What is Protex?
In an ideal world, our children would be able to surf the Internet without fear of discovering inappropriate material, being preyed upon by paedophiles, ripped off by con artists or ‘radicalised' by political extremists. A second best situation would be that if they did come across some of the web's more questionable bits of content they would deal with the occurrence by reporting the incident or moving on to a more appropriate and educational site. Sadly that is not the way of the world and it is indeed a brave (or foolhardy?) school or academy head who is so confident in their students' e-safety education that they sanction switching off web-filtering and monitoring software.
The practise of filtering Internet access in educational institutions seems likely be a fact of life for the foreseeable future so it's vitally important that the correct system is chosen.
Academies and schools have many users with different web access requirements which a filtering system must cater for. First and foremost the filter must protect the youngest and most vulnerable students yet at the same time it should not unnecessarily restrict legitimate access by older students and staff.
Protex comes with a range of ready configured 'profiles': Primary, Middle and Secondary students, Sixth form and Staff . So in a typical secondary school whilst members of staff can access YouTube videos, students cannot. An 'A' Level Ethics student would have access to sites about vivisection, abolition and other sensitive issues but younger students would be blocked.
Many filtering products rely on the URL of prohibited sites being added to a blacklist to prevent users accessing these sites. URLs which are not blacklisted pass through the filter regardless of the content. Obviously websites with inappropriate content are coming online all the time so this approach is a bit like trying to hold back the tide. While Protex does use URL lists of inappropriate content and block against that list, it also examines page content, hunting out and evaluating words and phrases from a very extensive list of suspect terms.
When deciding whether to allow a page to be shown to a user Protex first retrieves the page then scans its content for the words and phrases in its 'weighted phrases lists'. Each term has a positive (bad) or negative (good) value: the values for each of the terms found in the page are added together to give the total weight of the page's content. If this value is greater than the limit set for the profile being used the site is blocked, if not it is sent back to the user's browser. In some cases just a single occurrence of a term is enough to block the page – in others multiple terms will be required. For example , the term 'breast' may block a page on some profiles but in conjunction with 'cancer' or 'robin red' the weighting may be reduced and the site allowed.
Of course no filter is 100% effective. However good the algorithm for deciding if a particular piece of content is appropriate or not there is no substitute for human judgement. So Protex provides a user reporting facility. Every time Protex blocks web content there is an opportunity for the user to request the site to be unblocked. Every request is assessed by E2BN staff, the site checked and, if it has been blocked erroneously, it is unblocked. If the site contravenes E2BN filtering policies it remains blocked for that profile.
Should a user find a site that they believe should be blocked they can report the site at http://protex.e2bn.org/listrequest.
No two sites are the same and whilst all probably agree on the obvious no go areas (sexual imagery, extreme violence, pro-self harm sites…) even schools or academies with the same student age profile will have subtly differing views on what constitutes appropriate online content and activities. Local sensitivities may mean that a school needs a bespoke solution.
Schools that require this fine-grained control over their filtering policy can subscribe to ProtexLocal which is supplied either as a Virtual Appliance (ProtexLocalVA) or, if no suitable host hardware is available on site, schools can purchase a server from us with Protex ready to install. Both can be integrated into Active Directory and will allow Protex to be configured in line with the sites' own policies. For example, students in a particular group can be allowed to view games at break times but not within lessons, or Internet access can be restricted for individual students.
How good is Protex?
Protex is DfE approved and already provides safe and secure Internet access for over 600,000 learners and library users across the East of England.