet usage of employees, employers can also implement additional security features remotely.

If these filters are enabled are turned on, search engines only display results conforming to the company’s policy. Furthermore, any content that is not explicitly banned by the company but is deemed harmful to the provider of the solution could be blocked.

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But it’s important to note that filtering search engines are not the same thing as URL filtering.

While there could be some overlap between the two employees who have the address of a site that isn’t explicitly blocked might still be in a position to access it without using the search engine.

On the domestic level, some search engines like Kiddle and Wacky Safe offer filters that are targeted towards children. The results of these sites have been pre-filtered to make sure they are suitable for children.

These filters can be helpful because they permit children and their parents to surf the web with no supervision and ensure that they are not exposed to websites that have been identified to have unsafe or indecent content.

Top 8 Best Practices for Content Filtering 

In the past two years, online technology has been playing a more vital role in the daily business operations of companies across the globe.

It was a trend that reached its peak in 2020 when the COVID-19 virus began, which forced people to work at home. Jobs previously considered impossible to be done remotely changed to online work in all its entirety.

With toddlers and preschoolers attending classes and submitting their homework online and whole companies moving to work from home’ approach, a requirement for content filters has never been greater.

As companies increasingly embrace digital transformation strategies, online technology has been viewed as essential to expanding business operations in competitive and dynamic markets.

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It is undisputed that the internet enhances the efficiency of organizations by reducing costs, improving efficiency, and speed to levels that have not been before.

But some companies, particularly those compelled by the spread of the disease, might view remotely-based work as a necessity problem since harmful or distracting content can compromise the quality of deliverables and affect productivity and security.

Furthermore, since most corporations and smaller enterprises are in remote locations, the internet has seen many employees leaving their comfort zones since the majority of businesses have a workforce that includes people of different generations.

This results in entirely different workplace dynamics as well as online behavior and levels of technology awareness. It means that employees can access various types of non-work-related content in multiple ways, whether voluntarily or not, making content filtering essential.

Furthermore, industries and organizations that deal with sensitive data such as healthcare need a substantial degree of control over how information is secured, stored, and used. It is most difficult to implement in remote settings. Another instance is that content filtering tools could be helpful.

Through content filters, companies across industries, size segments, and geographical regions can efficiently control the usage online by their employees and safeguard the workplace environment, whether it’s remote or inside the office.

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Content filters can also boost productivity, customize corporate control over every employee subclass, and keep the business and its employees secure in a constantly changing world of online communication.

Here are the top eight methods for filtering content

Remote deployment

The world might have been at a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, most businesses continue to operate on the model of work from home.

Many companies have shifted to remote working before they could install content filters on their employees’ computers. In these situations, the use of small filters for content has seen its usage grow dramatically in the wake of the worldwide lock down.

Three major trends in the remote deployment of content filters are:

  • Instruction for clients (guiding employees on how to install content filters themselves).

  • Remote takeover (IT employees assuming the remote control of employee systems to configure content filters). 

  • Moving to different service providers (moving to platforms with integrated filters for content, like Google Workspace)

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Internal Communication

Internal communication might have had some importance before COVID-19; however, since work-from-homes and lock downs became an aspect of our lives, its volume has increased. Email or virtual conferences have taken over traditional processes like HR and IT departments quickly adjust to the new norm.

However, this has led to untrustworthy individuals seeking to take over internal communications for malicious reasons, and that’s where the content filtering options come in.

As hackers continue to attempt to impersonate HR and IT employees to penetrate offices and steal sensitive information, Content filters can stop these attacks and ensure the system’s security is not compromised.

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Liberal policies for work

While the pandemic is experiencing a slight decline globally, businesses that have not thought of allowing their employees to take work at home have contemplated a change to a permanent remote working model.

When working at home, it is almost impossible to track each second an employee spends working, which has resulted in a variety of businesses adopting new, more flexible working policies that concentrate on output rather than the process.

It is what has resulted in many employees not adhering to the same standard of security hygiene that was standard before COVID-19.

Systems are not secured and left unsupervised, companies’ laptops are loaned to family and friends of relatives for personal use, and sensitive information is posted on the screen for anyone to see when they pass by.

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It also can severely impact the security and protection of your company’s systems and databases. It is a dire possibility that is averted by the use of modern filtering of content that stops users (and their proxy servers) from intentionally or accidentally damaging the company’s assets.

It is accomplished by using a set of filters that prevent access to adult-oriented content, including weapons, drug-related information intolerance, trafficking pirates, and harmful content globally.

As more flexibility is the norm and institutions are required to adopt filtering methods to protect the system’s integrity without affecting productivity.

Let’s take a look at an example.

A financial institution is part of an administrative network that is the segmented department that has access to sensitive customer data.

So it requires more restriction may need two standards of content filtering – one for those with an access point to the sensitive data and an alternative for people who don’t.

