Internet security specialist SmoothWall is set to launch the latest version of the School Guardian web filter to help schools counter ‘Shadow Surfing’ next week.
The product incorporates support for blocking encrypted proxy technologies such as UltraSurf, which allow students to ‘Shadow Surf’ by disguising the IP addresses of the websites they look at.
By ‘Shadow Surfing’ (known as 'proxy abuse’ in IT circles) students can view any material they wish without alerting administrators or being restricted by traditional security products.
Often described as ‘unblockable’, UltraSurf is a free 100kb download that once installed allows students to visit any site with impunity (ed : Now that's an interesting piece of software)
The product is just one of a growing range of ‘secure’ or ‘SSL’ proxy anonymizer applications (other examples include TOR and VTunnel) that are readily available on the web to help students outsmart school filters.
‘Shadow Surfing’ products are particularly difficult to detect because they allow students to view web sites and media files within a secure tunnel, where content is encrypted and cannot be scrutinised.
They also present a much more serious security problem since the tunnels students use for unauthorised surfing also allow malware and other web-related threats to sneak into school networks undetected.
Although a simple solution is to block all encrypted traffic, it is impractical to do this since secure transactions often need to be made in the daily business of running a school.
Although many security vendors claim to prevent encrypted proxies, in most cases, the suggested ‘fix’ is simply to implement a blanket block.
SmoothWall adopts a much more sophisticated approach by screening encrypted traffic for the characteristic usage patterns that are inherent in proxies such as Ultrasurf, so schools can continue to utilise legitimate secure connections.
Colin Woodcock, Learning Co-ordinator at Haven Technology College in Lincolnshire says shadow surfing is becoming a significant barrier to learning in Britain’s schools: “Student misuse of the Internet is a serious impediment to learning. Over the past few years, students' knowledge and ability to circumvent the existing filtering provision, particularly by the use of proxy servers, has become a major cause for concern”.
Due for release in later in July, the latest version of School Guardian comes with a number of other interesting features including a YouTube top videos report (so schools that want to allow the site can check who is viewing which videos and when), and a handy User Portal which should help over-stretched administrators to do more delegating.