Are your students using school networks or computers to access the Dark Web? They very well might be—and you wouldn’t even know it. But ContentKeeper has a solution.
The Dark Web is the seedy underbelly of the Internet, not able to be indexed by Google and other search engines. Because users can surf the Dark Web anonymously, it has become a place for all kinds of illegal activity, including sex trafficking, child pornography, and the sale of private information.
In fact, students are using the Dark Web to access gaming, buy drugs, and hire hackers to change their grades or launch a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on their school’s network, among other illicit behavior.
Accessing the Dark Web is done through a special web browser such as Tor, and students can cover their tracks—while also bypassing their school’s web filtering software and firewall—by using a VPN tunneling application.
For instance, free or low-cost applications such as Psiphon, UltraSurf, X-VPN, and HideMyAss! allow students to circumvent their school’s filtering software by establishing an encrypted Virtual Private Network connection from their device to the Internet, so they can access websites anonymously.
These rogue apps are easily available online. In fact, if you do a Google search for “how to bypass school Internet filters,” you’ll get nearly 10 million search results with links to these various apps and detailed instructions for using them.
When students use these apps to get around their school web filter, this creates serious liability issues for K-12 administrators. And if they’re using these apps to access the Dark Web, there’s no telling what serious trouble they could be getting into.
ContentKeeper has spent years studying the unique signatures of these apps. We have a dedicated team whose only job is to keep up with changes in the apps’ signatures and to learn about new tunneling apps and other rogue applications as soon as they emerge.
We have channeled this insight into the development of a new add-on to our industry-leading school web filter that identifies and squashes the use of these rogue apps as quickly as they appear on students’ devices.
As soon as a student downloads an app like Tor, Psiphon, or Ultrasurf, our new App Defender solution detects the presence of the app on the student’s machine and then isolates the student’s device from the network. The student receives an automated message stating that his or her network access has been suspended until the offending app is removed. Once the app in question is deleted, the student’s network privileges are restored.
Joe Barnett, Chief Technology Officer for the Frenship Independent School District in Texas, likens this capability to putting students in a “time out” until they comply with the district’s Acceptable Use Policy. “We can stop the web activity on that device until the app is uninstalled,” he observes.
Frenship ISD was one of the first ContentKeeper customers to try App Defender. When Barnett installed the solution, he was shocked at what he found: In this district of 10,000 students, it was not uncommon for him to see 400 or even 500 examples per day of suspicious apps identified by the software.
Today, there are fewer than 100 instances per day of students trying to use rogue applications to bypass the district’s web filter—and when they do, App Defender catches this activity. Using App Defender has allowed the district to preserve essential bandwidth for classroom learning, while keeping kids off the Dark Web and ensuring that the district meets CIPA guidelines.
To learn more about Frenship ISD’s use of App Defender, read the full case study here. For more information about App Defender, click here.
About the Author: David Wigley Co-Founded ContentKeeper Technologies in 1997 and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. David has many years of experience in software engineering, sales and management within the Computer Security Industry.
3 reasons to avoid a Chrome-centric school Web Filter
With Chromebooks accounting for nearly 60 percent of the devices sold to U.S. schools last year, many school web filters have tailored their approach specifically for the Chrome web browser.
That is to say, they’ve developed Chrome apps or extensions that take advantage of Google’s SafeSearch feature to deliver a safe and customizable online experience for Chromebook users, without investing as much time or effort into making their solution work effectively with other platforms.
We believe there are serious shortcomings in this strategy. In fact, here are three key reasons why we think taking a Chrome-centric approach to school Internet filtering is problematic.
Leveraging SafeSearch works well for Google websites, but it doesn’t give K-12 leaders granular control over non-Google domains (like Facebook or Twitter).
By integrating their filtering settings with SafeSearch, school web filters that focus on Chromebook can block inappropriate content within Google’s search engine and explicit videos on YouTube, without blocking the entire domain. However, SafeSearch only works on Google-owned domains.
This means K-12 leaders don’t have the same granular control over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites. If you use a Chrome-centric school web filter, you’d have to block these sites altogether or give students access to the entire site.
Using SafeSearch doesn’t allow for comprehensive reporting tied to specific users and subdomains.
Effectively managing mobile or digital learning requires administrators to know what students are doing online and which sites they’re trying to access. To remain CIPA compliant, enforce Acceptable Use Policies, and investigate possible criminal activity, K-12 leaders need comprehensive insight into students’ Internet use, with real-time dashboards and advanced reporting capabilities that can identify which users have requested which particular web pages.
