Now you can install Securly from a web browser

securly, web, network, self-serve, schools, web filter

We’re not only the leading cloud-based provider of Internet security for K-12 schools, but also the industry’s first self-servable web filter.  “With our self-serve update, Securly is realizing its long-held vision of giving IT Admins a product that can be set up in minutes,” says Paul Katcher, UI developer at Securly.

Since the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, web filtering has been required for schools that seek e-rate funding. Customarily, the industry has been heavily dominated by appliance hardware players.  Their products need to be shipped, painstakingly setup and often end up as bandwidth bottlenecks on K-12 networks that are increasingly turning to bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming media.

By contrast, we have been cloud-based from day one. With no need for a hardware appliance, customers can deploy Securly with a few simple network configuration changes and benefit from functionality such as granular auditing and policies that they are familiar with. In doing so, they are assisted by our award winning support team based in Charlotte.

Setup can be independently completed through a web browser session without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, Securly eliminates the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

We hope self-serve will save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush.  For more information, contact support@securly.com.

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Introducing “Dr.House” – Our New Debug Tool to Automate Network Troubleshooting

tool, web filter, network, debugThe back-to-school rush is fast approaching, and we have just the tool to ease IT admins and school administrators back into the swing of things…

Meet Dr. House, our new tool that allows customers to certify that their networks are up and running correctly. Dr. House launches a series of automated checks meant to detect the most common network misconfigurations. It performs a variety of tests including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Checks for the presence of a caching server that could be impending filtering.
  • Makes sure that there are no rogue DNS servers without securly DNS configured.
  • Verifies that the Securly certificate is installed.
  • Confirms that all outbound IPs are registered.
  • Ensures that critical Securly services are reachable from the network.

 

Securly was founded on the premise of a quick deployment – the antithesis to the customary web filter setup experience. While other web filtering products require a physical appliance (that still needs to be shipped and laboriously setup), we have been cloud-based from the start.

In the weeks ahead, we will also become the industry’s first self-servable web filter; setup can be completed through a web browser session. Our own Jayesh Agrawal, a software engineer who was instrumental in implementing this tool, says, “The release of Dr. House is a huge leap forward in automating network misconfiguration detection. We hope that this tool will save customers time and frustration while easing the deployment experience.

For more information, contact support@securly.com.

 

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Can Social Media Save Kids’ Lives?

The following is taken from our new whitepaper Can social media save kids’ lives?. We analyzed over a half million social media posts from over 300 school districts in 2016 to amass the data included in this paper.

social media, cyberbullying, school, suicide, parent

The majority of research centered around cyberbullying & teen emotional distress occurs after the fact, relying on student anecdotes and surveys.  By contrast, we are able to gather information in real time.  Our position as a network-based filter gives us unique access to such data, allowing us to find truths embedded within students’ own social media posts alone.

Our data shows that 30% of all flagged posts are a direct form of cyberbullying. From our previous study, we found that at least ⅓ of all students have been harassed online.  This is a growing problem that parents and schools cannot ignore, especially given its fatal consequences.  

Across the country, teen suicide numbers have soared.  An American Public Health Association study actually coined the term “cyberbullicide” to explain the causal relationship and correlated death toll.  Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among middle school children, and the second am
ong young adults ages 15-24.  

As social media is the prime avenue for cyberbullying, it’s reasonable for schools to wish to block social media as a preventative measure.  However, after extensive research, we believe social media can actually serve as the tool to save a child’s life.   

 Nowadays, teens increasingly turn to social media to seek counsel or vent emotional distress.  This includes warning sides of high-risk behavior like suicide and self-harm.  In fact, the average school district faces the threat of teen suicide about every two weeks.

Actual student posts:

  • “Life sucks and i wanna jump off a bridge.”
  • “If i kill myself no one would notice.”
  • “I am legitimately contemplating suicide and i legitimately want to kill myself.”

Using Machine Learning techniques, we are able to detect negative sentiment like the above in social media posts.  We then send high confidence alerts to the 1) school district IT admin 2) guidance counselors and 3) parents of the child, so that students receive the proper care and attention.

Already, our technology has helped schools prevent potential tragedy. Mark Nelson, IT Admin of Romeo Community schools, says: “Of the many features distinguishing Securly, none are so important as Sentiment Analysis.  We have contacted school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers, so they could intervene with students and parents.  The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students makes Sentiment Analysis invaluable.”

