Limitations of Firewall Filters for Remote Learning

Many districts have relied on their firewall for content filtering and reporting. While firewalls have never provided the granularity of a purpose-built web filter, they’ve been sufficient for some schools…until now. School closures, take-home devices, and remote learning all expose the limitations of firewall filters for protecting students.

1. Firewall filters are designed for network traffic
Firewalls are designed to monitor and control network traffic, acting as a barrier between the school network and the outside world. Now that school devices are at home, the traffic that needs to be filtered is no longer on the school network.

2. Firewall filters aren’t purpose-built for mobility
As schools added mobile devices and started take-home programs over the last few years, some firewall filters built agents to filter those devices. But because firewalls were never built for mobility, the features and functionality of any mobile filtering are limited, just when schools need it to be robust.

3. Firewall filtering from off-site devices can cause bottlenecks
Mobile filtering agents added to firewall filter solutions typically route traffic back to the school network and through the firewall. With learning moving online and all traffic coming from off the school network, this causes bottlenecks and slow downs — especially with the increase in streaming content and video conferencing.

4. User identification is insufficient with firewall filters
On the network, firewall filters often relies on NAC integrations for user identification. Off the network, it falls back to web authentication, where students log in and their traffic is associated with the home IP. In addition to being clumsy (especially for younger students), this creates significant challenges with multiple students in one home. Because they’re all on the same home IP, all traffic will be associated with the first student to log in making both policies and reports inaccurate.

5. Firewall filters require on-site maintenance and upgrades
Through Coronavirus closures, most school IT departments are also working from home, at least part of the time. Hardware on your network, such as a firewall filter, will require technicians to go on site for any maintenance or upgrades.

A better option than a firewall filter? A web filter built for mobility.

Relay is a cloud-based filter built to protect students on any device, anywhere. This means:

  • Relay filters traffic just as well when devices are at home as when they’re at school
  • Relay Filter has advanced policies and controls that work anywhere (and can be accessed by administrators from anywhere)
  • Relay Filter sends traffic to the cloud, not your school network, so there are no bottlenecks
  • Relay Filter was built around the idea of filtering mobile devices and users, it integrates with your user directories or SIS, and it doesn’t rely on IPs so doesn’t have any challenges with multiple students at one home
  • Relay Filter doesn’t require hardware on your network; we take care of all maintenance and scalability for the cloud infrastructure
  • Relay offers granular policies and advanced reporting (including Parent Reports); and provides the greatest protection for every OS

For years, 1:1 programs and take-home devices have exposed the limitations of firewall filters for protecting students on mobile devices. Those limitations can’t be ignored with global school closures and millions of students around the world learning off the school network.

Kansas City Public Schools Shifted from a Firewall Filter to Relay Filter Last Year
“We looked at a lot of other products. However, Relay was the only one that met all our needs in one product. Relay offers the best multi-platform solutions to meet our needs to filter content, monitor use, analyze usage data for staff and students, and manage which apps and sites our students can use on- or off-campus.”
— Joe Phillips, Director of Technology for Kansas City Public Schools

And when schools re-open and traditional classes begin? Relay Filter seamlessly filters and protects anytime, anywhere. It is the solution schools need to protect students wherever they learn – at school or at home.

It’s easy to switch from your firewall filter to Relay:
Learn more about Relay Filter
Read the Guide to Cloud Filtering
Request a free evaluation

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