Our 2000% Growth

securly, school, student, parent, web filter

Since 2014, we’ve had a growth of 2000% in Q1 bookings including 36 months of well over 100% year-over-year growth. These latest numbers set the stage for the realization of the company’s founding vision – which is ubiquitous child safety both at school and at home.

2017 Progress So Far

Q1 2017 growth numbers represented 150% year-over-year growth in bookings and included several marquee customers coming on board Securly’s cloud-based platform which now forms the network substrate of over 5000 schools. Hundreds of these schools have already signed up to be early adopter “partners” of Securly’s first-in-industry parent portal. Securly’s weekly email reports and parent portal are already being consumed by tens of thousands of parents on a weekly basis.  

The People Behind the Progress

To help fulfill our vision, we have attracted a world class sales team with decades of collective experience selling web filtering into K-12 schools. Our team is led by Anders Johnsson – Securly’s VP of Sales. Johnsson brings to Securly nearly 20 years of combined experience co-founding and managing web filter companies in education and leading sales operations teams. It was precisely Securly’s vision of parental involvement in student safety that drew him to Securly, says Johnsson. “Securly’s continued commitment to equipping schools for 1:1 cloud-based web filtering and student safety challenges, has come at just the right time. With increasing complexities of filtering and Digital Citizenship initiatives on the upswing, our parent portal, and student safety features are demonstrating to schools that Securly is the right partner. I am proud to be part of this talented team that is innovating and leading the charge in online student safety.”

 

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The First Anycast DNS, Powered Entirely by Amazon AWS

dns, anycast, internet, server, web filterWe are excited to announce that we are now able to serve our product via Anycast DNS powered entirely by Amazon’s AWS cloud. We are the first in industry to do so.

Our Anycast networking approach contrasts the traditional approach by allowing multiple physically separated web servers on the Internet to share the same IP address. Anycast networking prevents the need for setting up Internet datacenter Points of Presence (POPs) and allows Securly to continue to be 100% cloud-based without the need to lease servers from datacenters and manage both private and public clouds across the globe – a practice previous Anycast DNS players had to pick.

A client’s request is taken to the geographically closest or lowest latency server using core Internet Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route advertisements. This eliminates the need for CDNs and extends to protocols such as DNS. While CDNs work well for distribution of cached or static web-content, they do not work well with dynamic web content, and simply do not work with other Internet protocols such as DNS.

The availability of Anycast DNS enables Securly to deliver a number of immediate advantages to their global customer base:

  • Simplified deployments: Customers on different clusters no longer have to use different IP addresses.
  • Ability to serve ISPs and access point providers who are location agnostic.
  • Ability to serve mobile users who may travel internationally.
  • Ability to provide fault tolerant uptime even when critical infrastructure fails, by failing over to nearby clusters completely seamless to the customer.

 

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Why Your School Needs Layer 7 Filtering

application, webinar, keep, filter, network, firewall

Introducing our next Webinar topic – keeping your students from getting around the web filter and how a layer 7 firewall can help! Our very own Brandon Duckworth will share his expertise on the following:

  • Application filtering necessities and the ability to block applications at the protocol level
  • How to keep students from using VPNs and Tor
  • The importance of pairing your web filtering solution with a solid Application firewall
  • Reasons why traditional network firewalls can’t properly defend applications

This free webinar will take place on May 25, 2017 at 11AM PST. To secure your seat, please register here.

And don’t forget, Webinar #3 is right around the corner! In this month’s webinar, you’ll learn how Securly’s Duckle-Oh-Seven (aka Brandon Duckworth) helps our customers every day with common-sense networking approaches that keep your BYOD network secure. This event will take place on April 27, 2017 at 11AM PST. If you haven’t already, please register here as soon as possible as space is limited!

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Webinar #2 Debrief: School DNS Architecture & MDM Solutions

Every month, a Securly specialist delves deep into a different high-priority topic in K-12 cybersafety and answers your questions in an interactive 30-minute webinar session. In Webinar #2, our very own Group Policy and MDM Jedi Brandon Duckworth explains different types of DNS architecture used by schools and various MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions to keep students from getting around your filters.

Here’s what we covered in Webinar #2:

  1. DNS Architecture Types
    1. Single Server vs Dual Server
    2. Cascade (Large Data Center)
  2. Deployment of SSL certificates using GPO (?)
  3. MDM solutions
    1. DEP Mode vs. Non-Managed
    2. Best practices

Check out the full video:

Webinars occur at the end of the month and are open to everyone, free of charge. Webinar #3 –BYOD & Guest Network Best Practices– will take place on April 27, 2017 at 11AM PST. Register here.