This same technology can also detect for instances of cyberbullying, a major cause of suicide and depression.  Through social media, we plan to not only stop tragedy – but also eliminate the causes of such emotional distress.

For access to the full whitepaper including more information on student online behavior trends, click here.

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Introducing PageScan – our Blacklist that Learns

content, blacklist, PageScan, schools, web filtering

 

Today, we are announcing that we are Beta test complete on PageScan – our proprietary approach to building a “Blacklist that Learns.”  As any user of a web filter is aware, these products have two different ways by which they maintain their blacklists:

  1. Maintain a static list of websites that are updated periodically.
  2. HTTP response parsing to infer unknown bad content.

The first approach leaves you vulnerable to newer websites that may not be part of your blacklist. The second approach has severe performance limitations.

About PageScan

PageScan is able to accurately block new content and meet the strict performance constraints of modern K-12 networks. We accomplish this using the following approach:

  • The first time we come across  a site that is not in our database, we let it through.
  • We then fetch it offline and scan the response content for keywords indicative of inappropriate content.
  • Our first pass is designed to produce False Positives. We narrow things down with a second pass done with an API call to a third-party service that we have identified as “best-of-breed”.
  • If the site is identified to be inappropriate for kids, we add it to our blacklist.

With this approach, we can recognize an inappropriate site accessed from a school in the UK and use that intelligence to benefit a school in Texas. We are able to identify –with high accuracy– sites belonging to the following categories: porn, drugs, gambling and proxys. Our beta tests have shown an extremely low False Positive rate.

We have decided to release this at the end of September for the following simple reason: we would like to get through the start of school, making only minimal changes to our core system in the interim. Changing the way we handle our blacklist is fundamental to how our system works and the risks of releasing early may outweigh the benefits. As always, should you have any questions, please reach out to support@securly.com.

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Meet Our New Partners: iKeepSafe & the Internet Watch Foundation

 

We are excited to announce our partnership with two organizations at the forefront of online child safety initiatives: iKeepSafe and the Internet Watch Foundation! The mission of each respective organization aligns perfectly with our own commitment to keeping kids safe online.

iKeepsafe has also awarded us the California Privacy Badge.  We are the first web filtering company to receive this distinction.  

 

About iKeepSafe & the California Privacy Badge

“iKeepSafe is a 501(c)3 non-profit international alliance of more than 100 policy leaders, educators, law enforcement members, technology experts, public health experts and advocates.”  They provide positive resources for parents and educators to teach youth how to use technology safely and productively.

iKeepSafe’s California Privacy Badge is the first independent assessment program specifically tailored to student data privacy legislation, including the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) among others.  To achieve this badge, companies must meet all requirements outlined in primary federal and California laws. This program helps educators and parents in the state of California identify edtech tools and services that protect student data privacy.

Much controversy surrounds cloud-based services and data privacy; however, this certification confirms our promise to protect student data.  It’s our way of letting customers know that student data is safe in our hands.

“We congratulate Securly on successfully completing a careful privacy review by iKeepSafe.  In the past few years, a large amount of legislation has emerged protecting and governing student data. By receiving the iKeepSafe privacy badge, Securly has taken an essential step in helping educators navigate this new terrain and keep student information safe.” Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of iKeepSafe

 

About the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

The IWF is a UK-based charity whose goal is to eradicate child pornography.  They tirelessly work to remove child sexual abuse images and videos.  

Tracking these websites is especially hard since they’re seldom hosted on static domains. To compensate, IWF has full time staff tracing these sites; and in many cases, they have brought the creators of the material to justice.

This partnership achieves two goals for Securly:

  • By supporting the IWF in their mission, Securly reaffirms its commitment to online child safety.
  • With each daily IWF list release, Securly is able to update its own  blacklist URLs, allowing schools to pre-empt potential legal and PR perils that would result if child porn was accessed on their network.

 

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Securly’s Brand New Dashboard

dashboard, design, useful, Securly, web filtering

“Good design is as little design as possible” -Dieter Rams

To kick off the “Week of Innovation” –live from the ISTE floor– we are excited to unveil our brand new Dashboard! At Securly, we follow a simple rule of thumb for all product design decisions:

Useful > Usable > Attractive

Useful: Does a customer find a feature useful in the way one finds an automobile useful? Does it serve a basic purpose?

Usable: Is the feature designed to be self-explanatory? Will a customer need to file a support ticket to understand what we have built?

Attractive: Does the design evoke an aesthetic that has instant appeal?

