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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Introducing the First Solution to Make the YouTube App Safe for Homes and Schools

Since it started off as a website for sharing home videos over 10 years ago, YouTube has become the go-to destination for both parents and educators the world over when it comes to videos that entertain and educate children. At the same time, YouTube has introduced challenges that make it harder to be a parent in the digital age. YouTube is riddled with videos that are unsafe for children who are just stepping out into the world. Kids don’t even need to go looking for this content. The most harmless search terms, related links, comments or advertisements often display content that play to parents’ worst fears.

YouTube has taken significant efforts in offering safer versions of its platform through YouTube Safety Mode and the YouTube Kids app (and even YouTube for Schools for K-12). While the latter – a kid-safe app for children under four years of age – has been successful in protecting younger children from accessing inappropriate content, the YouTube app used by kids in grades K-12 has so far remained unsafe, with no easy way to turn the safety mode on.

Today, Securly announced that it enables YouTube’s “restricted mode” on all home devices seamlessly. Securly is now the first and only solution that allows parents to share their iPads and other tablets with their children, unsupervised, with the assurance that kids will be browsing the YouTube app on these devices safely. Said Lori Foster, a mother and Tech Coordinator at St. Rita School in Ohio: “This is really big news for parents. We can now give children the freedom to use YouTube on their iPads for learning and recreation, without having to worry about them coming across objectionable content.”

Parents interested in signing up can learn more at:
https://www.securly.com/parents.html

About Securly:
Securly is a leading provider of cloud-based web filtering for schools and parental controls for homes. The founding team has a combined 20+ years of experience in network security. The company is a venture-backed startup in Silicon Valley and serves thousands of schools in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region. To learn more, visit http://www.securly.com.

This press release was originally published on PRWeb. To read the original release, please click here.

YouTube for Educators

With our recent release of YouTube for Educators, schools can continue to enforce safe YouTube for their students but also give teachers the ability to approve individual videos or entire channels for quick, easy access to content needed for instruction.

The best thing about Securly’s approach to YouTube filtering can be summed up in one word:

“Minimalism”

We start off with default block, selective allow (YouTube for EDU / Safe Mode) and then loosen up via controlled approval of channels and videos. There is a clear use case for each action (by admin or by teacher).

The result: at the end of the day, IT admins can sum up the district’s YouTube policy in two sentences: “We start off with YouTube EDU. Here is a list of channels and videos we whitelist that fall outside YouTube EDU.”

Questions or ideas? Please respond here and let us know!

SSL Decryption without PAC files

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If you have endured the pain of deploying Proxy Auto-Configuration (PAC) files, get ready to jump for joy! Beginning May 30th, Securly is pleased to announce the “Death of PAC Files”.

As you may know, Securly was founded on the premise of a simple 5-minute deployment. A web filter for schools that IT admins can truly set and forget. As we have evolved as a company, a major impediment to the realization of this vision has been the use of PAC files for those of our customers who deploy Securly for in-school (DNS based) filtering.

To understand how we ended up here, its helpful to trace through our technical evolution:

  • We first started off as a DNS-to-proxy web-filter. Simply put, we use DNS queries to selectively proxy domains that need to be filtered. In slightly more technical terms, when our DNS server receives a query for a domain like google.com or facebook.com, we “lie” to the client about the resolution and instead point to the IP address of one of our proxies.
  • Our core backend engine uses the industry standard – tried and tested Squid open-source web-proxy. Needless to say, we have had to heavily modify Squid over time to get it to perform all of the magic (Google SSO, per policy filtering, etc) that our customers have come to rely on. An essential and early innovation we introduced on the Squid side was industry-first transparent HTTP and HTTPS proxying. Out of the box, Squid relies on the configuration of an explicit proxy at the browser level. The core Squid engine had to be modified to accept unproxy-ed HTTP and HTTPS traffic.
  • Very soon, we ran into the need to decrypt HTTPS traffic due to the following reasons (i) web-sites that YouTube and Yahoo that need HTTP header/cookie insertion to enforce Safety Mode (ii) web-sites like Facebook and Twitter that needed to be allowed for staff, but blocked for students.
  • We tried and failed very early on to achieve transparent HTTPS decryption (which is quite different from transparent HTTPS proxying). However, the numbers spoke for themselves (500 support tickets over one year re: PAC files alone) when it came to the pain our customers were going through as a result of these PAC files.
  • Although the use of PAC files has becomes the industry norm, we realized that to reduce friction for customers (and to make the product easier to support), we simply had to solve this problem. We engaged the services of a industry leading crypto expert who build transparent HTTPS decryption for us. We are in the process of integrating his work back into our technology.

We believe that completely getting rid of PAC files while retaining SSL decryption abilities is nothing short of magic and are thrilled to announce that our customers will experience this for themselves very soon. 

Should you have any questions about this change, please do not hesitate to contact us at support[AT]securly.com.