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Why we can’t forget the iPad

securly, iPad, education, schools, students, web filteringExperimentation with tablet computers first began in the mid 20th century; however, Apple is often credited with initializing the consumer market for the hand-held devices. The iPad also forged the path for a new wave of education technology, and many educators were hopeful for its positive impact on classroom engagement.

Soon after the first iPad was released in 2010, other players quickly entered the market with their own –cheaper, lighter, more durable – hardware deviations. Then, the Chromebook was released in 2011 and took the edtech world by storm. Fast-forward to present day, and you’ll find critics condemning the iPad, claiming that the iPad + education “fad” is coming to an end. In the meantime, Chromebooks are taking over the classroom; its keyboard, Google Apps integration, etc. are thought to be more suitable for the learning environment.

However, this recurring argument “tablets are dying” is a narrow viewpoint that considers only a small demographic of the entire population. In fact, the iPad and its variants continue to enable accessible education initiatives outside of a 1st-world, typical use case.

For students with developmental disabilities, the iPad revolutionized learning; the tapping and sliding motions used to control the touch screen are easier for students to interact with than a laptop. Hence, it is an integral tool for schools to improve inclusive education, especially since consideration given to special needs is fairly new.  iPads proved so beneficial for communicative, cognitive and motor improvement that the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation created the “iPad Program”:

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.30.31 PM

Testimonial featured by the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation.

As the iPad continued to prove its worth, (1) app developers began creating more content for the device and (2) competitors began creating cheaper hardware alternatives. Thus, tablet computers became accessible to a wider population and the breadth of information accessible through the device skyrocketed – solidifying its position as a learning tool. In the past month alone, the UN Refugee Agency announced that tablets would be provided to refugee students in Africa, the Jamaican government allocated $7 Million to purchase 17,500 tablets for schools, and the Delhi government announced that all teachers would be given tablets.

Tablets are not obsolete. Instead, they continue to be a valuable educational asset for a wider and more diverse population, one greater than the laptop’s reach ever was. Tablets revolutionized edtech, and Apple’s iPad planted the seed.

 

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Auditor has arrived – our free tool for bullying and self-harm detection on GMail!

auditor, school, student, safety, email, gmail, detectLast year, we introduced “Auditor by Securly” – a free tool that helps schools ensure the safety of their students by monitoring GMail for messages that are indicative of bullying or self-harm. Today, we are emerging from closed Beta after an extended period with 20 customers in which we scanned 70,000 emails daily for indicators of cyberbullying and self-harm.

Already, Principals and IT Admins are finding Auditor to be a powerful asset to student safety. Tom Walker, Massac Unit School District #1, remarked, “The ability to detect bullying, self harm, or other potential destructive behavior is something we’ve never had before. One Saturday evening, I received an email from the Auditor Safety Bot. The email contained wording about a video being uploaded to YouTube with a suicidal line. Upon further inspection, the video was not uploaded by one of our students, but was from a popular YouTube channel that the student had subscribed to. However, the fact that the Auditor was able to detect it gives us another tool to have in the struggle against bullying and self harm. From a legal perspective, it makes perfect sense that a school district would want the Auditor on their side.”

How Auditor Came to Be

As Google Mail became the chosen tool in thousands of schools across the world, we realized blocking these channels is no longer a productive solution. However, from conversations with our customers, we learned that these resources have opened up new avenues for students to vent negative emotions such as bullying and self-harm.

In general, we found that many schools did not have good solutions in place that address this issue due to the following:

  • 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 are costly.
  • 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.

Auditor’s Unique Benefits – COMING SOON

Automated sentiment inference approach: While existing tools rely heavily on keyword matching to detect inappropriate behavior (e.g. by looking for words like “suicide” or “ugly”), Auditor will use our tried and tested machine learning techniques. For example, consider the following post that was flagged by our algorithm: “slowly i’m 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 extend our existing Delegated Administration and Parent Reports functionality from our flagship web-filtering product to Auditor. In the context of Auditor, these services will become 911 Emergency Response notifications to both guidance counselors and parents. Parents, principals and guidance counselors will receive an alert whenever our Auditor detects disturbing emails sent or received.

It’s free? What’s the catch?

No catch! Keeping Auditor free –forever – is our commitment to the pursuit of student safety. Given the lack of any compliance requirement, and cash-strapped schools already reluctant to spend on paid solutions, we felt it necessary to introduce a free tool to address this serious issue.