We realized that in the previous version of the Dashboard we built, we had flipped this thinking on its head. Our Dashboard had visual pop, but there was very little about it that was useful OR usable. Hence, we set about redesigning it – adhering to the quote from Dieter Rams at the beginning of this post.

First, we enumerated the stats and graphs supported by our old dashboard and classified each into “useful” and “useless”. Next, we went over customer feedback through support tickets and surveys. We picked a couple of key asks that were worthy of the “front page of the Securly UI”.

The new dashboard has the following new sections:

  • Securly System Health: In the spirit of full transparency, we will at all times provide you an overview of System Health. On those rare occasions when there is a systemic issue, we want you to know that we’re working to bring things back to normal.
  • Recent Releases: All of our regularly scheduled releases (including bug fixes) will now show up as a live feed.

Our new dashboard is scheduled for release on Tuesday 28th of June. Should you have any questions, please reach out to support@securly.com.

 

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Introducing a Pause Button for Take-Home Devices

parent, time, device, school, screen

Kids spending too much time on their school issued devices?  With our new mobile app, parents can now shut off internet activity with a single tap. It’s really that simple.  Perfect for parents who want more control over their kids’ screen time on school owned devices.

It’s impossible for parents to keep an eye on their children 24/7.  Many parents we’ve encountered fear their child is spending too much time online, using their school-owned devices for online gaming and other time sinks.  Research has linked rising numbers of childhood obesity, disrupted sleep patterns, and under-developed motor/cognitive function to device overuse.  However, results vary greatly on this topic – and others cite that screen time is beneficial to child development.  Essentially, moderation is key.

Securly can help parents manage their child’s screen time.  Securly’s engineering team is furiously cranking away at making major improvements to our parent product. We already have 75+ districts across the country signed up to be “Partner Districts” for the launch of our Parent Portal + App + Email reports. Come Fall, these Districts will have one more awesome feature to look forward to that we think their parents are going to love – A Pause Button for take-home devices.

Oh did we forget to mention that this does not cost parents a thing?

Coming to school owned devices near you this Fall.

 

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Introducing “Auditor by Securly” – A free tool to monitor Google Mail and Chats for bullying and self-harm

Request an invite here: http://www.securly.com/auditor

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Auditor by Securly

Today, in honor of Stop Cyberbullying Day, we are announcing the launch of “Auditor by Securly”. This is a free tool that helps schools using Google Email and Google Chat ensure the safety of their students by monitoring these channels for messages that are indicative of bullying or self-harm. At this time the product is in Beta phase and we are working with early adopter districts who are willing to collaborate with us to shape this product over the next couple of months before it is available for general release. For an invite, click on the button above.

In this blog post, we outline the thought process that brought us to this announcement.

In Pursuit of Student Safety

We have always thought of Securly as a company with a “double-bottom line” mission. As with any other company that is trying to build a sustainable business, we need to charge a fee for our services and grow our revenues year over year. However, while achieving this somewhat “practical” goal, we aspire to make a dent in the universe. In our mind, that “dent” has always been (and likely always will be) ubiquitous child safety – both at school and at home. We have introduced a number of innovations to market in pursuit of this aspiration:

  • 911 Emergency Response notifications for Guidance Counselors: Industry’s first Delegated Administration that allows district guidance counsellors and school principals to be alerted on these flagged activities allowing the district IT team to focus on infrastructure related operations.
  • 911 Emergency Response notifications for Parents: Industry first Parent Portal and e-mail reports. While the concept of a Parent Portal is extremely common among EdTech companies, Securly is the first (and at this time only) web-filter to have introduced this concept to the web-filtering and student-safety space. Parents can get immediate notification on any instances of bullying/self-harm.

Expanding Student Safety to Emails & Chats

With Google Mail and Chat becoming tools of choice in thousands of schools across the world, blocking these is no longer an option for most middle and high schools. However, we have learnt through conversations with our customers that these resources have opened up new vectors for students to vent negative emotions such as bullying and self-harm.

Generally speaking, we have found that many schools do not have good solutions in place that address this issue because of the following factors at play:

  • While web-filters are required by law, they do not cover these vectors. By its very definition, “web-filtering” does not apply to emails. A lot of schools that we’ve spoken to use Google’s default compliance options to flag emails that contain a predefined set of keywords. This can be prone to lots of False Positives (False Alarms) and False Negatives (Missed Alerts) and does not scale well in a large District where IT becomes the bottleneck in sorting through these flagged messages.
  • Old school approaches to monitoring these channels involving human auditors have cost money.
  • The CIPA law is vague about the need to cover this vector – “The policy proposed must address.. security and safety of minors using chat rooms, email, instant messaging, or any other types of online communications.” However, the meaning of “safety” is left too vague.

