Safe Image Search Resources for Students

safe image search, online student safety, 1:1 schools, security best practics

The rise of edtech and 1:1 devices affords teachers to encourage online research.  Recent Pew Research Center data suggests that the very nature of research has drastically changed: students quickly find just enough information to satisfy research assignments via big name search engines and stop there.  Transfer a few sentences and an image onto a Prezi slide and voila!  According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study, many teachers “see the combination of text and images on the internet ‘bringing to life’ the subjects their students are interested in, in ways that prior generations did not experience”.  They consider image access a wonderful asset of the internet.  Explicative images accommodate visual learners and captivate students.  

Google Safe Image Search is a great place to start research.  However, the internet is a forum for public exchange of information and Google Image results can be inappropriate or irrelevant for student use, not to mention biased.  Students may stumble upon unsavory content more often than not.   Similar can be said for Yahoo and Bing image searches.  Instead, have students use sites and databases designed for educational purposes, like the Creative Commons Safe Image Filter, to find the most credible and appropriate results.

 

Check out these sites to get the best images for research assignments:

Pics4Learning

Pics4Learning.com is a safe, free image library and the largest education image database on the web.  They supply school-friendly friendly photos which cover everything from geography to art, olympics to astronomy, and much more.  Searches for historical content are often times redirected to accredited archives; for example, a search for “Civil War” photos redirects to the Library of Congress Civil War Collection.  They also have lesson plans for teachers, equipped with matching images.

 

US Geological Survey (USGS)

This Federal agency includes a branch devoted to education which provides images, videos, labs, and online lectures on their website to educate youth about natural phenomena.  Resources are separated into three categories: “Grades K-6”, “Grades 7-12”, and “Undergraduate”.  Biology?  Geography?  Geology?  This is an extensive source for all things science. 

 

Big Picture Education

Big Picture is a biannual publication known for its coverage of biology.  However, you can use this site to find photographs, flowcharts, and diagrams in a wide range of topics for all ages.  When searching for “drugs”, Big Picture Education provides images for the willow bark, the origin of aspirin.  Like the previous two websites, BigPictureEducation.com also offers more than helpful image search results.  Their interface is user-friendly and useful for narrowing down results.

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 12.05.01 AM

 

Photos for Class

Photos for Class guarantees age appropriate images, automatic citation, and Creative Commons (photos licensed for legal, public use).  Creative Commons kills two birds with one stone by ensuring legality, which in turn eliminates impropriety.  And they have a sense of humor: a search for “sex” results in a redirect to photos for “adorable dogs”.  Photos for Class sources from Flickr for stunning, high quality and well composed photos that are often editorial worthy!

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Web Filtering in K-12 Schools: The Past, Present, and Future

TomSecurly1

By Tom Walker

cloud-based web filtering solution for K-12 schools versus web filtering appliances

A Brief History of Web Filtering in K-12 Schools

When I started my career in K-12 IT, web content filtering in schools was a fairly new creature.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was still in its early stages and various approaches to content filtering began to emerge.

A handful of companies began to surface as the leaders in providing appliance web filtering solutions to deploy in the K-12 infrastructure. Open-source alternatives were also available, but tended to require a bit more expertise to implement and manage.

In any event, the options were there, but could be costly, time consuming, and ultimately ineffective in the long run.

Early Problems

Whether it was using an out-of-the-box purchase for a content filter or testing an open-source alternative, I remember the first thought I always had was, “Is this even going to work?”

I would spend numerous hours going over network configurations to make sure the filter was working in the manner it should. Even if it was working correctly, the students could seemingly always find a way around the web filter.

There was always a new, non-educational website that would come through each day. It seemed like I was blacklisting websites on a regular basis that our filters simply were not catching.

Lastly, teachers always needed a site whitelisted for a project or other education-related function. I always felt like I was constantly opening and closing doors.

A Changing Landscape

As time passed, so did the dynamics of how we were doing things in technology. The once familiar large servers used for e-mail, archival, and other roles began to vanish into the cloud. It was a good transition.

No longer did I have to worry about our own physical issues with downtime and I was able to shift my energy over to other projects.

At the same time, I still had several in-house web filtering appliances throughout our schools that were in need of replacement.

As we had already gone cloud-based with so many other services, it made sense to take our filtering to the cloud as well. This not only was cost-effective, but also ended up saving countless hours in the process.

Filtering has become smarter, easier to manage, and at the same time, a variety of safe search options have also become more prevalent. While the filtering concept hasn’t changed, it is getting more intertwined into the fabric of K-12 IT through cloud-based solutions.

