Why Web Filtering is Integral in the Fight Against Hate Speech

securly, web filtering, students, school, cyberbullying

The current situation

Hate speech is speech that vilifies a group of people based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender, etc. It is an undeniable part of this country’s past and a threat to our future. While many Americans urge acceptance and inclusion, others vocalize prejudice and animosity. Our current leadership explicitly condones such disparaging remarks through their own practice.

People tend to repeat what they hear and see, especially children. And through social media, especially now, such remarks are more prevalent – reaching people across the country. Its impact does not go unnoticed. There have been reports of children bullying their classmates on the basis of race, invoking the current President’s name to validate their claims. Bullying is not only in the classroom, but online as well.

Unfortunately, social media as a medium seems to trivialize all content it transmits (everything from serious tragedy to harmful memes) and the informal culture causes us to forget the consequence of our actions online. While teachers are working to create a safe and tolerant environment on campus, physical limitations weaken their efforts when it comes to the online environment.

How web filtering can help

Traditionally, educators and parents saw web filtering only as a way to protect children from pornographic content, malware, and phishing. However, web filtering can also aid schools in fostering an inclusive learning community.

With the right web filter, schools can catch instances of cyberbullying and hate speech. Using Machine Learning algorithms, a web filter will find instances of cyberbullying and alert administrators and parents – allowing schools to resolve conflict immediately and encourage the conversation of acceptance outside of school walls.

 

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Webinar #4 Debrief: Layer 7 Filtering and Why it Matters for K-12

web filter, layer 7, webinar, K-12, firewallStudents getting around the web filter? Have no fear, Duckie 007 is here! In our most recent Webinar, our Principal Sales Engineer explains just what schools needs to prevent students circumventing web filters: Layer 7 filtering. We explicate the importance of Layer 7 Filtering for K-12 by first taking you through its history and the evolution of Firewall (from stateless to stateful) and finishing with tips to help you select the best Layer 7 appliance.

Here’s what we covered in Webinar #4:

  • History of Firewall, 1984 to present
  • Most Common Attack Vectors, what they are and what to watch out for
    • Tor – allows for anonymous communication based on Onion Routing
    • Ultrasurf – leaves no trace of use!
    • VPN – be wary of client software!
  • Selecting a Layer 7 Appliance for K-12
    • Throughput stats & scalability
    • Specializing – cloud vs hardware

See the full video hereWebinars occur at the end of the month and are open to everyone, free of charge.

 

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Webinar #3 Debrief: BYOD & Guest Networks

Securly, BYOD, network, schools

In Webinar #3, our Principal Sales Engineer Brandon Duckworth (Duckie 007) focuses on best practices for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies in schools. Unlike 1:1 Initiatives where schools provide the device for the students, BYOD, allows students to bring personal devices which present different challenges.

Well, what are some things to consider before setting up a BYOD network? Brandon believes that Network Segmentation is the most important component for BYOD and provides an in-depth explanation on how to strengthen your school’s network. See full video here.

Webinars occur at the end of the month and are open to everyone, free of charge. Webinar #4 –Why Layer 7 filtering matters to K-12 schools?– will take place on May 25, 2017 at 11AM PST. Register here.

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Auditor Serves 200 School Districts Within Two Weeks of Launch

securly, auditor, gmail, student, safety

The numbers are in! Within two weeks, our new product “Auditor by Securly” already served 200 school districts. Auditor is a free tool that helps schools detect signs of bullying and self-harm on Google Mail.

Securly launched Auditor this March to help schools ensure the safety of their students by monitoring GMail for messages that are indicative of bullying or self-harm. With G-Suite products becoming instructional tools of choice in K-12 education, students are living in Google Drive and Gmail for their classwork. These tools have augmented Facebook and Twitter as media to perpetuate bullying and declarations of self-harm. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, however, they are not policed by traditional web-filtering solutions.

Auditor currently scans over 500,000 emails and sends out over 100 alerts per day – proof that it is an effective zero-cost solution for K-12 admins who seek to have their students use 21st-century tools while guaranteeing their safety. Keeping Auditor free forever is Securly’s commitment the company’s mission of ubiquitous and affordable student safety.

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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

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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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