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Online risk to schools: Time for a maths lesson

What actually happens online over the summer holidays? Charles Sweeney, CEO of Bloxx, finds out

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | September 18, 2015 | Technology

Summer is for switching off and relaxing – or at least that’s what teachers think. For kids on a long break from school, it’s an opportunity to get busy in online worlds outside the classroom or playground. As both camps indulged in their favourite holiday past-times this year, Bloxx did a little homework to see what actually happened online over the seven-week break. The findings are fascinating.

Worldwide, over 7 million hours of YouTube videos and 232 billion-plus pieces of Facebook content were generated. There were close to 3 billion searches on Google. 10,160,640 new Anonymous Proxy sites were created. Impressive as they are, though, statistics like these have serious implications for schools and the staff responsible for keeping student learning environments safe.

Students in charge 

It’s remarkable to think that one of the biggest threats to a school’s security is now its very own students. Whereas in the past their behaviour was more predictable, today’s students are, in respect to the internet, laws unto themselves. The accessibility of social media has paved the way for a new authority. Schools can create frameworks and barriers for internet use on their grounds but are powerless to exert the same control outside. Despite parental controls at home, phenomenal amounts of output can be created even in short bursts of activity, and the tech-savvy student is becoming younger and younger. So the question becomes: are schools equipped to respond to such intense developments?

'It’s remarkable to think that one of the biggest threats to a school’s security is now its very own students'

It’s a fact that most schools in the UK are unprepared to cope with the constantly-shifting digital playing field. IT staff may have updated their security measures in July, but they have returned to a vastly different online environment in September. Those using database-driven methods of filtering the web face an increased risk of security breaches and compliance failures as students spend more time online and consume more data. Outdated legacy systems are especially potent.  

To their credit, schools are showing a willingness to adapt and address the risks posed by the internet. They may be slow in completely overhauling their IT for maximum benefits but the appetite for improving systems exists nonetheless. But there are other challenges.

New devices, new challenges

Beyond data, schools also face an influx of personal devices onto their premises at the start of the school year. New smartphones and watches add to an already complex web of infrastructure that IT staff must factor into their security plans. Student devices that gain access to a school’s intranet can cause significant damage – anonymous proxy sites make internet activity untraceable and enable students to easily circumnavigate security networks remotely. The number of proxies created over summer alone is enough to introduce weaknesses into the hardiest IT security system, causing major compliance headaches for teachers.

High rates of device uptake and a growing BYOD culture are putting schools in a vulnerable position. Data creation and consumption rates will only go one way in the future – up – which means establishing an adequate line of defence against the threats is vital. So how can they stay one step ahead to combat the seemingly impossible? 

Defying the numbers

Schools can review their security policies regularly to ensure they are relevant in the current context. The most important thing is protecting learning environments so there is absolutely no possibility of inappropriate or illegal content slipping through the cracks. This can be done by deploying innovative technologies that offer real-time content filtering, regardless of location or device, and mature SSL filtering that eradicates anonymous proxies. With the right approach in place, teachers can easily access the school’s IT to adapt its policy settings to new circumstances, ensuring any new technology is OFSTED-compliant.

The proof is in the maths. Extrapolate the figures for 7 weeks across a 12-month period and the results are quite simply staggering. Schools must make a commitment to updating their IT with the latest safeguarding technology, or risk exposing both their online infrastructure and, most importantly, their students to online risk.


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