Thursday, May 28, 2015
The Internet has a chequered history with the humble ass. Kim Kardashian attempted to “break the Internet” with hers, and now we see VPN service “Hide My Ass” sold for £40 million to AVG. This subscription driven VPN service is an interesting case study. Many VPN services are surprisingly coy about where they get their revenue, and about why they exist. HMA, on the other hand, are pretty up front: It was started as a way to bypass school filters, and it is subscription based. It’s nice to see the articles finally showing what we’ve long known - these services are, in the main, used for bypassing school or workplace filtering, and not only by oppressed revolutionaries in a far off land. Nor is Hide My Ass a way to avoid the long arm of the law, they have, in the past, given up users’ browsing details under court orders. What of other VPN providers - the “free” ones? Even subscription supported HMA admit freely they use affiliate marketing schemes to help keep the cost of plans down - what are the others doing to support the cost of bandwidth? Selling data, perhaps? For those with client software, they could be inspecting your secure connections! There’s even been cases where proxy/VPN software has inserted malware. Our advice - block ‘em all - and think twice if you are a user attempting to connect to a VPN service. Despite the name, and the youth of its creator, HMA is a pretty grown-up VPN system - the others, well - who knows?
Friday, May 15, 2015
I can’t pretend that, in the mid 90s, I didn't pester my mum for a pair Adidas poppers joggers. Or that I didn't, against my better judgement, strut around in platform sneakers in an attempt to fit in with the in crowd. But emulating popular fashion was as far as I got. I don’t remember ever doing stupid or dangerous dares to impress my classmates. Initially, I thought, maybe I was just a good kid, but a quick straw poll around Smoothwall Towers, showed that my colleagues don’t recall hurting themselves or anyone else for a dare either. The closest example of a prank we could come up with between us was knock and run and egg and flour - hardly show stopping news.
But now, teenagers seem to be taking daring games to a whole new level through social media, challenging each other to do weird and even dangerous things. Like the #cinnamonchallenge on Twitter (where you dare someone to swallow a mouthful of cinnamon powder in 60 seconds without water). A quick visual check for the hashtag shows it’s still a thing today, despite initially going viral in 2013, and doctors having warned teens about the serious health implications. Now, apparently there’s another craze doing the rounds. #Gameof72 dares teens to go missing for 72 hours without contacting their parents. The first suspected case was reported in a local French newspaper in April, when a French student disappeared for three days and later told police she had been doing Game of 72. Then, in a separate incident, on 7 May, two schoolgirls from Essex went missing for a weekend in a suspected Game of 72 disappearance. Police later issued a statement to say the girls hadn't been playing the game. So why then, despite small incident numbers, and the absence of any actual evidence that Game of 72 is real, are parents and the authorities so panicked? Tricia Bailey from the Missing Children’s Society warned kids of the “immense and terrifying challenges they will face away from home.” And Stephen Fields, a communications coordinator at Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said, “it’s not cool”, and has warned students who participate that they could face suspension. It’s completely feasible that Game of 72 is actually a myth, created by a school kid with the intention of worrying the adults. And it’s worked; social media has made it seem even worse, when in reality, it’s probably not going to become an issue. I guess the truth is, we’ll probably never know, unless a savvy web filtering company finds a way of making these twitter-mobile games trackable at school, where peer pressure is often at its worst. Wait a minute...we already do that. Smoothwall allows school admins to block specific words and phrases including, Twitter hashtags. Say for instance that students were discussing Game of 72, or any other challenge, by tweet, and that phrase had been added to the list of banned words or phrases; the school’s administrator would be alerted, and their parents could be notified. Sure it won’t stop kids getting involved in online challenges, because they could take it to direct message and we’d lose the conversation. But, I think you’ll probably agree, the ability to track what students are saying in tweets is definitely a step in the right direction.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
It’s true what they say: History repeats itself. This is especially true in the world of web security where tech-savvy students, with an inquisitive nature try to find loopholes in school filters to get to where they want to be or to what they want to buy.
Back in September we blogged about two high profile web filtering breaches in the US; highlighting the cases of Forest Grove and Glen Ellyn Elementary District. Both made the headlines because students had successfully circumvented web filtering controls.
Now the media spotlight is on Bloxham School in Oxfordshire, England, after pupils were caught ordering legal highs from their dorms. See what I mean about history repeating itself? Okay, so the cases aren’t identical, but there is a unifying element. The Forest Grove student was found looking at erotica on Wattpad, students from Glen Ellyn students were caught looking at pornography, and at Bloxham it’s “legal” highs. The unifying factor in all three cases is that they were facilitated by a failure in the school’s web filter.
The difficulty, though, is working out what exactly went wrong with Bloxham’s filter, because none of the details surrounding the technicalities have been announced. Were students allowed access to website selling recreational drugs, or was there an oversight on the part of the web filtering management? In the original story broken by the Times, a teenage pupil was reported to have been expelled, and other students disciplined following an investigation by the school which found they had been on said websites.
Without knowing the details, it is probably wrong to speculate, however, i’m going to do it anyway! It’s entirely possible Bloxham chose a more corporate focussed web filter. In a corporate environment, “legal" highs may not present as much of an issue as in an education setting. With a strong focus on education, Smoothwall’s content filter has always been good at picking up these types of site. This is aided by the real-time content filter not reliant on a domain list, as these sites are always on the edge of the law, and move rapidly. Because the law is different depending upon where you live - and, indeed, rapidly changing regarding these substances, Smoothwall doesn’t attempt to differentiate between the grey area of “legal highs” and those recreational substances on the other side of the law. All of them come under the “drugs” category. This gives a solid message across all age ranges, geographies and cultures: it’s best not to take chances with your health!