multi-language school web filtering

The Importance of Web Filtering Other Languages

Non-English Filtering

There are nearly 5 million English language learners in U.S. public schools, according to the most recent available data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Because of this, schools with ESL students must have a filter capable of handling different languages.

Although English will be the majority of content used for education purposes, it is common for searches for illicit material to start in a student’s native language, often because filters pay less attention to this.

For example, ‘el face’ is how a Spanish-speaking student might try to access the Spanish version of Facebook. This gets past most web filters, and is a great way to make new friends!

These ad-hoc language lessons are going on in schools across the country.

Domain names are ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), which is a character encoding standard for electronic communication. ASCII gave a choice of 128 characters, of which the first 30 were not printable, and capitals and lower-case count as one each. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t leave room for accented characters like , or Cyrillic (“Russian”) characters.

We now have Unicode – a unifying character set that currently offers 137,000 characters. The most common representation, UTF-8, is used in over 90% of websites, however, it is very new to DNS.

What does this mean for web filtering?

Even though DNS queries still do not support UTF-8 or Unicode, browsers – which we update much more often – have taken on the role. International domains are now translated by the browser. Bücher.de is an example of an International Domain Name (IDN). It’s a German bookstore, as the domain top-level domain name, .de, is used for German-language websites. It’s not visible in a DNS lookup – and some web filters fail here too. The browser, however, will translate it to the ASCII representation xn-- bcher-kva.de – which redirects to www.buecher.de.

It’s important to check two things when considering a quality web filter.

  1. How well does your web filter categorize search terms in the languages used by your students?
  2. Can it filter based on international domain names?
    It is common for searches for illicit material to start in a student’s native language, often because filters pay less attention to this.

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