How We Keep 1M Students Safe Daily

We introduced Auditor after learning from our schools that students were using Gmail to express negative emotions such as bullying and self-harm. We made it free so that no school would have to make compromises when it comes to student safety.

Today, Auditor is thriving – scanning 3.5 million emails per day for 1 million students across the world.

‘Within six months of its launch Auditor has scanned more than 100 million emails and saved so many lives – That’s the power of AI and best part is that it’s all free! This is something that each every school should have as kids lives are at stake.’

‘Securly has been having its filtering product around for quite sometime but our core mission has always been ubiquitous safety for kids. Auditor is one such product that is so core to our mission, we decided to give it for free. Since its launch six months ago it has helped save countless number of lives.’ – Neeraj Thakar, VP India R&D Operations

Auditor also ensures that schools are CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) compliant. CIPA requires schools to maintain “the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications”. However, traditional web-filters do not address this. Many schools reported using Google’s default compliance options to flag emails that contain a predefined set of keywords.

This method is undependable as:

  1. It Is prone to lots of False Positives (False Alarms) and False Negatives (Missed Alerts).
  2. Does not scale well in a large District where IT becomes the bottleneck in sorting through these flagged messages.

 

Instead, Auditor uses an automated sentiment inference approach. For example, consider a 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”

Though the allusion to suicide is clear, it does not contain the keywords usually associated with this kind of behavior. A keyword based approach would not have worked in detecting this.

 

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10 Reasons Why Securly is the Best Web Filter

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Between our unrivaled student safety features and dedicated team, here’s why schools and parents trust Securly to keep their kids safe online:

1. Free Chromebook Filtering

Set-up takes less than 5 minutes and it works seamlessly at home. In July, our Chromebook filtering became free for all schools everywhere. Since then, 700 districts (and counting) signed up and installed our self-serve Chromebook solution.

2. Free self-harm detection via Auditor

Our Auditor tool monitors Gmail for signs of self-harm and has kept over 1M students safer in its first 4 months. Our system uses Natural Language Processing & Artificial Intelligence algorithms to infer the sentiment behind e-mails. We notify parents and administrators in real-time at first sign of at-risk behavior.

3. Expanded Parent Settings

We upgraded our industry-first parent portal to give parents more control to set policies for school-owned devices at home. Parents can customize what your student can do and see on their devices, allow or deny access to specific sites and categories. This is one of our most popular features with parents.

4. Page Scanour blacklist that learns

PageScan is able to accurately block new content and meet the strict performance constraints of modern K-12 networks. Each day, PageScan adds 100s of sites to keep our database in tune with an ever-growing Internet. In fact, our blacklist recently upgraded to recognize images containing nudity, giving parents even less to worry about.

5. Azure AD

Can you ask for anything more than Google SSO and on-prem AD support? Now, you can. Azure AD support has been completed and deployed to many happy customers.

6. Product Stability

Despite our meteoric growth, support tickets are only on track to increase a mere 20%. Why? Because cloud-based filtering works and our product is more stable than ever.

7. Auto Scaling

Our DevOps infrastructure was upgraded to handle auto scaling. This means that as traffic fluctuates, servers turn on or go to sleep based on use  which mitigates chances of a server getting maxed out or even crashing. So, go ahead and throw all you can at us – we can handle it.

Advantages of cloud-based auto scaling:

  • Better fault tolerance: Auto scaling detects when an unhealthy instance, terminates it, and launches a replacement.
  • Improved availability: This ensures that our servers always have the capacity to handle the current traffic demands.
  • Blazing fast DNS resolution.
  • Automated load handling.
  • Highly scalable.
  • Higher service uptime.

 

8. Our Rockstar Team

The guy who works on our Squid proxy wrote the code for our SSL decryption engine over a weekend. Our recruiter hired 30 top-notch sales reps in just under one month. Industry veterans from Microsoft, Amazon, and Qualys are just a sample of the talent that Securly’s been attracting.

9. WiscNet

We secured our first state-wide contract when WiscNet (Wisconsin’s K-12  Research and Education Network) chose to partner with Securly. Along with other large district deals reaching over 2M students, Securly is on track to achieve triple digit sales growth 4 years in a row.

10. Breakneck Growth

Securly is bursting at the seams with 70+ employees across California, North Carolina, and India. Our Charlotte and India offices continue to expand and our HQ in Silicon Valley is having to move to an office 3x the size of our old space. It’s a great feeling.

 

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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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Our 2000% Growth

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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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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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