Given the lack of any compliance requirement, and cash-strapped schools already reluctant to spend on paid solutions, we felt compelled to introduce a free tool to address this serious issue. We expect even districts that have never purchased paid solutions to now consider using Auditor as a free tool that could potentially preempt the next bullying or suicide incident.

Unique Benefits

Automated sentiment inference approach: The key advantage that we will be providing over the state of the art is that while existing tools rely heavily on keyword matching to detect inappropriate behavior (e.g. by looking for words like “suicide” or “ugly”), we will be relying on our tried and tested machine learning techniques to do so. To appreciate the value of this approach, consider the following post that was flagged by our algorithm – “slowly im realizing i don’t really have a purpose here say good bye cause Fryday it’s all over <3” It should be clear to the reader that a keyword based approach would not have worked in detecting this.

911 Emergency Response Notifications to Parents and Guidance Counselors: We will be extending our existing Delegated Administration and Parent Reports functionality from our flagship web-filtering product to Auditor. In the context of Auditor, these services become 911 Emergency Response notifications to guidance counselors and parents respectively. In other words, parents, principals and guidance counselors will receive these alerts whenever our Auditor detects disturbing emails or chats sent or received – or even inside email drafts composed but not sent yet (e.g. a suicide note in progress).

Timeline and Business Model

Securly will be bringing Auditor to market this Fall. We will make it available for free in perpetuity to any school (of any size) that wants to use it. We will be launching with E-mail, Chat and Drafts monitoring.

Like most enterprise “freemium” business models, we are also expecting a fraction of the schools who try this tool out to eventually become paid customers and referrers of our premium web-filtering paid product. This move aligns with the company’s “double bottom-line” goal of helping schools who cannot afford to plug a key hole in student safety while bringing a key business model innovation to the table.

If you would like to use this tool in your District and stay updated of our progress, please do drop a note here and we will keep you posted!

Product Images

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Request an invite here: http://www.securly.com/auditor

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13 Steps to Shape & Secure Your 1:1 Chromebook Program

chromebooks, web filtering chromebooks, 1:1 chromebook, filter chromebooks at home, chromebook filter

The following tips will help maximize the online safety and productivity of your students.  We will demystify the Google Apps for Education Admin Console, providing you with the tools to successfully optimize your school’s 1:1 program and edtech experience.  Taken from Best Practices to Shape & Secure Your 1:1 Program for Chromebooks.

The Google Apps cloud-based policy, simplified:

  1. Device Settings (Steps 1-3)
  2. User Settings (Steps 4-13)

>Chrome Device Settings

1. Enroll Your Device

To enroll a Chromebook into the school policy, make sure the device is first enrolled into the enterprise policy by keeping the “Allow devices to enroll automatically” setting turned ON for organizational units requiring admin management.  Students can then login without admins needing to individually login to each of these devices.  

chromebooks

 

2. Deactivate Guest Mode

Restrict Guest Mode to better audit student activity.  Otherwise, through a guest account, students can use the Chromebook without the district user policy in place.

chromebooks, 1:1 chromebook

 

3. Limit Sign-in Access

This allows students to use only their given school account for browsing the web, ensuring thorough auditing.

chromebooks

 

>Chrome User Settings

4. Display Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) Upon Startup

Via “Pages to Load on Startup” in settings, schools can set their Acceptable Use Policy  as the first thing students see upon opening a browser.  This serves to remind students of proper online conduct, digital citizenship best practices, and any other school policies they are bound by.

acceptable use policy, chromebooks, digital citizenship

 

5. Set Policy Refresh Rate to 30 Minutes

Select the minimum 30 minutes for time between policy refreshes to guarantee your students’ Chromebooks are updating with each new admin console change.
1:1 chromebook web filter

 

6. Enable Safe Browsing & Malicious Sites Protection

Choose “Always enable Safe Browsing” and “Prevent user from proceeding anyway to malicious sites” to protect your students from phishing and sites that involve platform independent vulnerabilities (identity theft, financial theft, password theft, etc).

chromebooks, online safety

 

Take Home Policy –  If the Chromebooks leave school with the students, there are two ways to secure the devices: a web filter proxy or a Chromebook extension.  Both solutions intercept and police network traffic to and from the devices.

