In this post we explore two of the most popular web filtering solutions for K12 schools: A comparison of WebTitan vs Lightspeed.
The Importance of Content Filtering for Schools
According to the American College of Pediatricians, “Consumption of pornography is associated with many negative emotional, psychological, and physical health outcomes. These include increased rates of depression, anxiety, acting out and violent behavior, younger age of sexual debut, sexual promiscuity, increased risk of teen pregnancy, and a distorted view of relationships between men and women.” The use of pornography by minors is especially damaging, “Pornography use by adolescents and young adults often leads to a distorted view of sexuality and its role in fostering healthy personal relationships.”
To address concerns about the viewing of pornography by minors, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was enacted by congress in 2000. CIPA requires K12 schools to implement some form of content control to ensure obscene images and images of child abuse cannot be accessed by students over their wired and wireless networks. While compliance is not mandatory, it is a necessity if schools wish to obtain discounts for Internet access or internal connections through the E-rate program.
CIPA requires schools (and libraries) to introduce an Internet safety policy covering the accessing of inappropriate Internet content by minors and implement measures to restrict minors’ access to obscene images. This is usually achieved with a web filtering solution.
While there are many web filtering solutions on the market that allow IT teams to carefully control what can and can’t be accessed by students, in this post we will explore two of the leading web filtering solutions for K12 Schools: WebTitan vs Lightspeed.
WebTitan Vs Lightspeed: Content Filtering for K12 Schools
WebTitan can be deployed as a virtual appliance as an on-premises solution or as a cloud-based web filter (WebTitan Cloud). Lightspeed offers web filtering using a hardware appliance: LightspeedRocket as well as a cloud-based solution. In this post we will compare the on-premises solution provided by TitanHQ and the Lightspeed appliance – LightspeedRocket.
Appliance Vs Virtual Appliance
Lightspeed used to provide a software solution for web filtering, although now the firm uses a hardware based filter – An appliance that sites in an on-premises data center. WebTitan is supplied as a virtual appliance. It performs the same function, but is software based, running as a complete virtual appliance or as an ISO, suitable for use on VMware or any compatible hypervisor.
This gives WebTitan an advantage. The Lightspeed option requires the purchase of an appliance. Not only does that mean a cost disadvantage, the appliance has a dual power supply and needs two UPS sockets, places an increased demand on the cooling system, and takes up space in the data center. WebTitan can be installed within the existing infrastructure without the need to purchase any additional hardware.
Impact on Network Traffic
One potential issue, which is not insurmountable, is the impact a hardware device can have on network traffic. With WebTitan, only web traffic passes through the system. However, with the Lightspeed appliance, since it is an inline device that sits between the switch and the firewall, it can affect other types of traffic other than web traffic. That means it must be configured to allow traffic from network devices and software applications, which complicates installation.
Both solutions provide a dashboard that allows the solution to be configured and maintained and reports to be generated. The dashboards of both systems provide administrators with all the information they need, although WebTitan does make administration easier. WebTitan offers graphical representations of information, which makes it easier for administrators to quickly view the most important information such as web traffic, resource usage, and content usage information. This makes the WebTitan content filter easier to read.
The reporting options highlight an important difference between both systems. Lightspeed is first and foremost a solution that allows K12 Schools to block access to certain types of web content. WebTitan offers this as well and provides the same content control options, although the solution has a strong focus on security.
WebTitan has 55 pre-defined reports, with many reports focused on security such as malware infections of clients, domains, and users; viruses that have been blocked; viruses by IP source; and phishing sites by domain. WebTitan also provides other useful reports, such as the most blocked users. CIPA does not call for Internet activity to be tracked, but this is a useful report to highlight which individuals are engaging in risky behaviors or are often attempting to access inappropriate content. These reporting options are not provided by Lightspeed.
Antivirus and Antimalware Protections
The Lightspeed web filter does not include antivirus and antimalware protection, with those controls required to come from other solutions implemented by IT security teams. WebTitan serves as an additional layer of protection to improve security posture. This is important as educational institutions are often targeted by cybercriminals. WebTitan serves as an antivirus filter that can block the downloading of malware and ransomware. The solution uses dual AV engines from Bitdefender and ClamAV with updates able to be set automatically.
For K12 schools looking to comply with CIPA the most important feature is content filtering. Naturally, these web filtering solutions for K12 schools perform well in this area. Both have highly granular content filtering options to prevent the overblocking of website content – something which many web filtering solutions are criticized for.
Both solutions allow the use of blacklists and the blacklisting of certain URL keywords. Both systems allow the decryption of encrypted traffic – something that is essential with more sites moving over to SSL and for filtering content on YouTube and Google.
WebTitan has an additional feature which is particularly useful – content scoring – which improves the effectiveness of the filter and reduces overblocking. Web content is assigned a score based on the inclusion of specific keywords and keyword phrases based on the offensiveness of the word or phrase. One example of where this is particularly beneficial is preventing sex education content from being blocked, while ensuring adult content is.
WebTitan Vs Lightspeed: Features
Lightspeed offers a feature that is particularly beneficial for K12 schools that WebTitan lacks – The ability to set up web zones. This means a teacher can whitelist certain sites that are required for a particular exercise or test and students will only be able to access those specific sites. An invitation is sent to each student and once that invitation is accepted, the students will only be able to access the whitelisted sites.
WebTitan includes the ability to block automatic updates from Microsoft. Microsoft updates can place a strain on bandwidth availability at difficult times and can affect the user desktop experience.
WebTitan also makes it easier for users to find out more about specific features by including help functions next to each feature. With a click of the mouse, the user can find out what each feature means, improving usability of the system.
Verdict on WebTitan Vs Lightspeed
When it comes to WebTitan Vs Lightspeed for K12 schools, in our opinion WebTitan is superior in terms of usability, ease of installation, protection from web-based threats, and has more extensive features. That said, both WebTitan and Lightspeed are high quality web filtering solutions for K12 schools and both should certainly be on your shortlist.
WebTitan is available on a free trail, which makes the solution easy to implement and test before licenses to use the solution are purchased. Our advice is to try before you buy and find out firsthand how the solution performs.