The Road Ahead

As we begin 2016, the future is bright for content filtering. Cloud-based solutions have simplified a once laborious process, all the while helping to maintain CIPA compliance.

For something I used to worry about on a daily basis, filtering is now another established cloud based service that I can fully depend on.

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Taking a Safe Approach to Online Activity

TomSecurly1

By Tom Walker

SafeSearch, parental controls, safe image search, home internet security, kids safe search

A piece of advice I always give people in regard to their online activity is to be mindful of the sites they visit. This is especially true in the K-12 space, where we need to be careful of the content that our students can access. Here are some tools and suggestions to stay safe while living online.

1) Safe Searching

Google SafeSearch

Google SafeSearch is a filter built within Google that can be turned on or off at a user’s discretion. As Google says, “The SafeSearch filter isn’t 100% accurate, but it helps you avoid most adult content.” At our school district, the SafeSearch filter is turned on by default for the students and cannot be turned off. At home, if you are worried about what videos or images may appear while you or your children browse, SafeSearch can be helpful at avoiding objectionable material. The SafeSearch setting can also be locked if you have children that use your computer at home.

Bing SafeSearch

Microsoft’s Bing also offers a SafeSearch setting. The SafeSearch within Bing can also be turned on and off, but has a moderate setting as well. When in strict mode, Bing will filter adult oriented text, images, and videos from the searches. In moderate mode, Bing will filter adult oriented images and videos, but does not filter any text. The third setting turns SafeSearch off. Much like Google, Bing states that their SafeSearch, “won’t catch everything.”  However, Bing does include a link to a form that can be filled out that sends a support ticket to Microsoft regarding objectionable content that comes through the filter.

Yahoo SafeSearch

Yahoo also offers a SafeSearch filter, much like Google and Bing. Yahoo makes a similar statement, “While SafeSearch won’t catch everything, most adult content won’t show up in your search results.” The Yahoo SafeSearch also offers strict, moderate, and off settings as well. Like Google, the Yahoo SafeSearch can also be locked.

 

2) Safe Browsing

Google offers a service called Google Safe Browsing which is provided in the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari browsers. This service contains a list of URLs that are known phishing or malware websites. The nice thing is that Google Safe Browsing is built-in protection. When a user comes across a known malicious website using one of those browsers, a notification is displayed warning the user that the website may contain malware.

Microsoft offers a similar built-in service called SmartScreen, which was introduced with Internet Explorer 8. It is still a key component of the new Microsoft Edge browser that comes with the recently released Windows 10.

 

3) Safe Clicking


In my experience as an IT director, some of the worst issues tend to come from those who click questionable links while surfing the web. Doing so not only opens up the potential for viruses, but your private information can be subject to being stolen. It sounds menial, but pay attention to what you click and what you open. This is especially important now that ransomware attacks have increased in the last couple of years. This is a good conversation to have with your students and children as well. Don’t be — click happy!

 

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Safe, Kid-Friendly Alternatives to Google, YouTube, and Beyond

parental controls, safe social media websites for kids, safe video websites for kids, safe search websites for kids, safe gaming websites for kids, online child internet safety

Today’s youth is exposed to technology very early in life – according to 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics, ”30% of U.S. children first play with a mobile device when they are still in diapers”.  Relative to toddlers, children aged 8 are more capable and conscientious of their actions.  However, they are barely halfway through elementary school!  Yet in a recent study, parents started to allow unsupervised internet time when their child was 8 years old.

Big name sites such as Google and Facebook have created safe search options in order to protect young kids from inappropriate content on the web, e.g., Google SafeSearch and Youtube Safety Mode.  However, with high upload volumes every day, it’s almost impossible to filter out all the “bad stuff”.

Parents can’t constantly look over their child’s shoulder and watch for unsuitable results that may pop up.  Luckily, developers know that.  Here are some safe, kid-friendly alternatives for the top internet activities. These sites contain only pre-filtered content, so parents can rest easy while their child uses the web.

Search Engines

Search engines host a wealth of information, spanning from every topic imaginable.  A lot of this content is particularly unsavory for young children.  It’s easy to stumble upon adult content, especially with slang perpetuated by web-culture today – feel free to type in “jugs” (porcelain and ceramic, right?) into Google with SafeSearch enabled and see what comes up.

