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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Web Filtering: equally beneficial for your 5-year-old & 15-year-old

student, web filter, school, block

Web filtering is required by law, as long as schools wish to receive e-rate funding to supply their digital classrooms. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that schools “block Internet access to pictures that are (a) obscene (b) child pornography or (c) harmful to minors.” CIPA also requires schools to monitor student online activity and provide training for responsible technology use.

The general sentiment: students –especially teens– hate web filtering*. Most students find web filtering to be unnecessarily inhibitive, citing that it blocks perfectly acceptable web pages due to one keyword or denies access to social media pages. One argument goes that filtering prevents exploration and blocks students from using tools like Facebook for academic causes. Another, that it is a breach of student privacy.


*Misdirected blame: Web filtering is different at each school. Federal law doesn’t specifically require schools to block Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your web filtering provider doesn’t dictate that X, Y, or Z website needs to be blocked. Besides fundamental protection against pornography and similar graphic content, it’s at the discretion of each school district to whitelist or blacklist the specific sites that students take issue with. Some schools leave social media open, some schools restrict access, etc. Web filtering, when used correctly, can be utilized to help –not hurt–the student experience.


Web filtering applies to all schools, which means the measure applies to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Older students are particularly irked by filtering and feel that although filtering content is necessary to shield younger kids, it is gratuitous for those close to adulthood. Web filtering does vary dramatically from elementary, middle, to high school – however, it offers additional aspects often forgotten that are equally optimal for students of any age.

1. Cyberbullying & Self-Harm Detection

Particular web filters can screen for instances of bullying and self-harm in social media posts. From 2007-2016, the number of students who experienced bullying roughly doubled from 18.8% to 33.8% according to a Cyberbullying Research Center report.  The CDC analyzed cyberbullying by age group and found that 15.5% percent of high school students are cyberbullied, as are 24% of middle school students. Technology is now integrated into daily life at a very young age, leaving even elementary school students at risk for cyberbullying.

37% of cyberbullying cases go unreported; often, students are fearful that 1) the bullying will get worse 2) they’ll be considered a “rat” 3) no one will listen if they seek help. Given bullying’s devastating consequences, detection of bullying and negative sentiment can allow schools/parents to give students the proper care. And even save lives.

2. Productivity and screen time management

In our recent international survey, 53% of students aged 9-18 reported being productive only half of the total time spent working on school assignments. Blocking sites like social media and gaming (especially for younger children) keeps students focused on learning. Some filtering services even allow the admin to establish time restrictions on certain sites (social media, gaming, entertainment, etc.) to create a good balance between recreational and study time.

Also, overexposure to screens may have harmful consequences for cognitive development. Although 5-year-olds may not have research papers to write and assignments to finish, web filtering can help parents and educators manage healthy levels of device usage.

3. Defense against malware and phishing

We asked students their take on web filtering. One student responded, “You don’t get rude ads or viruses.” Pop-ups and pseudo-content are not only annoying but also often dangerous.  Online aggressors specifically target children, enticing them to click on attractive advertisements or links leading to viruses.  

A web filter screens the origin and content of a web page, checking for objectionable content, spyware, and viruses that may compromise your network. It helps keep students safe online and protects from intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware.

4. Helps teachers understand students

On his blog, an IT admin expressed how web filtering helped school staff understand student preferences: ”…you can see stats for student web access. Not blocked pages, which they have a view for too, but sites kids are using. In our case, as we begin having discussions about whether Newsela is a service we want to pursue as a district standard, we now have compelling data telling us that it’s already being widely used and is, in fact, our most accessed website on a weekly basis.”

Teachers can use these insights to create engaging lesson plans and foster a collaborative learning environment, while best-integrating technology into their classroom.

 

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Securly’s Year in Review

As 2016 comes to an end, here’s a brief summary detailing just some of our accomplishments this year.  2017, here we come!

SPRING

We receive the Tech & Learning Stellar Service Award for “Sales Support You Can Believe In”With a first response time of 12 minutes and a median ticket solve time of 1.5 hrs, pre- and post-sales, Securly was recognized by Tech & Learning for excellent sales support. We give prospects a white-glove onboarding experience which includes network configuration changes and an end-to-end UI walkthrough and training.


