How schools can keep students safe, and on Facebook

In a BYOD world, managing access to popular social media sites has become critical

facebook-mdmToday, educators are implementing exciting technological advances in teaching and learning. e-learning and a broadening acceptance of social media, online collaboration, and other forms of technological engagement are shaping how we view education, and what it will look like going forward. However, this paradigm shift also opens a Pandora’s Box of threats that require administrators to rethink IT strategies and solutions.

In addition to complying with regulations such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), K-12 administrators have to deal with concerns like cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and students accessing inappropriate video content on a host of devices—a problem made more challenging by the increasing adoption of mobile devices on school networks through one-to-one initiatives and BYOD policies. K-12 administrators have to consider ways to extend their network security policies to these devices as well.

As K-12 organizations embrace a more mobile environment, security necessarily becomes a top priority in keeping students and networks safe, while providing access to educational tools and resources online.

A comprehensive web security solution combined with a Mobile Device Management service can help address some of these concerns.

Allow, but monitor
Social-networking sites have become integral assets for providing a diverse, collaborative e-learning experience, and schools should be able to allow classroom access on their networks, while keeping an eye activity. Facebook can be a great tool for collaboration amongst students. However, it can also become a place to bully other classmates with rude posts, comments, pictures. Similarly, online videos can be a powerful educational tool in the classroom if regulated properly. YouTube, for example, has its education arm, YouTube for Schools, which can be a great way to provide students with access to content that is educational, without allowing them to search for inappropriate content.

Next page: Smart filtering of social media

Finding a web filter solution that can provide the ability to regulate YouTube and Facebook, but also tools like Twitter, and Skype is crucial. A good web filter can give administrators the ability to set policies allowing students to access Facebook, while blocking Facebook’s email, chat, and games. Administrators can even get more granular and set trigger alerts when cyberbullying is detected on, say, Facebook comments—allowing basic access, while restricting non-productive activities and applications. Safe search enforcement for search engines and restricted access to video sites like YouTube can block inappropriate content. And administrative overhead can be reduced by workflows and delegated controls for teachers to regulate the type of content accessed in the classroom.

These policies should also extend to mobile devices that K-12 administrators are required to manage. A major concern when providing mobile devices to students is what happens outside of the network. An MDM solution can remotely enroll, configure, secure, and monitor mobile devices so they are safe, whether they are on the school network or outside of it.

For example, devices provided by schools can be configured to prevent installing unauthorized applications. Settings can also be configured to ensure that web traffic is subject to the school’s internet usage policies and enforced through a web filter, even when the devices are outside the school network. They can also be remotely locked and wiped in case of loss or theft. Student-owned devices can also be enrolled, monitored, and provided the right level of secure access to wireless networks and other resources on the school network. The MDM solution can be used to automatically install, manage, and remove applications provisioned by the school on these mobile devices. A good MDM solution should provide simple deployment and enrollment, support the latest mobile devices and operating systems on the market, and scale to handle distributed school networks.

Although maintaining student safety in today’s ever-changing threat environment sounds like a daunting task, you don’t have to go it alone. Together, a web security solution combined with a mobile device management service enables students to benefit from the positive aspects of eLearning, while minimizing risks. It’s a powerful, effective strategy for K-12 institutions to successfully control, manage, and stay ahead of online predators and inappropriate activity. Gain greater peace of mind, while also maintaining CIPA compliance, and ultimately, enable students to learn safely by implementing this powerful combined solution.

Sanjay Ramnath is the senior director, security products at Barracuda Networks.

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