Instead, set websites like kidrex.org or googlejunior.com as your browser homepage.  You don’t need to “enable” anything on these sites, all the safety measures are ready to go.  Kidrex is aimed toward a younger elementary school audience while Google Junior is perfect for kids entering their tween years.  Google Junior even provides a word and quote of the day.  See what happens when the word “porn” is searched:  

 

Kidrex blocks everything even remotely related, while Google Junior provides relevant, non-explicit results surrounding porn in a different context –current events, news, even web filtering shows up!  

Video Streaming

Youtube Safety Mode blocks obviously explicit video content, but it’s by no means infallible.  They even say this themselves: “Restricted Mode hides videos that may contain inappropriate content flagged by users and other signals. No filter is 100% accurate, but it should help you avoid most inappropriate content”.  Many suggestive videos escape the filtering criteria, and the comments posted underneath each video can be extremely profane.  

Start your kids on Kideos, a site that contains a myriad of trendy, kid-friendly entertainment.  It includes a variety of popular TV shows from channels including, but not limited to Disney, Nickelodean, PBS Kids.  It does not allow comment posting.  They also offer an app compatible with most smartphone platforms.

It even allow parents to set limits on videos based on age group or choose how long their child can watch videos, after passing a “parent security question”.

parental controls, youtube safety mode, kideos, safe youtube

Social Media

45% of kids aged 8-11 use social media.  Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram offer a great way to connect with peers, stay in touch, find a community, and keep updated on current events.  However, these sites are also filled with online predators and scams that target young, uninformed users.  They also have the highest occurrence of cyberbullying, Facebook topping the chart as #1.

To avoid these risks and foster a safe, fun online community for younger children and pre-teens, various companies have created social network sites with “training wheels”.  These range from ad-less interfaces, features that connect a parent account to the child’s account, or manual review of uploaded photos by on-hand company staff.  Some sites are even centered around themes – Franktown Rocks is a site devoted to safe social networking surrounding sharing and making music.  BBC recently compiled a list with the top safe, social media sites for kids aged 7-13.

School Research

When tackling a research project, students tend to immediately turn to Google.  This is a great resource for gathering ideas, but the quality of results are varied.  Students may have to comb through a large amount of unaccredited sources and irrelevent search results before finding something they will be able to cite.

Many schools actually purchase subscriptions to online databases for students to use; these are heavily underutilized.  Common names are Cengage Learning or EBSCOhost .  They serve as virtual, portable libraries.  After students indicate the subject area they are interested in, these databases supply relevant content from scholarly article, ebooks, and encyclopedia entries.  All students need is their school access code – which is usually posted on their school’s homepage or around the school libraries.
Say your child had a research project about guns.  See the contrast between Google SafeSearch and a database with the single keyword “guns”:

>> Google safe search first provides near by places to access guns.

safesearch, child internet safety, safe image search

>> Then supplies more information about buying guns with a mention there at the bottom concerning guns in current events.

safesearch, child internet safety, safe image search

>> However, the database lists books about the history and culture of guns, the controversy over gun rights, and even the theory behind electron guns.  Much more relevant to a research project.

research database, child internet safety, school filter

Gaming

Last, but not least, gaming!  Kids spend most of their time on the internet playing games.   Yet, these sites are often riddled with scams, predators, and violent-themed content.  This list provides a wide variety of alternative sites which are as fun as they are educational.  Trusted sites include PBS Kids and Brain Pop!. There are safe sites devoted to a range of interests from arts to sports!   

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8 Lessons Learned from Network Bots

Our systems have detected unusual traffic
from your computer network

At Securly, we have gained a lot of insight into bot behavior based on our own experience seeing this message. Google’s security team has been tremendously helpful in understanding this issue.

We are sharing our findings below hoping they will be helpful for anyone experiencing similar issues. Note that we are intentionally not sharing any insights that Google wouldn’t want bot writers to get access to.

Here are 8 lessons learned from our experience with network bots:

1) Google search generally doesn’t like “onion routing”

Onion routing can happen even unintentionally on many networks when the school has a network or a web-filter with more than one egress points to the public Internet.

If Google detects that the same user(s) is accessing its service from different source IP addresses, it flags the behavior as bad. This is how Tor or HOLA VPN works as well.

We haven’t dealt with HOLA specifically, but it is possible that some students may have installed HOLA VPN to get around web-filtering, leading to the entire district/school IP(s) getting flagged by Google.

2) Google attempts to flag traffic at the user-level first before it bans the entire IP address

To do this, it naturally has to rely on the IP addresses present in the traffic it sees.