We start serving 1 in 4 schools in the San Francisco Bay AreaMany school districts –including Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Campbell, Milpitas, Portola Valley, Dublin, Healdsburg– made the switch to Securly given our cloud-based platform and unique features:

  • Ability to secure a heterogeneous mix of devices including iPads, laptops, and Chromebooks both in school and at home.
  • Bullying and self-harm detection on social media using natural language processing.
  • Free e-mail reports and parent portal that offer the promise of boosting parental engagement.

We also serve our nation’s leading Charter networks – Aspire Public Schools, Summit Public Schools, KIPP and Rocketship.

SUMMER

Delegated Administration – our “set-and-forget” Solution for District IT . You asked, we listened. Support tickets for web-filtering in K-12 districts generally fall into two large buckets: 1) requests for unblock websites 2) requests for pulling user reports for disciplinary purposes. In addition, IT admins are responsible for timely response to detection of self-harm or cyberbullying.  This feature unburdens district IT and provides Principals, Guidance Counselors, and Parents access to student activity reports.

Seamless logins for our parent portal.  Parents can get access to the Securly portal by simply clicking through their weekly email reports. The portal gives parents a bird’s eye view of their child’s activity on school owned devices. They also have the ability to set policies at home

Auditor by Securlya free tool to monitor Google Mail and Chat for bullying and self-harmThis tool uses Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms to detect harmful sentiment in messages on Gmail, Drafts, and Chat without relying solely on keywords that require human audits. Keeping this tool free forever is our commitment to K-12 schools.


We become the first web filtering company to receive the iKeepSafe California Privacy Badge. To achieve this badge, companies must meet all requirements outlined in primary federal and California laws. This program helps educators and parents in the state of California identify edtech tools and services that protect student data privacy.

“We congratulate Securly on successfully completing a careful privacy review by iKeepSafe.  In the past few years, a large amount of legislation has emerged protecting and governing student data. By receiving the iKeepSafe privacy badge, Securly has taken an essential step in helping educators navigate this new terrain and keep student information safe.” Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of iKeepSafe


Securly @ ISTE Denver.  Securly rocked the floor at the 2016 ISTE Conference & Expo where 16,000 educators gathered for four days of ed-tech immersion.


We release Can Social Media Save Lives? –a quantified study on cyberbullying Through analysis of over a half million social media posts from over 300 school districts in 2016, Securly found that the average school district faces the threat of teen suicide about every two weeks. Our research centered around student online behavior and its tendencies towards suicide, self-harm, and depression.


We become the first self-servable web filterTo save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush, we streamlined our setup process to be independently completed through a web browser session – without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, we eliminated the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

FALL

We raise $4M in Series A funding. In the new year, we will extend beyond B2B software solutions for schools by engaging parents through a consumer application that allows parents to easily monitor and guide their child’s online activity.

Funding was led by Owl Ventures, a fund that invests in the world’s top Ed-tech startups. Amit Patel, a Partner at Owl Ventures, said, “Securly’s vision of what the future should look like for online student safety combined with the team’s deep expertise with information security and impressive execution is what made Owl Ventures excited to be part of their journey.”   


We are chosen as a SC Media 2017 Excellence Award FinalistOur unique approach to student safety that goes beyond basic CIPA compliance sets itself apart in the web filtering industry, and the SC Awards has taken notice – recognizing us as one of the finalists for Excellence Awards: Best Compliance Solution Category. We see this as recognition of the fact that Securly has made it easier and cheaper than ever for K-12 IT admins to be CIPA compliant.

“Ransomware, nation-state cyber attacks, IoT vulnerabilities, data privacy issues and more are dominating the headlines right now, and it’s critical that we amplify the importance of these problems and highlight the actions organizations can take to safeguard their organizations and their critical data assets,” said Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Media. “As bad actors are constantly changing strategy, so too are the men, women, and companies endeavoring to stop them in their tracks. These finalists have shown that they are the best at what they do.”


We are selected for Tech & Learning’s Award of ExcellenceWe are honored to have been recognized by Tech & Learning under the “Best Upgraded Product” category. This year alone, we have announced new features that are first-in-industry. We will continue to work towards student safety in 2017!

