Mid-Michigan Consortium Supplies Districts With 'Smart' Web Filtering Solution

Sometimes it doesn't make sense to wait for government regulations before taking action to do what's right for the community. On Dec. 21, 2000, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law. For some schools and libraries, this was the first time they were faced with a mandate to implement a technology protection measure that blocks or filters Internet access to material that is obscene, pornographic or harmful to minors. At Middle Michigan Network for Educational Telecommunications (MMNET), a consortium of school districts covering six counties in mid-Michigan, we didn't wait for the government to step in, and have been using filtering technology since 1992. And despite the fact that CIPA has sparked heated debates, we plan to continue Web filtering.

Internet Usage Policies

Based out of Ithaca, Mich., MMNET is essentially an ISP that offers service to school districts and other nonprofit organizations. Our mission is to provide exemplary voice, video and data services to ensure access to global information; enhance student learning; and prepare our communities for the 21st century. Currently, we provide Internet services to more than 20,000 school children. School administrators believe that they have a responsibility to monitor how children are using the Internet, and we want to offer a service that allows them to enforce their Internet usage policies.

Initially, we maintained our own list of inappropriate Web sites. Our list wasn't very comprehensive or current, but at the time we provided service only to high school students and adults, so filtering wasn't a big concern. As time went on, the adult content providers became more aggressive, setting up shop at URLs that could be accessed accidentally. About that same time, elementary schools started coming online, which raised concerns that students might see something inappropriate.

We quickly realized that effective Web filtering was too much for us to handle alone. In addition to maintaining a comprehensive and current list of Web sites to filter, we also wanted to meet the growing needs of our customers by providing them with more advanced functionality. This would allow them to customize Web filtering according to each district's Web usage policy. So, we began looking for a product that would allow us to provide our customers with a more effective Web filtering and management tool.

Customizable Tool

The most important criteria we were looking for in a filtering product was its ability to integrate easily into our existing Linux environment. We needed a product that would be reliable and able to grow with us, so we chose Secure Computing Corp.'s SmartFilter, which ultimately provided us with the best overall Web filtering solution.

With SmartFilter, we are able to use one box for our firewall and Web filtering, eliminating the need to purchase and maintain additional hardware. The caching capabilities offered by the SQUID proxy server, which is supported by SmartFilter with a plug-in, have allowed us to reduce our bandwidth requirements. Now, instead of 18 T1 lines, we only need six.

In addition, our customers want the ability to customize the filtering tool to meet their specific needs, which SmartFilter allows them to do. Secure Computing provides 30 categories in the SmartFilter control list, and each school district can determine which of those categories they will block. Each district can further customize the control list by adding or exempting URLs and categories.

School districts can define user groups and then enforce different filtering levels based on those user groups, allowing the schools to assign different filtering policies to students and school staff. Groups of users also can be assigned a filtering rule for individual categories, and users can be allowed or denied access, coached about the filtering rule or delayed when they attempt to access a URL within one of the categories.

From an administrative point of view, SmartFilter requires very little intervention on our part and has been extremely reliable. This is important to us and to our customers, because it saves on administrative costs, maintenance and downtime, allowing us to concentrate on enhancing our overall service. With the filtering technology in place, students in our district can take full advantage of Internet resources without the concern that they may inadvertently access inappropriate material. Some of our customers have also chosen to limit or block access to noneducational sites, such as chat or games, allowing them to make better use of the bandwidth that they pay for.

- Matt McMahon

Technology Director

Gratiot-Isabella RESD/MMNET

Contact Information

Secure Computing Corp.

(800) 379-4944


This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.