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.

 

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The first ever proxy-less browser-less DNS-based iPad filtering solution for K-12

securly, filtering, schools, ipad, proxy, filter, device, app

iPads have a prominent place in the K-12 ecosystem. While we often see the higher grades go with Chromebooks as the 1:1 device of choice, lower grades typically go with iPads due to its tactile interface. Educational apps minimize the need to type while fostering learning.

With many schools choosing to send these devices home, both the CIPA law and pressure from the local parent community forces schools to provision their iPads with some form of filtering. Apple’s architectural limitations have thus far allowed only 2 options. Both of these have their own limitations.

Safe browsers: This approach requires uninstalling Safari and installing a specialized browser that filters web traffic. The approach suffers from the following limitations:

  • App traffic is not filtered.
  • Hyperlinks on any webpage tend to use Safari as the default browser.
  • Removing Safari breaks a number of Edu critical apps such as docs and drive.

In other words, Safe Browsers are simply not an option for a school or district trying to ensure that their taxpayer dollars spent on devices will move the needle on student achievement.

Proxy: Apple provides the option to push out a global proxy setting via MDM. This would mean that every byte of data from the iPad would need to be routed through the designated proxy. This approach has the following downsides:

  • Most proxy solutions are hardware appliance based. When the device leaves the network, the traffic is forced back through the appliance which is usually installed on the school’s network. By definition, this requires the school to become a 24/7 ISP for at-home traffic!
  • Even those proxy solutions that are cloud based like Securly’s often see Apps “break” because many cloud based services simply do not like to see their App traffic be proxy-ed. These services need to be constantly exempted from PAC files as the school runs in to them.
  • Many Firewalls tend to block proxy traffic out of the box. To address this, schools often need to maintain a running proxy whitelist on their Firewall.

The holy grail of iPad filtering: Thanks to months of often time frustrating R&D + recent advances in iOS 10, Securly is able to introduce the first proxy-less off-site filtering solution for iPads that is not a safe browser. The solution involves provisioning the iPad with a lightweight DNS setting – as a result of which ~1% of the device’s traffic is selectively proxy-ed. This includes App traffic. Securly is also able to avoid proxy-ing all of the traffic.

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Your Digital Citizenship Resource Guide

digital citizenship, digital literacy, education, schools, cyberbullying

What is digital citizenship? Essentially, it is responsible technology use rooted in community awareness. In order to be practice good digital citizenship, you must consider how your actions online can compromise your safety, and also of those (virtually) around you. In recent years, many school districts have begun implementing digital citizenship education for educators and students. Why? Digital  Citizen training is not only essential for student online safety but also integral for cyberbullying prevention.

At the advent of personal computing, many focused mainly on digital literacy, the ability to understand and integrate into a digital society. However, understanding the technology is not enough. By contrast, digital citizenship is all encompassing. Common Sense Media defines multiple components of digital citizenship including awareness of Internet Safety, Privacy and Security, Relationships & Communication, Cyberbullying, Digital Footprint, Self Image & Identity, Information Literacy, and Copyright Laws.

digital citizenship, digital literacy

Google Trends search frequencies for “digital citizenship” vs “digital literacy” from 2012 – present.

Then, with personal computing came to the rise of social media and cyberbullying. However, though cyberbullying awareness has increased over the years, the numbers for digital citizenship queries are dismal – especially given the positive relationship between them. In fact, many schools require digital citizenship education as part of their 1:1 Acceptable Use Policy. Some states even mandate digital training for students and administrators for school districts to receive funding. Florida House Bill 5101, grants at least $250,000 for digital classroom development. To receive this funding, each district must submit a digital classroom plan which includes provisions for digital citizenship education.

digital citizenship, digital literacy

Search frequency for “cyberbullying” and “digital citizenship” (2012-2017) – we need to close this gap.

 

The following free education resources are intended to impart digital citizenship best practices in the everyday technology usage of parents, educators, and students:

> Teach InCtrl

The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) launched InCtrl to provide free lessons for both teachers and students on digital citizenship. InCtrl is unique from other online curriculums in two main ways:

  • it provides guides for teaching digital citizenship across different subject areas, giving specifics for how to integrate digital citizenship into English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Math, and Library/Media.
  • the curriculum is based heavily on collaboration and communication

> Common Sense Media Curriculum

Common Sense Media has crafted a Digital Citizenship curriculum intended to teach children how to make “safe, smart, and ethical decisions online”. Lesson plans come in a variety of formats (PDFS, iBooks, Nearpod, videos, interactive games, etc), segmented by grade (K-12) and subject. 76% of public schools across the US use these guides. However, it is not isolated only to the classroom. They also provide separate modules for professional development, teacher training, and family education.

