Google’s encrypted search creates problems for schools

Andrea Bennett, executive director of the California Educational Technology Professional Association, said it “seems counter to the company’s relationship with the education community to create such a situation.”

SDUSD has been blocking Google’s encrypted search since June 3—meaning the district has been without eMail, Docs, or calendars for more than a week.

According to a Google Certified Teachers listserv, an SDUSD employee said his or her principal told the faculty to sign up for Yahoo or Hotmail accounts to use for the rest of the year.

“It is not the district’s intention or desire to block access to Gmail and/or Google Apps,” said LaGace. “We are only interested in blocking access to [Google’s] beta secure search. … Though we recognize the hardships this is causing both students and teaching staff at various schools and charters within the district network, the bottom line is the district has no alternative but to prevent student access to explicate material. … We’re hoping Google soon realizes they have created a tremendous conflict for all school districts that jeopardizes schools using Google Apps. Every school district across the country is going to have to deal with this same decision.”

Although his county heavily relies on features that Google makes available free of charge or for little cost to educational agencies, Jones said it might decide to block access to the Google web site altogether to fully enforce its AUP and to keep children as safe as possible.

“It was very disconcerting for me to see not only this new direction [Google] is taking [putting privacy above all else], but also what appears to be a complete disregard of what I feel are valid objections by those who work in education,” he said. “If Google really wanted to find a middle ground, they could easily move their encrypted search to specific IP addresses on the internet that only provide this feature. That would allow educational agencies … to block access to those IP addresses if we do not feel that an encrypted search is necessary for our agency.”

Lightspeed Systems says it is taking measures to help schools deal with the new encrypted search.

The company has just completed a software change that it is now testing for release. The change would allow schools to decide by groups of users where to block the encrypted searching. For example, schools would have the option of blocking encrypted search for students, but not for staff.

According to a spokesperson for M86 Security, another company that helps schools with CIPA compliance, though M86 also cannot block Google’s SSL search without blocking Gmail and Google Docs, the company’s Secure Web Gateway can help filter within SSL search.

“This is an issue for all solutions that either are deployed out-of-band, in which they don’t look at the traffic, or those that are unable to de-encrypt SSL traffic,” said M86’s spokesperson. “For customers who require the ability to filter Google SSL search and are looking for more granular control over SSL traffic, M86 provides a Secure Web Gateway product which can be deployed inline or in a transparent mode. … The M86 Secure Web Gateway can decrypt SSL traffic and will ensure that the traffic over SSL is filtered.”

According to LaGace, SDUSD has contacted Google to voice its concern.

“We have been in direct communication with Google since this new search was launched, and we have been frustrated with the responses we have received so far,” he said. “The following Google response falls far short of acceptable for a school district responsible for managing the internet safety of 132,000 students: ‘We want you to know that we do recognize the problem and Google is in the process of escalating the issue with our search team.’ … ‘Your concerns have stimulated discussion here, but the decision was to not make any changes at this time.’”

In a post to Google’s official blog on June 14, Google Enterprise President Dave Girourard had this to say about the matter:

“We’re working hard to address this issue as quickly as possible, and in a few weeks we will move encrypted search to a new host name—so schools can limit access to SSL search without disrupting other Google services, like Google Apps for Education. Longer term, we are exploring other options, like moving authentication to its own host name so that we can return encrypted search to”

Girouard concluded: “Safety and security matter to Google, and we are committed to working with our partners in education so that we help keep students safe and secure on the internet.”


Google encrypted search

Lightspeed Systems

M86 Security

Sacramento County Office of Education

San Diego Unified School District

California Educational Technology Professional Association

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Securing Your Campus from the Inside Out resource center. Today’s technology-rich schools face a growing number of threats to physical security as well as network security. Protecting student information and sensitive data and preserving students’ peace of mind in classrooms and on campus can be a daunting task. Go to:

Securing Your Campus from the Inside Out

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