Keeping students safe when the dark web is so easily accessible.

TorNetworkI just heard about software to allow the easy setup of a website on the Dark Web with little technical knowledge required and no costs other than the requirement of an internet connection.  Simple, easy and instantly anonymous.

Maintaining the safety of students online is a key part of a school’s overall efforts to safeguard students.   When I first entered teaching, this was relatively straight forward.   Students only access to devices in schools was likely to be the PCs in the computer suites where they had limited ability to make changes due to not having administrative access.   In addition, the school would have internet filtering in place to protect the students, where the students main tendency was to seek out games as opposed to any other inappropriate content.   I remember as the ICT teacher in one school, regularly having a look at the schools internet statistics and reviewing the most commonly hit sites for signs of games or other inappropriate content.   It was normally games I would find and therefore games I would block.    For those students who decided they wanted to bypass the schools restrictions the tools available were limited and the required knowledge to make them work was often greater than that which the majority of students possessed.

Fast forward around 15 years, to today, and the students are more aware of the content which is available on the internet, plus the search tools are better.  As such I suspect it is no longer games which are the most prevalent inappropriate website category in schools.     In addition, in many schools, students now come to school with their own device, either a device required by the school or a mobile phone.   The tools available to bypass school restrictions are now easily accessible, numerous and also easy to use.   These tools often aimed at supporting the right to privacy can easily be used for other purposes such as hiding malicious or inappropriate online activity.   I note for example how VPN providers can now be seen advertising their products on TV or heard on the radio.    In the last couple of days, as mentioned at the start of this post, I have also heard of the easy availability of software aimed at allowing individuals to setup websites on the dark web to anonymously share content without fear of it being traced back.

The technical solutions of the past, filtering and monitoring, are no longer sufficient as simply put, monitoring and filtering doesn’t work.    This isn’t just a school problem, this is a societal issue.   The societal issue is beyond the scope of this post however within schools we cannot sit idly by, we need to take action.   We need to take a wide view of online safety which with the removal of the ICT curriculum, somewhere these issues were often discussed and explored with students, has become increasingly difficult.   Time needs to be found to explore the issues around living in a digital world, to explore online safety, ethics, privacy, security, etc however sadly for now I am not sure where there is space for this in the already packed curriculum.    Given this, for me, all schools need to ask themselves what they do in relation to online safety, and what more could they do?   This is a question that should be asked at a senior level.   It is also important that schools get together, not just to share good practice but to collectively work together to ensure we strike a balance between preparing students for the technological world and keeping them safe.  We are all in the same boat and therefore maybe we need to find a collective approach to a collective problem.




Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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