Keeping good Flash, blocking bad

In recent years, flash-based online games have become extremely popular. Schools have serious concerns about games' depictions of graphic violence, gore, criminal behavior and even virtual sex. Even seemingly innocent games like Neopets aren’t beyond suspicion, since their online interactive forums are also becoming popular places for pedophiles looking to find and groom young victims, according to the UK-based Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Most web filters have a ‘gaming’ category, where known sites are listed and blocked. But such methods are a long way from foolproof. Game site operators are now going to increasing lengths to hide sites and offer 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”) and by embedding their favorite flash games into legitimate looking sites.

Although many filters offer the option to block flash files altogether, this is rarely a practical fix, since over a third of all websites now use flash and schools are increasingly reliant upon a variety of flash- and video-based learning resources.

Web filtering vendor SmoothWall has attacked the problem from a different angle - by inspecting the content of flash files so they can be blocked or allowed based on what they contain. The latest version of SmoothWall’s Guardian web filter also benefits from outbound (egress) filtering, more frequent updates and a number of flexibility and scalability improvements. Existing users will get the new functionality via a feature pack download. For more information, visit www.smoothwall.net.

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