Why is Content Filtering So Controversial?

When it comes to content filtering across a WAN, there are critics on all sides. Just why is content filtering so controversial?

By looking at the terms that are used, one can see the level of controversy when it comes to content filtering. Terms like "censorware" and "nannyware" carry negative connotations of censorship or infringement on rights while others like “secure web gateway” bring connotations of protection and security.

Enterprises see content filtering primarily as a way to protect internal systems and data. Every day brings new malware threats that can compromise a company’s infrastructure and valuable data. The majority of these threats are inadvertently introduced by employees that open phishing emails or from inappropriate website surfing.

For institutions of higher learning and education in general, content filtering protects private data as well as blocks inappropriate content from being viewed by students.

When implemented correctly, content filtering allows schools and enterprises to control the use of bandwidth and stop low priority bandwidth hogging activities from slowing data throughput.

Although both of these examples do not engender controversy on a cursory view, the introduction of bring your own device (BYOD) to the WAN landscape of enterprises and education is where the controversy erupts. Everyone agrees that the introduction of network access to personal laptops, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices can provide more efficient and expanded work and educational opportunities for network users. Unfortunately, many on both sides of the equation see problems with overblocking and underblocking in terms of work processes and needed access.

Content Filtering: Overblocking and Underblocking

Overblocking occurs when content filters are overzealous or incorrectly adjusted, shutting users out of necessary Web access. Utilizing a filter that is overly zealous at filtering content, or one that mislabels content not intended to be censored can result in overblocking, or over-censoring. Overblocking can filter out material that should pass muster with an enterprise’s current filtering policy due to the Scunthorpe problem as just one example.

Underblocking can occur when new information is uploaded to the Internet and network filtering applications do not update quickly enough to catch them. While this is not a widespread problem impacting enterprise networks, the concern that content filters will block access to necessary Websites or materials is very real.

Another potential challenge that adds to the controversy surrounding content filtering is the concern that businesses will block content based on religious and political leanings of the owners. Once again, this is not a widespread problem or even a widespread concern, but these and other possibilities and/or fallacies surrounding less sophisticated content filtering applications certainly muddies the waters.

Likely the biggest controversy surrounding content filtering is traffic slowdowns that hamper access and work process that are crucial to the enterprise and its network users. This can result in poor conferencing abilities via video, significant VOIP challenges and other slowdowns that are caused by bandwidth bottlenecks due to poor bandwidth allocation and/or aggregate monitoring/manipulation protocols.

The reality is that today, enterprises and institutions of higher learning have highly sophisticated network monitoring and visibility tools. These tools provide unprecedented views and control of network traffic on a packet level that allows the type of management that today’s massive, virtualized, mobile and diverse networks and data centers require.

Properly implemented and utilized, these content-aware network management solutions can render controversies moot, thereby making them stories that your network managers, employees, and executives tell about that “other company.”