Proxy site lands kid, teacher in hot water

A Spokane, Wash., high school sophomore was suspended and his teacher disciplined after the student created a web site that bypassed the Spokane Public Schools internet content filter, the Associated Press (AP) reported April 4.

The Lewis and Clark High School student’s site, called Bad Dog, has been shut down.

Conrad Sykes, 16, said he created the web site because the school district’s content filter hampered student research. With Bad Dog, students could access research sites the filter blocked–but they also reportedly could visit adult sites or others that the district deems inappropriate.

A proxy web site, such as the one created by Sykes, offers an opening through an internet filter that allows a student to surf the web without restriction. The proxy site essentially fools the filter into thinking that the student is still looking at an allowable site.

Once students opened up the Bad Dog web site, they could go anywhere and leave no obvious record of pages they visited, said Ken Brown, the district’s executive director of technology and information systems.

Sykes was suspended for two days in February for violating school computer use policies.

“The Bad Dog project was one of the greatest learning experiences of my internet life, and I also had a lot of fun doing it, too,” Sykes wrote in an internet blog. “Overall, I can’t complain about how things turned out.”

The site was so successful that many Spokane Public School students–and people from as far away as Alabama and Pennsylvania–used it thousands of times between Dec. 14 and Feb. 22.

The site’s success prompted computer teacher Wes Marburger to ask Sykes to make a presentation to other classes on the number of visitors to his web site.

The teacher was given a written reprimand and removed from teaching computer classes, AP said. The state Office of Professional Practices is now investigating and could potentially take away Marburger’s teaching certificate, according to AP.

Marburger’s telephone number is unlisted, and Spokane schools are on spring break this week, AP reported.

District investigators wrote that Marburger knew the Bad Dog site could bypass the district’s content filter–Secure Computing’s “Bess” product–yet allowed Sykes to explain it to two classes.

“You stated your reasoning was that Bess blocked some appropriate sites and that the assignment was to help students learn how to look at internet site statistics,” Staci Vesneske, executive director of human resources, wrote in a March 17 letter to Marburger. “Your conduct allowed Spokane Public Schools students to bypass the district’s filtering system over 3,000 times, potentially exposing them to inappropriate content and putting their safety at risk.”

Marburger told investigators that he should have reported the site to school Principal Jon Swett.

Brown said the web site used a domain name from the Turks and Caicos Islands nation. District investigators read in Sykes’ blog how he built the site. They’re also watching for similar proxy sites.

David Burt, a spokesman for Secure Computing, which supplies Bess to about 16 million high school students nationally, said there have been incidents in the past where students learned to get past the software. Technologically advanced teens set up proxies, but they never last long, Burt said.

Sykes wrote in his blog that he deleted the program the day he was told of his suspension.


Lewis and Clark High School

Spokane Public Schools

Secure Computing’s Bess

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