> Microsoft Digital Citizenship Training

Last month, Microsoft released their “Digital Civility Index” in honor of the 5th anniversary of Safer Internet Day in the US. Despite their findings, Microsoft is still optimistic for a safer Internet and has started a new initiative The Digital Civility Campaign. This is an addition to their newly released training courses published for the public on their Microsoft Education platform.

Their 30 min Digital Citizenship course provides a toolkit for educators to use in their classrooms and is based on three pillars: (1) Digital Literacy, (2) Digital Civility, and (3) Information Literacy.

> iKeepSafe Generation Safe – New Media Mentor for Digital Citizenship

The iKeepSafe organization provides benchmark tests (ex: 360 Self Assessment) to help schools examine the school’s e-safety competence. They then break down Digital Citizenship Success into six tenets: each page devoted to an individual element provides (1) comprehensive definition (2) tips for schools (3) tips for youth and (4) guiding questions to assess readiness. iKeepSafe also breaks down concepts into three action items – Prevention, Detection & Intervention, and Incident Management & Response – accompanied by worksheets and themed curriculums for classrooms.

 

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Who else is collecting data about your children?

privacy, COPPA, data, online, child

Digital footprints are not exclusive to online shoppers or avid social media users; everyone has one, including your 5-year-old child. Any online activity contributes to their “digital portrait”, making them vulnerable targets to advertisers and internet predators.

Taking Precautions

In an effort to protect minors on the world wide web, the FTC Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) created compliance regulations for online operators that host children under the age of 13 in 1998. Websites must (1) provide notice of what type of information is being collected and what it is being used for (2) obtain verifiable parental consent for collection/use of said information and (3) establish procedures to ensure confidentiality of data collected. In addition, it is illegal to make site entry/game participation contingent upon the amount of information disclosed.

However, “age limits” did not stop persistent pre-teens from joining social media and gaming sites. Regardless, 10 years later, data collection came to be mostly implicit. Thus, the FTC expanded COPPA in 2013 to include photos, videos, audio, device location, as well as other “persistent identification systems” (cookies, unique serial numbers on mobile phones, IP addresses).

The Current Situation

COPPA mostly attempts to thwart behavioral advertisers and 3rd party marketing agencies. For example, this past year, consumers claimed that Google violated user privacy as they consolidate user data across all platforms (Google Maps, Google search, etc.), making for a more comprehensive user profile. The announcement of this pervasive policy change was deemed “deceptive” by consumer advocates. This is not the first time they have received contention.  Now, Google Maps includes “shareable lists”; on the note of privacy, WLRN writes “..the latest version of the Google Privacy Policy — dated Aug. 29, 2016 — states that ‘depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.’ A note on the side specifies that ‘your activity on other sites and apps’ might come from your use of other Google products.”

However, parents need be aware of the privacy policies of common online tools (covered under COPPA or not), as well as the unconventional modes of data collection –like the following– and their possible repercussions. 

> 3rd party utilities. Despite this Facebook Hoax that claimed all personal information would be disclosed, Facebook privacy policies have relatively come under less fire. However, the 3rd-party Stalkscan makes access to FB personal content easier than ever before: “Stalkscan collects the huge amount of information revealed by that search term and puts it in an easily accessible form, allowing anyone to see all of the information about a person that it would be able to dredge up.” Although they claim it is not a breach of Privacy Policy, it exposes data that users may not know is defaulted “public”. Facebook provided Privacy Checkup to mitigate this vulnerability.

> Smart Toys. In recent years, toy companies have released products that allow for major security breaches. In Germany, the Federal Network Agency advised parents to destroy the My Friend Cayla doll. The Cayla doll interacts with children and responds to their questions by searching the web; it then stores child searches to be used by agencies.  In addition, researchers discovered “a hack allowing strangers to speak directly to children via the My Friend Cayla doll”. Mattel’s version Hello Barbie proved vulnerable after reports that the Wi-FI-enabled doll could be used as a surveillance device by hackers via the connected network; hackers could find out where the toy/child was or send back false data to the parent about child’s location. Hello Barbie also stores Wi-FI network names, the account IDs, and the audio it records.