 

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Now you can install Securly from a web browser

securly, web, network, self-serve, schools, web filter

We’re not only the leading cloud-based provider of Internet security for K-12 schools, but also the industry’s first self-servable web filter.  “With our self-serve update, Securly is realizing its long-held vision of giving IT Admins a product that can be set up in minutes,” says Paul Katcher, UI developer at Securly.

Since the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, web filtering has been required for schools that seek e-rate funding. Customarily, the industry has been heavily dominated by appliance hardware players.  Their products need to be shipped, painstakingly setup and often end up as bandwidth bottlenecks on K-12 networks that are increasingly turning to bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming media.

By contrast, we have been cloud-based from day one. With no need for a hardware appliance, customers can deploy Securly with a few simple network configuration changes and benefit from functionality such as granular auditing and policies that they are familiar with. In doing so, they are assisted by our award winning support team based in Charlotte.

Setup can be independently completed through a web browser session without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, Securly eliminates the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

We hope self-serve will save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush.  For more information, contact support@securly.com.

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Introducing “Dr.House” – Our New Debug Tool to Automate Network Troubleshooting

tool, web filter, network, debugThe back-to-school rush is fast approaching, and we have just the tool to ease IT admins and school administrators back into the swing of things…

Meet Dr. House, our new tool that allows customers to certify that their networks are up and running correctly. Dr. House launches a series of automated checks meant to detect the most common network misconfigurations. It performs a variety of tests including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Checks for the presence of a caching server that could be impending filtering.
  • Makes sure that there are no rogue DNS servers without securly DNS configured.
  • Verifies that the Securly certificate is installed.
  • Confirms that all outbound IPs are registered.
  • Ensures that critical Securly services are reachable from the network.

 

Securly was founded on the premise of a quick deployment – the antithesis to the customary web filter setup experience. While other web filtering products require a physical appliance (that still needs to be shipped and laboriously setup), we have been cloud-based from the start.

In the weeks ahead, we will also become the industry’s first self-servable web filter; setup can be completed through a web browser session. Our own Jayesh Agrawal, a software engineer who was instrumental in implementing this tool, says, “The release of Dr. House is a huge leap forward in automating network misconfiguration detection. We hope that this tool will save customers time and frustration while easing the deployment experience.

For more information, contact support@securly.com.

 

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Introducing PageScan – our Blacklist that Learns

content, blacklist, PageScan, schools, web filtering

 

Today, we are announcing that we are Beta test complete on PageScan – our proprietary approach to building a “Blacklist that Learns.”  As any user of a web filter is aware, these products have two different ways by which they maintain their blacklists:

  1. Maintain a static list of websites that are updated periodically.
  2. HTTP response parsing to infer unknown bad content.

The first approach leaves you vulnerable to newer websites that may not be part of your blacklist. The second approach has severe performance limitations.

About PageScan

PageScan is able to accurately block new content and meet the strict performance constraints of modern K-12 networks. We accomplish this using the following approach:

  • The first time we come across  a site that is not in our database, we let it through.
  • We then fetch it offline and scan the response content for keywords indicative of inappropriate content.
  • Our first pass is designed to produce False Positives. We narrow things down with a second pass done with an API call to a third-party service that we have identified as “best-of-breed”.
  • If the site is identified to be inappropriate for kids, we add it to our blacklist.

With this approach, we can recognize an inappropriate site accessed from a school in the UK and use that intelligence to benefit a school in Texas. We are able to identify –with high accuracy– sites belonging to the following categories: porn, drugs, gambling and proxys. Our beta tests have shown an extremely low False Positive rate.

We have decided to release this at the end of September for the following simple reason: we would like to get through the start of school, making only minimal changes to our core system in the interim. Changing the way we handle our blacklist is fundamental to how our system works and the risks of releasing early may outweigh the benefits. As always, should you have any questions, please reach out to support@securly.com.

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6 Student Suggestions to Improve Web Filtering

 

web filtering, web filtering for schools, edtech, online student safety, safe search

 

The following are real student responses from an international survey we conducted during Summer 2015.  We asked students what changes would improve the web filtering experience.  Note: our survey participants included both Securly and non-Securly users.