 

7a. Change Proxy Settings for Take Home Policies

Arrange settings to point to your filter’s Proxy Autoconfiguration (PAC) file.  The PAC files allow you to control what traffic should be proxied.

home web filter, chromebook filtering at home

 

7b. Deploy Pre-installed Apps and Extensions

Using the “Manage pre-installed apps” wizard, search for the filtering extension of your choice on the Chrome Web Store, and deploy it to the organizational units that will take the devices home.

chromebooks, filter chromebooks

 

8. Block Apps and Extensions

Blocking all apps and extensions will prevent students from later installing games and other time-sinks.

chromebooks

 

9. Auto-authorize Plugins

Certain plugins require authorization from the students before they install or initialize.  However, in accordance with the whitelisting approach of only letting admin-installed plugins run, admins can auto-authorize requests so they are never presented to students.

chromebooks

 

10. Save Browser History and Disable Incognito Mode

Keep browser history turned ON for a complete report of online student activity.  Disallow incognito mode – it bypasses pre-installed security apps and can be used to evade the district filtering policy.

chromebooks, safe search

 

11. Turn Google Safe Search ON

If your district’s web filter does not support Safe Search for Google, apply this setting to enforce safe search directly via the Chrome policy.  Note: this safe search setting only applies to Google.  However, a variety of safe search websites are available for student use and some web filters are capable of enforcing safe search on multiple platforms.

chromebooks, google safe search, safe search, google image search

 

12. Disable Developer Tools

Developer tools can be used to circumvent district policy or gain unfair advantage over other students by reverse engineering of edtech applications that transmit insecure data or have confidential information hidden away in the code.chromebooks

 

13. Restrict Chrome:// URLs

Disable chrome://extensions and chrome://settings.  Chrome://extensions allow students to start/stop extensions.  Chrome://settings and other chrome://addresses provide settings or information unnecessary to students.

chromebooks

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Securly Becomes a “set-and-forget” Solution for IT With the Release of Delegated Administration

While IT admins buy, install and maintain web-filters on a day to day basis, we believe that in order for reporting data to be actionable, access to these reports needs to be delegated out to the right stake-holders. This includes Principals, Guidance Counselors and Parents. Today, we are taking a step in this direction with the release of our Delegated Administration feature that has been a huge ask from so many of our customers.

Support tickets for web-filtering in K-12 districts generally fall into two large buckets:

  • Requests for unblocking websites.
  • Requests for pulling user reports for disciplinary purposes.

In addition to these routine requests, district IT also occasionally has to respond to detection of disturbing behavior by students. For instance – a student’s declaration to end her life through a Facebook post. Such incidents place immense burden on the district IT by not only requiring them to detect such incidents reliably, but also being able to respond to them in a timely fashion.

In 2013, Securly pioneered the ability to have Educators whitelist sites that were blocked in the classroom. This feature alone saved IT Admins time while saving Educators the frustration that comes from having critical resources blocked in the classroom. Now, with the ability to delegate the pulling of user reports, we believe that Securly has become a true “set-and-forget” solution for IT.

During the feature design phase, it emerged that the ability to provide granular access to reporting data was a key requirement for larger districts. Securly allows Principals to have access to reports for only the students in their school building.

Further, IT admins can now rely on Principals and Guidance Counsellors to monitor the Flagged Activity sections of its reporting UI for detection of any disturbing behavior on their networks. These alerts are a direct result of the company’s proprietary Artificial Intelligence algorithms that analyze students’ social posts for negative sentiment. By delegating this critical task of student behavior to the relevant staff members, the district IT is able to focus on infrastructure planning and remediating support tickets as before.

We have worked closely with several customers to carefully design and execute on this feature. One such customer is Edmonds School District in the Seattle area where 15,000 students across 30+ buildings are protected by the company’s web-filtering technology. Says Chris Bailey, Manager, IT operations at the District – “The Delegated Administration feature that Securly has just announced will really enhance the way we use the product, and empower our school administrators access to the information they need, right at their fingertips. We also anticipate that it will reduce the time it takes for the district to investigate and resolve student discipline issues, as we can provide more employees with the right level of access.”

Throughout the summer we will be announcing few features and initiatives that are designed to give parents and the right stake-holders within schools timely access to student reporting data. So stay tuned for more!