If the school network uses proxy-based web-filters that are incapable for preventing onion-routing and additionally are incapable of adding X-Forwarded-For headers to the Google traffic, the school will trigger Google bot alerts in our experience.

3) Repeated Google queries can get the IP flagged

If onion-routing is not involved, even with fixed IP addresses, we have found that bots that are performing repeated Google queries can get the IP flagged.

4) If you use hosted or cloud-based proxies, ensure that these are not open proxies.

In our experience, restricting traffic to registered school IPs helps a lot.

If your school needs to keep proxy access open to even unregistered source IPs (e.g. to support take-home 1:1 iPads being proxied through on-premise web filtering proxy), then you must ensure that X-forwarded-for headers are added.

Again, this is only possible if your web-filters are capable of MITM HTTPS handling. As explained above, without this, the bots would appear to Google to come from the IP address of the school web-filter causing bot alerts to show up for all users behind that IP.

5) Unsolvable Google captchas can be caused by having multiple public IP addresses

If you are seeing a Google captcha that you are unable to solve, in our experience that is a sign that the Google related traffic is exiting your network from more than one public facing IP address. This is common in medium to large sized districts.

What happens in this case is the captcha gets served because Google sees “onion routing”, and once it is served, even when it is solved, Google doesn’t associate the solved captcha from one IP address to the offending IP for which it served the captcha.

For example, google.com/search may have happened from IP address A, but the captcha itself was served from ipv4.google.com which is accessed via IP address B. In our experience, ensuring Google.com and ipv4.google.com get accessed from the same source IP get rids of the issue where the captcha is unsolvable.

6) Bots are smart!

Bots are extremely smart, and we have found even cases where the bots discovered that we were an open-proxy only over the CONNECT + HTTP methods (we have regular HTTP, regular HTTPS and CONNECT HTTPS covered).

7) A good way to detect bots on your network is to look at night-time traffic

Bots in general do not go to sleep like humans do, and for that reason, you should see Google search traffic from these happening even at 2AM local time.

Firewall logs can quickly point to the source of the traffic on your school network.

8) A single infected machine can impact your whole network

Yes, a single infected machine on your network can bring the access to Google search down for the entire district.

This information is not endorsed by Google in any way, and is provided on a as-is basis here with the hope of helping the school admin community.


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Allowing Teachers to Control Web Filtering in Their Classroom

Teachers need choice on when they’re ready to unblock as they teach students to use technology appropriately.
– Tanya Avrith, Google Certified Teacher.

We see two “classroom-level” issues come up time and again in post-deployment scenarios:

Classroom Management
While this was a solved problem in a Windows-only world with applications like LanSchool, the product that we see used most often for a Chrome-heavy classroom is Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard.

Web Filtering Policy
The advent of Common Core State Standards has meant that teachers have a great deal of control over the tools and websites that they use for classroom instruction. However, we believe that schools’ web filtering policies (which are decided at the district level) have not kept pace with this trend. More often than not, teachers who find an interesting resource during lesson planning end up finding that resource is blocked during classroom instruction. The only recourse is to file a helpdesk ticket.

We believe that where possible, teachers should be allowed (and indeed encouraged) to tweak the district’s web filtering policy to suit the needs of their classroom. This is particularly important with YouTube, by far one of the most-used resources by classroom teachers everywhere. While well-intentioned, solutions like YouTube for Education and YouTube Safety Mode don’t allow teachers instant access to content added to their channel. In line with our philosophy of making teachers the “IT Admin of their own classroom”, we designed a better YouTube feature that allows teachers to approve individual videos or entire YouTube channels.

Have ideas about what other features would make for a better YouTube experience in schools? Please reply to this post and let us know!

Securing GMail for Google Apps for Education

Monitor the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms and other forms of direct electronic communications.”
– Excerpt from the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA (Source: fcc.gov)

The CIPA law is clear in its intent. E-mail sent by students needs to be policed. Since most web-filters lack the ability to do this, schools normally end up blocking e-mail and chat. However, this is no longer an option with many schools turning to the free Google Apps for Education (GAfE) suite as the foundation on which they base their 1:1 initiatives. Part of GAfE is of course GMail, which students will need to use for a truly collaborative experience. The challenge here is that permitting students to use GMail allows them to log in with their consumer, or personal (as opposed to Google Apps) account. Consumer accounts cannot be policed and this opens the school up to liability. The problem is complicated by the fact that all GMail traffic is over SSL. Very few web-filters support the ability to decrypt SSL traffic. Securly recommends the following steps to secure GMail:

  • Intercept and decrypt GMail related SSL traffic. Achieving this normally involves pushing out root certificates provided by your filter vendor out to your end hosts.
  • Add the HTTP header X-GoogApps-Allowed-Domains, whose value is a comma-separated list with allowed domain name(s). Include the domain you registered with Google Apps and any secondary domains you might have added.
  • Archive GMail using an application like Vault (now free for schools). This makes all of the mail sent over your network searchable and keeps your school compliant.