Google SafeSearch doesn’t provide this comprehensive visibility and reporting, even for Google-owned domains. The only way to get it is by decrypting and inspecting Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) web traffic at very high speeds.
Perhaps most importantly, a Chrome-centric approach to school Internet filtering severely limits the options available to students.
What if a student forgets his Chromebook at home and wants to access the network from an iPhone instead? What if your school or district decides to go in a different direction when it’s time to refresh devices? How will you handle filtering for guests on your network? “Bring your own device” (BYOD) programs and mixed-device learning environments become problematic when schools choose a filtering solution that’s built around Chrome.
A full-featured, cross-platform Internet gateway solution solves all three of these challenges by decrypting, inspecting, and controlling web traffic from any device and web browser. As a result, students have the same Internet experience—and administrators have the same visibility and control—at all times. That’s a huge benefit.
ContentKeeper fits this description. Our leading school web filter offers the same top-notch functionality regardless of what device students are using or where they’re connecting from. ContentKeeper also integrates seamlessly with JAMF, FileWave, and other mobile device management (MDM) solutions, so administrators can push out certificates and manage Mac and iOS devices as easily as Chromebooks.
About the author: Mark Riley Co-Founded ContentKeeper Technologies Pty. Ltd. in 1997 and serves as its Chief Technology Officer. Mark has been named on a number of Internet Content Filtering Patents. He has accumulated more than 26 years experience in complex network design and software development with multinational organizations throughout Asia, Europe, North America and the UK. Mark’s achievements have been recognized internationally by NetOps, Secure Computing Magazine (UK) and a range of media profiles.
Teachers and network administrators often have a strained relationship. Though they both have students’ best interests in mind, teachers emphasize student learning and discovery, while network administrators emphasize student safety and compliance.
These perspectives don’t have to be at odds–teachers are invested in student safety, too, and network admins in school districts value learning. But because network admins and teachers tend to work in silos away from each other, they don’t often interact unless something has gone wrong.
Often, teachers approach network admins for help when a content filter has blocked materials they were intending to use for their lesson plan. If this happens more than a few times, teachers can begin to see technology as impeding rather than improving their ability to teach.
Meanwhile, after being on the receiving end of many frustrated teacher complaints about blocked content, network admins can see teachers as a nuisance taking them away from their other important work.
Fortunately, it is possible to break this negative cycle. Read on to find out how districts can bring network admins and teachers together to implement content filters that satisfy teachers’ needs to access materials in their classrooms and network admins’ concerns about safety and compliance.
Breaking down silos
With teachers and network admins focusing on different aspects of education technology, silos are created. Network admins set district-wide content filtering rules while teachers, lucky enough to have classroom management tools, attempt to take digital control of the classroom. When content filtering and classroom management tools don’t work well together, feelings of failure for both the network admin and the teacher are often the result.
This disjointed approach can affect a school’s entire technology initiative. Network admins do their work, and teachers do theirs, and ne’er the twain shall meet except when technology isn’t working as it’s supposed to.
Even when technology on both sides is aligned, frustration can still exists when a teacher is inadvertently blocked from being able to leverage the internet for his or her lesson. Network admins are still left with a support ticket to solve. Many of those support tickets are likely to be caused by overfiltering, which creates barriers to learning. Overfiltering carries risks even beyond interrupting a teacher’s lesson.
As the American Library Association (ALA) put it in its 2014 report, Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later, “The impact of filtering on the acquisition of [digital and media literacy] skills and on learning in general is not felt equally among students. In fact, internet filtering creates two classes of students: an advantaged class with unfiltered access at home and a disadvantaged class with only filtered access at school.”
This is not a situation anyone wants. Teachers and network admins, with the support of school administrators, have to break down their silos and make an effort to understand the other’s concerns if schools are to avoid overfiltering.
What network admins need to understand about filters
Network admins can apply too-aggressive filters in a sincere attempt to stay compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000. (Pressure to apply aggressive filters can also come from school administrators, nervous of falling afoul of the legislation.)
