From looking to watch their favorite music videos on YouTube, to streaming the latest episode of their favorite Netflix series, or attempting to play Fortnite during research periods, there are dozens of reasons students look to bypass web filters in school. And with that growing number of reasons, comes a growing number of means and methods students rely on to accomplish this goal. So what can you do as teachers to prevent this and to maintain a safe and focused learning environment in a digital world?
Common Ways Students Bypass School Internet Filters
Some of the most common ways students bypass school filters include:
Firefox from USB
Changing network proxies
While this list expands daily as students continually discover innovative methods to access restricted content at school, below we wi’ll explore what these common methods entail, as well as what can be done as teachers to prevent their use in your classrooms.
1. Proxy Websites
Probably one of the oldest methods of bypassing web filters, proxy websites enable users to anonymously connect to websites through outside servers. When I was in school, a popular proxy site was myproxy.com, but proxy sites are created and disabled daily and it is all but impossible to keep track of them all. Students need only search “proxy” or “proxy sites” to see the most popular proxy websites for any given day/week. Rather than battling and endless number of proxy websites one-by-one, you can us the web filtering features of GoGuardian Admin to block proxy sites collectively. These features include keyword blocking, smart alerts sent to teacher devices (when students attempt to access restricted content), SSL intercept, and many more.
VPNS or Virtual Private Networks, work as a tunnel between two devices. VPNs enable students to bypass web filters and other blocking features by encrypting data (such as IP addresses) to make it impossible for others to detect or decipher. Blocking VPNS can be slightly trickier, in that they operate as individual programs installed on individual devices. Using GoGuardian Admin, however, you can create digital classroom policies that block “VPN” as a keyword search, preventing the downloading/installing of VPN software and apps. Additionally, you can use your firewalls to block computer ports that support VPN connections to deny the installation of new software without teacher permission.
3. Browser Extensions
For students curious how to bypass web filters in school, browser extensions have often come in handy. There are many extensions that enable students to browse anonymously, encrypt data, and even anonymize IP addresses. Prevent this by restricting administrative privileges on student accounts to prevent unauthorized downloads and installation of browser extensions that may conflict with web filter programs. Use GoGuardian Admin to set policies that restrict student access to control panels and settings from student devices.
4. Stolen Passwords
While not as technologically sophisticated as most of the other methods, a time-tested method for students attempting to access blocked websites in schools is stealing teacher/admin passwords. All of the security in the world means nothing, if you leave your passwords lying around on Post-Its or in easily accessible locations. Be sure that passwords are secure, original, and stored in secure locations. The best password security involves changing passwords often (such as every 6 months.)
5. Firefox from USB
There was a time when web filters and blocking student access to “in-private” and “incognito” browser modes were barrier enough to prevent student access to restricted sites. However, students are now able to find ways around these barriers through websites that allow them to download versions of the Firefox browser that runs on a USB drive. Students are then able to bring these flash drives to school, plug them in, and use Firefox unrestricted and undetected. Similar to combating VPN usage, to combat this, set your firewall to “deny” student access to computer ports and connecting unauthorized devices.
6. Changing Network Proxies
Network proxies on school computers retain information about blocked/restricted websites. By accessing the settings for any web browser, students have the option to toggle proxy settings for their browser on or off. This can also be prevented by limited permissions for student accounts on school computers, preventing students from making changes to computer settings. Additionally, GoGuardian Teacher can be a great tool to stop students attempting to change network proxies with its real-time monitoring of student device activity, smart alerts, and direct communication between teachers and students. Using Teacher, you can set alerts for students attempting to access restricted content and send notes to their devices encouraging students to get back on track!
Importance of Preventing Students from Getting Around School Filters
There are many reasons why web filter and restricting access to certain content and websites are essential in schools, with student safety being at the top of that list of reasons. As teachers, we are entrusted with the safe care and education of students, and there are a seemingly endless number of potential threats and dangers that await on the internet. Web filters not only prevent students from visiting violent, graphic, and distracting sites while at school, but also serve to prevent them from unknowingly sharing personal information with strangers. Preventing students from getting around school filters keeps them safe and focused, leading to better educational experience.