1. Quick Whitelisting

“At school, I would appreciate the ability for teachers or someone to quickly unblock a website for us if it was blocked wrongly or if it was needed for schoolwork. It usually just says, ‘see an administrator’, which isn’t helpful at all.”

School districts are allowed to use any web filter, as long as it complies with the FCC Children Internet Protection Act.  Thus, each web filter has different functionalities and protocol for unblocking sites.  Securly allows teachers to immediately whitelist a blocked site, making the site available to the entire classroom (temporarily, or not, depending on the school district’s chosen master settings).

 

2. Image vs. Text

“The filter should see if the page has any learning stuff on it. If it is blocked because of pictures, they should only block the pictures and not the entire page.”

Students often feel that some pages are unnecessarily restricted; this hinders their academic research, leaving them frustrated.  In the meantime, students can use safe image search sites and databases to find credible information.

 

3. Balance

“Have a certain amount of time set for being on a particular website (games, social media, entertainment sites). This would be a good change because students would be able to play games but still focus on school. And not worry about trying to get around the filter anymore.”

A quick game break may refresh students from their afternoon stupor, allowing them to refocus on the topic at hand.  In addition, teachers can utilize technology and social media to their advantage in lesson planning.

 

4. More Than Keywords

“It filters any websites with drugs which is annoying. For dance class, I’ve needed to research them as part of my coursework. I would like to see a more specific filtering system that doesn’t filter a whole site because of one word.”

Many of the comments we received had similar sentiment.  Securly supports customizable user policies, focusing on a handful of filtering categories that matter most for the K-12 environment.

 

5. Stricter Filtering 

“Web filtering also doesn’t filter everything it should. Only the things that are more popular.”

Seems like some students feel web filtering is not strict enough.  Students with siblings in younger grades were particularly concerned about the availability of inappropriate information online.

 

6. Digital Citizenship Education

“I feel like web filtering at school is definitely necessary, however, this type of filtering is not usually used at home and therefore they [students] are not really being taught to use the Internet safely. They are just restricted from content that is seen as inappropriate that could be accessed easily at home.”

Many of the students we interviewed felt that their school did not clearly outline an Internet Safety policy or teach digital citizenship practices.  Check out these tips to successfully integrate technology into your 1:1 classroom.  

 

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The Key to A Successful Online Safety Policy

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70.3% of students we surveyed did not know what web filter their school was using, if at all.  ALL of the students we interviewed were unaware as to what sites were prohibited on their school’s network.  Teachers themselves are often surprised and irritated by blocks to YouTube clips planned for class lecture.  Both teachers and students feel that they waste time trying to navigate their school’s web filter.  The solution is simple:  greater transparency.

Transparency may seem counterintuitive; isn’t the whole point of web filtering to screen content?  Well, teaching the school community about their web filtering system will optimize internet safety features and help students/teachers maximize web resources.  Students seek knowledge of the categories of websites that are blocked, which they feel would preempt incidents of being surprised upon being served a blocked page.  In fact, majority of students understand the rationale and support the concept behind web filters and safety measures that schools have put into place.   

By the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools are required to 1) employ technology protection measures and 2) educate students on appropriate online behavior.  The latter should:

 

In addition, IT Admins should notify teachers of protocol for whitelisting sites.  Each process is different depending on the specific web filter.  Most school web filters require approval from the IT Admin, others allow teachers to temporarily whitelist a website using Google Apps for Education.    

This simple tip should help schools safely integrate technology into the classroom!  For more information on creating a CIPA-compliant Internet Safety Policy, check this out!


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8 Reasons Why Students Like Securly Web Filtering

cloud based web filtering, edtech, parental controls, school web filter, cyberbullying, web filter

The following are real student responses from an international survey we conducted during Summer 2015.

1. “You don’t get rude ads or viruses.”

Pop-ups and pseudo-content are not only annoying, but also often times dangerous.  Online aggressors specifically target children, enticing them to click on attractive advertisements or links leading to viruses.  YouTube launched “YouTube Kids” in response to this problem as an addition to their existing safety setting, YouTube Restrictive Mode.  But what about the rest of the internet?  Web filtering helps keep students safe online and protects from “intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware”.