It is important to note that blocking only known risks can be fatal because the vast web and ever-changing threats are just one click away. In contrast, blocking anything unidentified is bound to hinder access to the resource crucial to the successful completion of a project.

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In the case of a business with a content filtering solution, it is required to be intelligent and dynamic so that it can decide whether or not to allow access to an online resource based on a variety of aspects (ideally at a real-time pace).

In this scenario, the business management must carefully review the options for content filtering to find the perfect equilibrium between security and efficiency.

Filters based on categories

This new content filtering option of 2021 features categories-based filtering, which gives companies the ability to limit certain types of websites for gambling, entertainment, religion and, for adults, online shopping, banking and many more, for particular user groups. 

There is no need for content filters that contain a long list of blocked content that allows all other content.

These solutions provide a flexible approach to policy implementation and highly effective control of how employees access the internet.

With these tools, IT departments do not need to create an inventory of local websites by hand or use outdated methods for filtering content. Instead, they can focus on developing accessibility policies that are safe and permissive.

They can also focus on the blocking of malware as well as other harmful content without hindering productivity.

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With the help of specific filtering tools based on categories, specialists responsible for regulating and managing internet usage within their organizations can reap several benefits that include removing the need to be influenced by analysts in the maintenance of access lists.

This technology also helps thwart attempts to sabotage those with vested interests that attempt to violate the company’s guidelines.

Access to schedules

Employers are aware that when their employees work remotely, they will require interruption after a set time of working continuously. Content filters that are schedule-oriented can reduce the rigours of cyber security policies.

They allow users to use daily usage limits for non-work-related reasons and specific times when blocked websites can be freely accessed.

Regardless of sector or rank, the majority of companies prohibit access to social media on corporate networks.

But, as remote working has become more commonplace, certain companies are now implementing scheduled content filters that permit users to access social media to be accessed by employees only at certain intervals or for a specific number of minutes each day.

This type of solution allows businesses to establish stricter rules without degrading morale or reducing efficiency levels.

Network administrators of businesses that require bandwidth must be aware that specific entertainment sites, like YouTube, can consume processing power and slow up the network’s speed.

In these instances, it is recommended to prioritize access for business users or setting guidelines for usage could be beneficial.

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URL filtering

URL filtering can be described as a type of content filtering which has witnessed an increase by 2021. With URL filtering software, companies can safeguard themselves from internet-based dangers and manage and monitor employees’ online activities very quickly. 

URL filtering operates by establishing “allow rules” that integrate into conjunction with business applications.

An administrator can review the various types of URLs and block those classified as harmful).

For businesses that can afford large-scale content filtering but require a solution for workers who work remotely, URL filtering can be an easy way to reduce the risk of being exposed to online threats without restricting access for employees to the necessary content.

Microscopic control

Sometimes employees or teams may require access to information that is wholly restricted to the whole organization. For example, an employee or digital marketing manager might wish to track the performance of a brand’s online presence using an unrelated account.

Still, the company doesn’t allow social media accounts to be used through the corporate network in any circumstance due to the sector, or the business operates within.

On the one hand, it is a legitimate requirement for business; however, on the other hand, cyber security and compliance with regulations are essential.

For organizations that employ traditional filters for content, this problem is likely to be solved by removing the executive from the filters altogether. However, this opens up a new threat, particularly in the age of working at home.

So, what’s the solution? Content filters that provide microscopically-controlled control of each employee, team and department without compromising cyber security.

In setting the access to expire in the specified time, like the day, week or month, exceptions to the company policy may be made on a case-by-case basis, without exposing the company to the dangers resulting from removing the content filtering for certain employees completely.

Operational reports

In the coming days, we will see many companies continue to push or force the employees to work remotely. However, they are likely to introduce content filters to create the safety of employees and a productive workplace.

But, managers must know how effective their filters are. In addition, IT managers need to know which content employees regularly use to modify company policies with any new limitations or restrictions.

Content filters are rolling out sophisticated automated reporting systems that provide visual and textual information to satisfy clients’ needs, allowing companies to efficiently keep track of the activities of their employees online at every level: individuals, departments, teams, and the entire organization.

The reports can be created upon demand and sent out at intervals that are set. The majority of content filtering software solutions provide real-time data that can be viewed by IT, management, and HR personnel.

Final Thought

In the post-COVID-19 age, only the most agile firms will succeed. Writing policies has been a subject of experimentation, as employees are working from home, and their human nature compels employees to evade established rules for accessing online content in the course of working hours.

Implementing a good policy is just half the battle. Most organizations, especially smaller ones, fail to adhere to strict enforcement, making their systems vulnerable to risks and not taking action to stop productivity leakage.

Content filters help create an environment that promotes accountability, transparency, and efficiency without taking punitive measures by a supervisory human.

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