SmoothWall Upgrade Filters Flash
- By Dian Schaffhauser
SmoothWall has added filtering of Flash-based games into a Guardian Web Filter feature pack that it's making available to users of its Web filter product. The feature pack includes improvements in Web filtering, instant messaging, and virtual private network (VPN) functionality.
The new Flash filter monitors for the content of Flash files, allowing administrators to block online games and other Flash objects. The company said the feature pack also prevents security exploits hiding in malformed SWF files and detects the use of video players.
According to the company, most Web filters have a "gaming" category, where known sites are listed and blocked. To counter those blocks, some game site operators are figuring out methods for hiding their sites and offering users more "discreet" ways to play. Determined gamers have learned how to outsmart school filters with less obvious searches (such as searching for just "swf") or by embedding Flash games into legitimate-looking sites.
"I'm very relieved that SmoothWall is going to have Flash-filtering capabilities; they were reading my mind!" said Rachel Dombrowski, director of technology at Governor Mifflin School District in Shillington, PA. "Our students are very good at finding Flash game Web sites. It is increasingly difficult to monitor if we don't have our 'helpers' out there watching. Our teachers and my tech team are phenomenal about finding the sites to block; however, it is nice to know that SmoothWall is truly on the same page as its users."
SmoothWall's program inspects the content of Flash files so they can be blocked or allowed based on what they contain. "In recognition of the filtering challenges online games pose, we have extended our Dynamic Content Analysis technology to encompass Flash files, so we can rapidly scan their content and accurately block or allow them in exactly the same way," said Product Manager Tom Newton. "We can also identify a number of different Flash applications (including malformed Flash files) and we hope to include more categories as the technology matures."
The feature pack also blocks and reports on uploads to the Web using a keyword alert system. This can be used to prevent posting to blogs, forums, Twitter, and other social networking sites.
The company said with the feature pack Guardian will be set to check for updates every hour and will download updates to block lists and other security settings on first boot. New controls on the user interface allow rooms to be added more easily for setting policies by room. Also, room-based blocking can also now be controlled locally (and delegated) via the user portal.
In the area of instant messaging, the feature pack has added "blind logging," a privacy feature that allows administrators to log the volume, but not the actual content of messages on a per user basis.
The company said it has improved support for secure socket layer virtual private networks in larger enterprises by adding a new OpenVPN client with custom up-down scripts.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.