A History of Content Filtering in Schools
Pornography Filtering & URL List Race
I first began selling web filtering solutions to school IT and Network Administrators in 2004. The CIPA law had recently been passed, so schools were eagerly spending money on filtering appliances to protect their students. The industry was flooded with new companies entering the market, and popular firewalls added web filtering to their UTM lineup.
Back then, schools focused on blocking pornography when selecting a solution. Each vendor pitched that they had more porn sites in their database than other filters, that they blocked the largest number of categories, and that they had better update mechanisms, including “100% human verified” databases. The cat-and-mouse game sales pitch was working well.
Note: Lightspeed Systems’ VP of Marketing has distributed information about our URL categorization technology to 1000s of districts across US including to many of our customers without allowing us to investigate their claims. In our opinion, this breaks norms in the security industry for Responsible Disclosure, potentially breaks norms around advertising without reasonable substantiation, and also brings to question the very motive behind the approach and its relevance to actually helping student safety. Securly is choosing to keep this discussion focused on facts, technology and student safety. Please read our earlier response from Securly’s co-founder/CRO Bharath Madhusudan on this topic.
In this article, we provide a multi-step technical take on all the information being circulated. With facts and data, we proceed to distill truth from competitive marketing. The article is split into the following sections:
- How does Securly’s URL categorization work?
- Video: Our PageScan technology in action.
- Securly’s take on why the information being circulated lacks scientific rigor, and reasonableness in advertising competitive claims.
- Why did Lightspeed’s tests with PageScan fail?
- How would Securly have fared if Lightspeed had used the PageScan cluster?
- Examining the effectiveness of Securly’s PageScan technology against Alexa’s Adult Category of sites using a scientific experimentation framework.
Today, Lightspeed Systems issued the results of an internal competitive study that positions Securly’s and another vendor’s products as inferior in enforcing CIPA compliance.
Our initial instinct was to not respond since it was apparent to us how the market generally reacted. Having said that, the amount of concern coming from our customer and prospect base compels us to issue a fact-based response of who Securly is and why we do what we do. I have organized my response into 3 distinct sections:
- What is student safety, really? With the advent of 1:1 programs, does “CIPA Compliance” and “Student Safety” mean the same thing in the year 2018?
- PageScan – The portion of our product that acts as the first line of defense for inappropriate websites.
- The team behind PageScan and Securly. Why we feel qualified to build security products for K-12.
Children learn about stranger danger from a very young age. We remind them about the importance of their safety whenever they step out of the home. Those same cautions should be applied to the cyber world.
Children are beginning to use the internet at younger ages. They have access to oodles of information at their fingertips and the ability to network instantly across distances. But there are some real risks and safety concerns when it comes to the world wide web.
Part 1 explored safety concerns and hidden dangers of social apps popular with teens today. But the more we researched, the more risky apps and websites we found. So today we are bringing you Part 2, an investigation into more popular teen apps.
On average, teens spend about 9 hours a day using media. With summer break, that number may increase. The apps most popular among teens and tweens may seem harmless; however, there are real safety concerns that parents need to be aware of:
Since 2015, Auditor and Filter have used AI-based technology to flag messages of grief and bullying in emails, social media posts, and Internet searches. When a concerning message is detected, automated email alerts are sent to the IT admin in that district. But we knew we could do one better. So last September, we released securly:// 24 to the world.
Welcome to our 24 Student Safety Operations. This combines our Auditor and Filter sentiment analysis algorithm with a team of Student Safety Analysts who conduct risk analysis in real time on alerts flagged for suicide, depression, self-harm, and bullying. If the alert indicates imminent danger for the student, our analysts notify designated emergency contacts from the school immediately.
Even better? Our analysts are able to review the student’s previous alerts and search activity to form a more complete picture of the situation. This kind of insight means that we can help a suicidal student who vaguely emailed a friend they were in pain, but searched “how to kill yourself” on Google 5 minutes later.
“Securly has unique insight to student’s online activities and our analysts are trained to use this information to identify students experiencing real threats to their safety,” says Kathy Boehle, Director of Securly’s 24 Student Safety Operations. “Students aren’t always straightforward when communicating via email. Often Securly’s search data can clarify which students are a little sad, and which students are desperate and need immediate help.”
After a few short months, 34 lives have been saved. Here are just a few of those stories:
Summer is just around the corner and you may have already begun planning family vacations and outings. But before they have fun, your kids have to take a little something called final exams [insert scary Halloween-like sounds here].
In 2013, Securly had its humble beginnings as a web filter company with the release of our flagship filter product. Student safety has always been our mission, and something we have prioritized when building and releasing new products and services for the K-12 market. 5 years of releases and launches later, we are not just a web filter company. We are The student safety company. Presenting…5 Years with Securly!
It’s Mental Health Month, and today is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. 11.01% of 12-17 year olds reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in 2017, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for children aged 10-14.