 

2. “It keeps us safe from other people that we don’t know.”

Students are protected from dicey websites and chat forums notorious for online predators.  This, combined with social media privacy settings – such as regulating who can comment on a post/video– reduces the risk of your child encountering internet users with malicious intent.

See the Parental Control Quick Guide for more information on keeping youth safe online.

 

3. “It protects people from cyberbullying.”

Web filtering can block social media sites where cyberbullying frequently occurs, but in today’s tech-integrated environment these sites are important for school-wide communication; and thus, counterproductive to restrict.  Securly includes a Bullying and Self Harm Detection feature with sentiment analysis that alerts parents and admins of possible cyberbullying/indications of harmful behavior.

 

4. “A big thing I agree with is stopping us from getting sidetracked…it can be hard in class when we are on the internet to not get distracted.”

Admins can set time limits on specific sites to help keep students on track and productive; in fact, over 50% of students admitted to being sidetracked while working on school assignments whether on or offline.  Another student remarked, “Web filtering is good because if things weren’t filtered, personally I wouldn’t have done as well in school.  I would be more interested in talking to my friends over social media while they were in different classes.”  

 

5. “It’s extremely useful to monitor and prevent younger kids from seeing all that the internet has to offer.”

Web filtering first and foremost protects children from violence, porn, and other unsavory content.  Students (especially with younger siblings) agree that this is a necessary and useful tool in preventing premature exposure.  Securly’s powerful web filtering technology filters out unsuitable material and language, and even goes as far as disabling YouTube comments on a child’s account.

 

6. “It provides an environment to practice hacking and getting around the rules.”

Definitely a different perspective, but still a valid point!  Apparently, persistent students are learning about the technology behind the filter… looks like web filtering is also creating future developers.  

 

7. “It provides safety throughout the whole school for everyone.  And as well as making us children feel safe whilst using the internet, it also helps parents to know their child is safe whilst browsing.”

Securly offers an interactive comprehensive report which complies top accessed categories, websites, and key search phrases by kids.  Admins are able to see how students are using devices at home versus in school.  It’s quite simple for admins to make changes to the filter settings on the user dashboard.

In addition, Securly cloud based web filtering also extends to the home.  Schools with 1:1 programs are able protect their students anywhere.

 

8. “It stops anything that may be dangerous from happening.”

Some students have such faith in the power of web filtering!  Learn more about Securly web filtering features here.

 


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Why UK Schools Are Choosing Securly

web filtering, online student safety, web filtering for schools, internet filtering

The end of UK Local Authority school networks

By: Richard Moore

In the UK, Local Authorities (LA’s) have been responsible for providing schools with fast, safe internet connectivity for the past 20 years. However, in 2000 the Academy program allowed schools to take control of their own finances and to operate as independent businesses funded by central government.

Many of the secondary academies found that they could procure connectivity more cheaply on the open market – and also take control of their own web filtering rather that suffer one size fits all policies.  By January 2015, over 60% of them had already converted according to data from the DfE.

Ofsted figures report that of the 31,000 schools in the UK more than 17,000 are primary schools.  Many of these primary schools have much simpler connectivity needs and no onsite technical staff. These are the schools that have been left clinging to their local authority networks, and less than 15% had converted to academy status by January 2015.

However, all that changed yesterday in the 2016 budget which stated that by 2020 all schools in the UK must have converted to academy status; LA’s will no longer be responsible for education. This is going to be a major headache for primary school head teachers.

Primary schools have always struggled to justify the cost and complexity of typical appliance based web filtering products, meaning that they were stuck with the LA network. Not any more!

With zero onsite hardware and a very simple, but effective web based control panel, Securly has become the web filter of choice for a growing number of UK primary schools. With pricing starting at less than £400 per year including unlimited support, it is also incredibly cost effective.

With features such as a unique parent portal, SSL filtering for search and social media, intelligent bullying detection, and support for any device you can be sure you have leading protection in place.

Securly offers free unlimited evaluations, and will partner with you to help transition you from the LA network to your own as you make the journey toward academy status.


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