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Keeping the internet safe for schools

On Safer Internet Day, Florian Malecki, international product marketing director at SonicWall EMEA, discusses this year's themes.

Posted by Sophie Beyer | February 07, 2017 | E-safety

With the purpose of promoting the “safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people,” Safer Internet Day is celebrated in over one hundred countries, coordinated by the joint Insafe/INHOPE network, with the support of the European Commission and national Safer Internet Centres across Europe. The day is an opportunity to highlight positive uses of technology and to explore the role we all play in helping to create a better and safer online community. It calls upon young people, parents, carers, teachers, social workers, law enforcement, companies, policymakers, and wider, to join together in helping to create a better internet. 

The internet, and more broadly technology in general, is constantly changing the way our children are being educated. It offers new ways for teachers to engage pupils and inspire them to communicate and learn. However, open access to the internet can leave students vulnerable and at risk from online threats. The government has recognised this and accordingly updated the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE) guidance in September 2016. The new guidelines provide new protocols, recommendations and practices to increase awareness amongst teachers and mentors caring for children whilst they are at school. According to SonicWall’s recent Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance and changes to online safeguarding whitepaper, “1 in 4 children has experienced something upsetting on a social networking site and one in three children has been the victim of cyber bullying,” demonstrating that this guidance to schools is not only useful but necessary.

The fight against online abuse and cyber-bullying starts with the right tools. Schools cannot hope to create a safe online ecosystem for their students without a unified threat management strategy

While initiatives such as Safer Internet Day and the KCSiE statutory guidance revision are helping raise awareness about the dangers that students face online, it’s important for teachers and IT professionals working in schools to know how they can address cyber-threats to keep their pupils safe. The greatest issue for many schools is that they do not have the necessary expertise to monitor and secure online channels. It’s also common for budget constraints to lead to outdated and ineffective solutions being deployed to manage the IT ecosystem within educational institutions. However, even with a strong security platform and updated child filters enabled on the network, the most practical form of defence is to maintain community vigilance in order to identify vulnerable children and intervene where necessary.

 This uncovers another critical issue, namely that identifying victims can be extremely difficult and teachers lacking experience in spotting the signs of abuse will struggle to provide the necessary support to victims. As outlined in the whitepaper, poor record keeping and a lack of structured safeguarding networks means that schools are often unable to monitor individual children and ensure that their voices are heard and the appropriate actions are taken. To combat online abuse it is necessary to isolate individual threats and vulnerabilities to ensure that security is maintained and vulnerable users are kept safe. 

The fight against online abuse and cyber-bullying starts with the right tools. Schools cannot hope to create a safe online ecosystem for their students without a unified threat management strategy. Next generation firewalls with updated definitions and child filters are necessary to act as the first line of defence in monitoring the school network for unwanted materials. Schools must ensure that their security provider uses specific child-protection filters, including the child abuse image content (CAIC) list from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the police assessed list of unlawful terrorist content, produced on behalf of the Home Office. They should also give careful consideration to how the applied filters can protect, yet not deny access to legitimate information required as part of the normal curriculum.

While it’s critical for teachers and IT professionals to educate themselves on new guidance and instruction, there are many schools that lack the relevant experience who will require assistance in choosing and implementing new security technologies that comply with the updated guidelines. Therefore, in order to manage burgeoning computer and mobile device networks within a secure environment, schools will need to employ third party assistance, both to implement new security technologies and advise teachers and mentors in effective modern security practices. With the right security tools and measures in place, schools and colleges can be confident that their students are safe to explore the internet and access the benefits of increased mobility on offer from modern mobile device ecosystems, without fear of abuse.

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