As the ALA and others have noted, many school district filters go far beyond what CIPA requires in an effort to continually keep their students safe online. When schools interpret this too broadly, and the technology department is disconnected from teacher and student needs, it can lead to absurd situations. For instance, one school counselor in Nebraska was unable to download information on suicide for students who came to her for support after an attempted suicide at the school.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Network admins can ensure appropriate filtering, even beyond CIPA compliance, but avoid overfiltering by giving deeper control to the teachers in their classroom. Additionally, clear communication among teachers, IT, and instructional technologists can help nip recurring issues in the bud. Some proactive actions and considerations that can be taken are:
Understanding what the legislation does and doesn’t cover. It’s also noteworthy that the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees CIPA compliance, has not yet found a school district out of compliance. That doesn’t mean compliance isn’t important, but it does mean districts should put thought into how aggressive they want to go with their content-blocking policies.
Consulting teachers on their curriculum and what types of content they need access to. It’s important to understand educational needs before unilaterally making decisions on filtering. Teachers bear the impact of either too-permissive or too-restrictive filtering, and should be involved in filtering decisions from the beginning.
Assessing the range of filtering options. Not all filters are created equal, and network admins should spend time researching the options that best fit their district’s needs. For instance, some network admins spend a lot of time maintaining student-specific whitelists and blacklists. Smart filtering allows control over what students can access based on their grade, location, and the time of day, on an individual student level. Want students to stay off YouTube during school hours but be able to recommend them algebra tutorial videos to consult while they’re doing homework? Smart filtering makes this easy.
What teachers need to understand about filters
There are web filter platforms that include classroom management tools. Having a better understanding of the capabilities of such tools and then investing time in learning how to leverage those capabilities, gives teachers back the control they so need in the classroom. Teachers should consider:
Getting educated on what their classroom technology can do. Adopting new technology is often scary. But with districts spending millions of dollars to ensure students can learn in a modern way, all of that investment is wasted if that technology isn’t used to its fullest.
Feeling empowered to lift specific filter rules. When a web filter rule (that goes beyond CIPA compliance) is getting in the way of a teacher’s lesson, teachers should feel confident to apply classroom-specific rules for their students. This can cut down on support tickets and help smooth out the tension that often occurs between teachers and network admins.
Choosing the right web filter vendor
We’ve outlined what needs to be done to break up those silos and frustration between teachers and network admins, but how do you know your web filter can support the initiative? Here are some key questions to ask when speaking with web filter vendors:
Does your platform include a classroom management solution?
Can we lock in policies that cannot be changed by teachers in the classroom to ensure compliance is met?
Can a non-technical teacher easily use the classroom management tool?
What is the anticipated workload and cost to maintain and support the product?
Can we do more with the filter than just block content (e.g. search term visibility, self-harm alerts, Google and YouTube controls)
Does the filter support all end point operating systems?
By better understanding CIPA compliance, the implications of overfiltering, and how each of their roles relate to classroom technology use, network admins and teachers can work together to ensure better content filtering that keeps students safe while supporting them in their learning.
Instead of countless hours spent in frustration troubleshooting and responding to endless support tickets, explore putting in a technology solution that works for both sides of the debate. See how Linewize can work for your district.
Modern technology has the potential to transform classrooms. The possibilities of an increasingly digital and connected world are nearly endless: Technology can save schools time and money, allow for more individualized learning, and increase engagement at all levels—just to name a few.
However, like any tool, technology is only useful if it’s actually being used. That means that to get the benefits, you have to get the ones who will be using it on board.
School districts across the country know that teachers can be hard sells when it comes to adopting new technologies. They’re often already working at capacity, and throwing another thing on their plate without making some room first is a surefire recipe for frustration.
Fortunately, with a little research, planning, and communication, it’s possible to get teachers on board. It’s all about seeing it from their point of view, and meeting them where they’re at.
Here are 8 specific strategies to warm the teachers in your district up to modern technology.
Assess their wants and needs
There’s no point in getting teachers technology they don’t need. Wondering how to figure out what that might be? Ask.
Discussing tech decisions with teachers helps ensure that your edtech spend is being leveraged to its fullest potential. It can also make teachers more open to adopting the tech, because they’ve been involved in choosing it.
When surveying teachers, try to include questions such as what tools they’re already using, what their major sources of frustration are, and whether there are any technologies they wish they had. A survey is also a great place to integrate a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, which can give you a well-rounded picture of where your teachers are in terms of their tech skills.
Teachers may be more open to adopting modern technologies if you start small. There’s no point in completely remaking classrooms and giving every student a tablet if the teachers and students aren’t ready for it.
Rather than rushing into trying every new technology, try one or two at a time and allow teachers to get comfortable with them before adding more.
