Like spectators at a fast-paced tennis match, school network administrators could almost feel their heads spin with the rapid back-and-forth between the publisher of a peer-to-peer application that allows computer users to foil internet content filters and the technicians determined to keep the blocked sites blocked.

In June, SafeWeb, a San Francisco-area internet security firm that advocates unfettered browsing of the internet, introduced an application called Triangle Boy. Advantage: uncensored browsers. But in July, an Orange, Calif., content management company announced its filtering solution is able to defeat Triangle Boy. Advantage: content managers.

SafeWeb said TriangleBoy is intended to give citizens of authoritarian countries free access to web information. Others worry it gives minors access to pornography.

To appreciate the technological to-and-fro, you need to understand Triangle Boy. Based on explanations presented by SafeWeb, here’s how it works:

A student or other end-user downloads the 1 megabyte TriangleBoy application and installs it on his or her machine. Thus equipped, the user’s machine sends out requests for connections to a forbidden site. These data requests, when blocked by a firewall, seek out another machine on the internet also equipped with TriangleBoy. Retaining IP (internet protocol) address information sufficient to identify the student’s machine, the intermediary computer running TriangleBoy forwards the student’s connection requests to a SafeWeb server. That server, in turn, sends the connection requests to the user’s intended destination. The server at the intended destination now responds to the initial content request but replies to the SafeWeb server. The requested content is encrypted by the SafeWeb server, which then mimics the intermediary machine’s IP address and passes the content back the student’s machine. There, the content is decoded and served up on the student’s computer screen. The content originates on a forbidden site, but the internet filtering system is tricked into seeing the incoming data packets as originating from the innocuous intermediary machine, which the filtering application has not been programmed to block.

8e6 Technologies Inc. claims its R2000 Internet Filtering Server blocks access to the TriangleBoy network. According to the company, R2000’s unique ability to detect use of the TriangleBoy product was made clear during a test of several different internet filtering tools at the Crowley Independent School District in Texas. In Crowley, the district’s technology team ran demonstrations on a number of web filtering tools before concluding that R2000 was the only filter tested that was able to identify when users sought access to the TriangleBoy network.

“It was the only one we tested that could do it,” said Steve Stricklin, Crowley’s technology director. “But there may be other filters out there [that can as well].”

According to Eric Lundbohm, director of marketing for 8e6 Technologies, what impressed educators most was the sheer number of people who had attempted to use TriangleBoy as a means of passing under the filter’s protection.

The research revealed users had attempted to gain access to SafeWeb’s content more than 30 times in one 48-hour period. But, Stricklin acknowledged, there is no telling for sure whether each user visited solely for access to TriangleBoy.

N2H2 Inc., a Seattle-based company that provides web filters to 25,000 schools nationwide, admits its services are not configured to detect use of TriangleBoy. But that’s because the service is not considered a bona fide threat in the school field, the company said.

“Frankly, I don’t see much future in ‘peer-to-peer’ filter-defeating devices, because … there is no potential money to be made here,” said David Burt, a spokesman for N2H2. “Were TriangleBoy ever to become a serious problem, we would take steps to stop it.”

See these related links: Crowley Independent School District http://www.crowley.k12.tx.us

SafeWeb http://www.safeweb.com/ tboy_whitepaper.html

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