High stakes for schools failing to cut it in web security

Marc Thaler

Take a guess at the percentage of U.S. public schools with some form of web connectivity. Do you think it’s around 25%? Could it be a 50-50 split? Perhaps it’s pushing three-quarters of the pie?

Stephanie Banchero, the National Education Reporter for the Wall Street Journal, would tell you to keep on guessing.

“Virtually every school in America has some Internet access, thanks, in part, to a federal program known as E-rate, which provides about $2.3 billion annually to connect schools and libraries to the web,” Banchero wrote earlier this year.

There are, of course, pros and cons to making the Internet available in the majority of schools.

Purely from an educational standpoint, it’s hard to make a case that Internet access is a bad thing. Using the web for instructional purposes is a wonderful way to enhance the learning experience and (pardon the pun) connect with today’s tech-savvy generation. Learning, no matter your age, should be fun. The Internet and Wi-Fi-enabled devices make it possible.

But there’s a disturbing downside to making the web available in most schools: Students – many of whom are under age – may be exposed to the darker corners of cyberspace. Some minors may unintentionally access sites and chat rooms glorifying bigotry, pornography and violence, for example. Others intentionally search for such content.

To say educators and school officials face a monumental task is an understatement. Parents may have the ability to control their children’s web activity at home. But it is virtually impossible to shield them from every danger that exists online, particularly when Internet access is seemingly available everywhere – including schools. Moreover, the number of personal mobile devices students use to access the Internet during the school day makes matters even more challenging.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half (47%) of U.S. 12- to 17-year-olds own smartphones, and 74% say they access the web via mobile devices “at least occasionally.” This leads into several serious and sensitive topics.

Take cyberbullying, for example, and consider these statistics from NOBullying.com:

  • 68% of teenagers consider cyberbullying a serious problem
  • 75% of teens have visited a website that harasses a peer
  • 90% of victims will not tell a trusted adult

Familiar with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)? It is federal legislation requiring schools to create and enforce a web policy that ensures the safety of their students. This is precisely where a comprehensive IT security platform, complete with web protection, can help you achieve this necessary standard of security.

The solution you choose should enable you to:

  • Whitelist specific domains
  • Monitor the web around the clock
  • Identify web usage by device
  • Track bandwidth usage

The Internet is a powerful tool. But in the wrong hands – whether those of an irresponsible adult or impressionable minor – it can be destructive.

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Want to know more about security? Then check out the videos serious by our security lead, Ian Trump…