To learn more about blocking consumer/personal GMail, check out our other post here.

Enabling YouTube Safety Mode

YouTube Safety Mode enables safe searching and hides videos that have been flagged for containing inappropriate content

YouTube Safety Mode enables safe search and hides videos that have been flagged for containing inappropriate content. A recent update by Google allows for decoupling safe Google search from Youtube Safety Mode.

So by enabling YouTube for Schools, you’re limiting everyone’s ability to see videos that aren’t tagged as EDU or added to your own allow list. Then the list of people that are allowed to whitelist videos is something that you have to maintain manually.
– I.T. Admin on Forum

There is often a debate in schools about the use of YouTube, with common implementations falling into one of three categories: completely open access, YouTube for EDU, or altogether blocked. Allowing students to access a completely open YouTube can expose them to potentially inappropriate or distracting content. On the other hand, YouTube for EDU tends to be limiting, as teachers and admins are required to add one video at a time to their playlist. With the undeniable importance of YouTube as an educational tool, blocking YouTube altogether is not really a feasible option. The solution we recommend: YouTube Safety Mode.

YouTube Safety Mode is a setting that, similar to Google’s safe search, hides inappropriate content when enabled. Videos that have been flagged as being inappropriate by users for a host of reasons will not be accessible in this mode. The following string will need to be injected into the Cookie header of a YouTube traffic flow in order to enable Safety Mode:

  • PREF=f2=8000000

What follows is a description of how two of our customers are using YouTube Safety Mode to achieve a conducive learning environment.

  • Webb City R-VII School District, MO: Have turned on YouTube Safety mode for in-school filtering. Since the district believes that home is actually a less supervised environment, they turn on YouTube for Schools for their 1200 Chromebooks when they go home.
  • Romeo Community Schools, MI: YouTube Safety mode has been turned on for both school and home for 3300 Chromebooks. The Safety Mode is used in conjunction with URL based keyword blocking to achieve a learning environment that is in line with community standards. Keywords that lead to inappropriate content showing up are blacklisted on an as needed basis.

Note: A recent update to the Google Apps Admin Console allows for decoupling Google safe search from YouTube safety mode.

Improving safe image search with the Creative Commons filter

Google safe image search results for "sxy" with the Creative Commons filter applied

Google safe image search results for “sxy” with the Creative Commons filter applied

Several of our customers have reported the following issue: Image Search is not safe enough with Safe Search turned on. Blocking image search altogether is not a great option since there are legitimate uses for this functionality. Our recommendation in this case is to turn on the “Creative Commons” filter that is supported by all major search engines. The idea here is to filter out all images except those tagged as being distributed under the “Creative Commons” license. We have found based on extensive empirical evidence that images with this license are for the most part appropriate for classroom use. Further, the filter can be turned on for students only while leaving staff unfiltered on image search. The following strings will need to be appended to image search URLs to turn on the Creative Commons filter:

  • Google: &tbs=sur:fmc
  • Bing: &qft=+filterui:license-L2_L3
  • Yahoo: &imgl=ccr

You can test out search results with the Creative Commons filter applied here.

Blocking additional keywords to enhance safe search

Results for "cocaine" with standard Google safe search enabled

Results for “cocaine” with standard Google safe search enabled

Even with safe search turned on, keywords that would normally be inappropriate (ex: those related to drugs or violence) for a K-12 setting are allowed by Google, Bing and Yahoo. To address this issue, we recommend URL based keyword blocking. Securly uses a keyword list of over 1000 keywords that has been carefully culled to avoid False Positives. This list can be built from publically available sources. We also recommend accounting for permutations of those keywords to address evasive behavior. For example, a student could type “h4(k1ng” instead of “hacking” or “a$$” instead of “ass”.

Securly blocks 1000 keywords beyond the standard database used by Google, Bing, and Yahoo safe search.

Securly blocks 1000 keywords beyond the standard database used by Google, Bing, and Yahoo safe search.