> Video games.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, child predators a lurk in chat rooms of sites “kid-friendly” gaming platforms. The predators can randomly search for a name in the database, see that the child is a Minecraft player, and then strike up a conversation in a chat room. Minecraft, not unlike other games, allows kids to play with other people in three ways: (1) a local area network (LAN) (2) online server or (3) Minecraft Realms. In addition, many kids post videos of themselves playing games which leak heavy clues to personal information and location.

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The Edtech Revolution: 2010 – 2017

School Devices People Isometric

In December 2010, The Journal –“the leading Technology based education publication for K-12 and higher education”– published an article with a 5-prong prediction for the following year. Will the cloud continue to reign? Will more schools embrace student-centric mobile devices? These were the pressing questions of the time – a time 8-months after the release of the first iPad and 6-months before the release of the first Chromebook.

Now, we know that edtech has been proven to improve test scores and overall classroom engagement. But, how does the 2010 vision for edTech match what’s actually happening today?
 

7 YEARS LATER…

 

1. “There will be more momentum for mobile devices in classrooms with an eye toward affordable alternatives to traditional 1:1 rollouts.”

The 1:1 initiative aimed for districts to issue each student a laptop for use in-school and at home. For some districts, the cost per student quickly became unrealistic to initially implement, leading schools to create alternate strategies.

Then there was the iPad. Appealing to all ages for all occasions, the iPad topped the market in the following years after its release. Given that many children were acquiring iPads for personal use, some schools adopted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policy. Districts even integrated the two models to cut costs.

However, it was the Chromebook (2011) that truly revolutionized 1:1. While the iPad cost anywhere from $300 – $400, Chromebooks were sold from $199. The cost, plus it’s easy manageability and durability, made Chromebooks a main player in the edtech game. In 2012, Chromebooks accounted for only 1% of the devices sold to US classrooms; now, they make up more than half of the edtech market.
 

2. “Web-based instruction will gain more traction at the K-12 level.”

2010 was also the year that the Common Core Standards Initiative was enacted in response to numerous indicators of low student academic performance. Although the Common Core itself elicits mixed feelings, its effect on edtech is unwavering: “Integral to the Common Core was the expectation that they would be tested on computers using online standardized exams. As Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff wrote at the time, the Common Core was intended to create a national market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.”

Indeed, $2.3 Billion has been invested in US K-12 education technology companies since 2010. Globally, edtech spending is predicted to reach $252 Billion by 2020.
 

3. “More tech-based monitoring and assessment tools will be incorporated into to the instructional mix.”

In 2000, the FCC created the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA requires schools and libraries to install measures to protect children from obscene or harmful content in exchange for discounts offered by the E-rate program. Many schools employ the use of a web filter to meet these requirements; however, administrators required new solutions that extended protection to school-owned devices at home.

Monitoring now includes take home policies and cyberbullying & self-harm detection. Parents are engaged via student activity reports on school-owned devices.
 

4. “The cloud will help ease the financial burden on schools while helping to expand technological capabilities.”

1:1 + Common Core = $$$$$. Valerie Strauss, a Washington Post reporter, claimed: “The financial cost of implementing Common Core has barely been mentioned in the national debates. All Common Core testing will be done online. This is a bonanza for the tech industry and other vendors. Every school district must buy new computers, new teaching materials, and new bandwidth for the testing. At a time when school budgets have been cut in most states and many thousands of teachers have been laid off, school districts across the nation will spend billions to pay for Common Core testing.”

Ironically, the cloud brought us light. Along with Chromebooks came Google Apps for Education – a suite of free, cloud-based productivity tools that allow for easy collaboration and engagement on any device. Check out their “Impact Portraits” to see specific examples of how the GSuite has benefited school districts in a variety of ways.

In addition, cloud-based web filtering allowed schools to abandon appliance based filters – saving them time, money, and effort with utmost CIPA compliance.
 

5. “Teachers will have access to expanded professional development programs.”

In 2011, the FCC updated CIPA compliance requirements. By 2012, all school Internet safety policies had to include educational programs detailing proper online behavior, cyberbullying awareness and response. In order to impart this knowledge to their students, teachers also had to go through digital literacy training.

Now, many schools now provide digital training professional workshops to help teachers integrate online safety best practices in their everyday classrooms. Some states mandate digital citizenship training for students and administrators in order for school districts to receive funding. By the 2014 House Bill 5101, each Florida school district will be granted at least $250,000 for digital classroom development. In order to receive this funding, each district must submit a digital classroom plan. The proposal must meet Florida Department of Education criteria. This includes creating a device Acceptable/Responsible Use Policy for students and providing digital literacy training for teachers, both of which are intended to combat cyberbullying by teaching students to be good digital citizens.

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