Opt for user friendly tech
Just like their students, teachers have different learning styles. Pair that with busy schedules and a wide range of technological know-how depending on factors that can include age, education, and interests (just to name a few), and you’ll find that the best technologies for teachers are the ones that are user friendly.
Being user friendly includes being relatively quick and easy to learn, not having bugs, and having “drag and drop” and other intuitive features.
Clearly communicate benefits (and myths)
Teachers tend to make their decisions based on evidence. If you introduce new technologies without a clear reason for why you’re doing it, it’s unlikely you’ll get a large adoption.
One of the primary goals of any teacher is to meet the core national standards-based learning objectives. If you can show them how modern technologies will help them accomplish this and other goals, teachers will be more likely to adopt the new technology.
Cover myths, too. Many teachers fear that allowing more technology into their classrooms will just increase the number of distractions. However, the classroom is the perfect place to teach students how to use technology responsibly. Consider investing in tools like screen monitoring software to help teachers keep their students on task.
Almost everyone rides with training wheels before they learn how to ride a bike; throwing someone into a situation where they have to use a new tool or skill without proper training is liable to fail.
Make sure to create time before, during, and after the introduction of any new technology to allow teachers to be prepared, use it properly, and stay up to date on its functions.
Create a community
Consider creating things like discussion forums and community boards for teachers to share resources that have helped them. Creating a space for troubleshooting and questions can help smooth the learning curve and lead to higher usage.
It’s not very helpful giving students laptops if there aren’t enough outlets to charge them all, or if the sun is streaming in and washing out their screens.
When you’re introducing more modern tech into your school, you’ll have to think about everything from the layout to building materials. Some important things to consider are WiFi connectivity throughout the school, USB charging stations, safe storage for expensive devices and tech, glare-reducing windows, and more open-concept classrooms that facilitate more modern styles of learning.
Creating the space for modern technology to exist within the classrooms is just one of the practical ways to encourage teachers to adopt it. At the end of the day, teachers want their students to succeed, and if you’re able to show them how modern technologies can help them do that, they’re more likely to welcome—and actually use—them.
SAN DIEGO, California – Familyzone.io, a rising US branch of the Australian-based company, Family Zone Cyber Safety, is pleased to announce the business’ rebrand to Linewize. Due to the rapid growth in the US EdTech sector, the company has decided to separate its enterprise business from its consumer offering.
The rebrand will include new logos and slogans for both its web filtering (Linewize) and classroom management (Classwize) products.
“When you hear the name, ‘Family Zone’, it sounds like a consumer offering. In order to point our customers in the right direction so they receive value from each of our product lines, we’ve decided to segment our consumer and education products,” said Ross Young, Vice President of US Operations.
“Family Zone will remain the parent company, but marketing and sales will be promoting the education business-to-business products as Linewize and Classwize respectively”, Young added.
Linewize, the company’s web filtering product, comes with the slogan, “Wisdom beyond the filter,” while Classwize, the screen visibility, and monitoring classroom technology that empowers teachers to gain back control of the classroom, comes with the slogan, “Modern instruction — delivered wisely.”
These slogans reflect the main goal of Linewize, which is to help create school communities that allow students to get the best out of classroom technology and the digital world, all while protecting them from harm.
“Our mission is simple—to create school communities where students thrive,” a company spokesperson noted, adding that Linewize empowers school communities with the tools, expertise, and support they need to ensure students are safe and prepared for their digital futures.
“We know that districts are spending millions of dollars to ensure students are learning in a modern way in the classroom”, said Ilana Plumer, Head of US marketing.
“Our goal is to make sure districts are leveraging that EdTech spend to its fullest”, Plumer added. “We do that through an enterprise-level suite of SaaS products, so this rebrand is meant to reflect that.”
From web filtering and cyber safety alerts to teacher/student screen sharing and ongoing education for the school community, the tools offered by Linewize and Family Zone will help to guarantee that students have access to safe and successful tech programs.
The company plans to officially launch the new brand at TCEA, the largest EdTech Tradeshow in Texas, which commences February 3rd, 2020.
The Linewize ecosystem is a unique response to the challenge of today’s connected learning environments. The ecosystem aligns a series of products to help districts stay in regulatory compliance, get the most out of their purchased technology, keep kids cyber-safe at school, and impact the parent community by assisting them in raising good digital citizens. For more information, please visit www.linewize.com.