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

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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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Now you can install Securly from a web browser

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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

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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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Securly’s Brand New Dashboard

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“Good design is as little design as possible” -Dieter Rams

To kick off the “Week of Innovation” –live from the ISTE floor– we are excited to unveil our brand new Dashboard! At Securly, we follow a simple rule of thumb for all product design decisions:

Useful > Usable > Attractive

Useful: Does a customer find a feature useful in the way one finds an automobile useful? Does it serve a basic purpose?

Usable: Is the feature designed to be self-explanatory? Will a customer need to file a support ticket to understand what we have built?

Attractive: Does the design evoke an aesthetic that has instant appeal?

We realized that in the previous version of the Dashboard we built, we had flipped this thinking on its head. Our Dashboard had visual pop, but there was very little about it that was useful OR usable. Hence, we set about redesigning it – adhering to the quote from Dieter Rams at the beginning of this post.

First, we enumerated the stats and graphs supported by our old dashboard and classified each into “useful” and “useless”. Next, we went over customer feedback through support tickets and surveys. We picked a couple of key asks that were worthy of the “front page of the Securly UI”.

The new dashboard has the following new sections:

  • Securly System Health: In the spirit of full transparency, we will at all times provide you an overview of System Health. On those rare occasions when there is a systemic issue, we want you to know that we’re working to bring things back to normal.
  • Recent Releases: All of our regularly scheduled releases (including bug fixes) will now show up as a live feed.

Our new dashboard is scheduled for release on Tuesday 28th of June. Should you have any questions, please reach out to support@securly.com.

 

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6 Student Suggestions to Improve Web Filtering

 

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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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Why UK Schools Are Choosing Securly

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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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Why Choose Cloud Based Web Filtering?

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Why Choose Cloud Based Web Filtering?

Web filtering is most widely known within the context of the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 as a means of protecting students from harmful, explicit content found on the internet. However, web filters – especially those that are Cloud basedare capable of much more, in both home and school environments.  

PRODUCTIVITY

From a survey we conducted, about 50% of students reported being focused only half the time they spent studying or working on school assignments due to online distractions.  Cloud based web filtering services allow the admin to establish time restrictions on certain sites (social media, gaming, entertainment, etc.), impelling students to get back on track.

1:1

More than half of the US K-12 population will be involved in 1:1 computing programs by the end of this year, according to Education Week’s Market Brief.  1:1 refers to the practice of each student having their own device (usually a Chromebook or tablet) on loan from the school during the academic year.  Students are able to use these devices in class and at home; thus, schools are now seeking for 1:1 chromebook web filter solutions.  Hardware appliances previously limited web filtering to school grounds.   However, Cloud based web filtering for schools  ensures that students will be protected from harmful content wherever they are.

CYBERBULLYING

The term “cyberbullying” covers any sort of harassment via online communication.  Cyberbullying usually occurs on social media sites and public forums.  Blocking social media sites entirely may be too restrictive (especially for pre-teens) or unrealistic, as many schools use social media to communicate alerts to their students.  Cloud based web filtering provides a balanced solution via “Bullying and Self-Harm Detection”.  This technology analyzes student social media posts and alerts admins and/or school officials at any indication of cyberbullying, self-harm, or grief.  This approach addresses cyberbullying detection and works to prevent cyberbullying’s often fatal consequences.

SIMPLICITY

Until recently, web filtering solutions relied mostly on hardware appliance and routers.  These appliances are often complicated to set-up and require constant maintenance by IT admins.  The cost of mandatory updates and extra features can add up to an exorbitant amount.   Instead, cloud based web-filtering allows for easy, immediate set-up through a friendly user-interface.  It is also a simple way for parents to utilize parental control features.

MONITOR ONLINE BEHAVIOR

Lastly, cloud based web filtering allows parents and IT admins to track sites kids are visiting and how often.  While web restrictions vary from school to school and household to household, it’s important to be aware of your child’s web activity to promote online safety!

 

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Web Filtering Anywhere

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By Tom Walker

cloud-based web filtering, web filtering for schools, 1:1 schools

Web filtering is an effective tool to ensure online student safety.  Recent innovations have allowed web filtering to improve from a rather stationary service, to a mobile and easy-to-use necessity. Schools are starting to abandon inconvenient web filtering hardware in favor of flexible cloud-based solutions which better provide for 1:1 program safety measures.  And now, we can protect our students anytime, anywhere.

Web Filtering At School

When I think of web filtering, my mind always gravitates toward school web filtering. Why not? Web filtering has been prevalent in schools the last 15 years or so. Whether the goal is to keep students away from harmful sites or the need to monitor web activity, filtering has a solid place in K-12 schools. While at school, the walled garden not only benefits students, but also helps to keep malicious websites at bay. The ever increasing number of malicious websites and network intrusions can be problematic for school IT staff, thus filtering plays a key role in helping to block them.

What happens outside of school though? Many home routers have long employed filtering capabilities, but the features were generally quite limited. The home router was akin to the school filtering appliance. The home router could only filter at home, whereas the school appliance could only filter at school. Luckily, web filtering continues to adapt to the ever changing technological landscape thanks to the advances of cloud computing.

Web Filtering Outside of School

Over the last few years, one of the truly amazing advances in technology has been the ability to take your services with you. Whether it is having constant access to once static files or easily moving entire photo albums around, cloud based technology has changed the way we look at things.

With the advent of cloud based filtering, filtering outside of school with school centric policies has come to fruition. Not only do 1:1 programs have devices filtered at school, but the filtering can go wherever the device is. Additionally, features like safe search and utilizing safe alternatives provide an extra layer of protection for the users and devices in and out of school. With this approach, school staff can be a little less worrisome about the devices leaving school grounds. The students are kept safe online, as are the devices from intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware.

Web Filtering Anywhere

Web filtering has entered a time where it can be done at from a multitude of locations. Like many other educational ideas and services, it is no longer confined to the walls of the school. School based policies can now travel along with the students, helping a 1:1 program stay consistent and benefitting all parties involved in the process. So when I think of web filtering, I no longer need to think of it as something that just happens at school. It can happen anywhere.


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