Huge rise in bids to access banned sites

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by Chris Tobin

Millions of attempts to access banned websites are being made on school computers around the country every month, but while the number in South Canterbury is unknown, it is believed to be low.

In the three months to September 30, Network for Learning (N4L) blocked 2.2billion pupil attempts to access blocked sites.

“Our reporting looks at the total number of blocks in categories across the entire network rather than focusing on any one region or school,” N4L chief executive Larrie Moore told the Timaru Courier.

“Each month, we are seeing an increase in the number of blocks but the volume of internet used by schools is rising.

“With this, the volume and sophistication of cyber threats and harmful content circulating on the internet is also rising.”

New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association Aoraki regional chairman Martin Kane said attempts by pupils to access banned websites did not seem to be an issue for schools in South Canterbury.

“Not that I’m aware of.

“Blocks to websites are not necessarily student-initiated attempts – often this can include advertisement blocking or malware blocking.

“I wouldn’t think that students’ desire to access banned sites has increased that much unless schools are blocking popular social media sites more.”

N4L is a Crown company that connects 98% of New Zealand schools to internet services through its managed network.

It found the number of attempts by pupils to access banned sites shot up to 2.2billion in the three months to September, from onebillion in the previous three months.

“Some school pupils are attempting to get around computer filtering systems by using VPNs, virtual private networks, as millions of banned websites are being clocked, which represent 5% of the total blocks we made in September,” Mr Moore said.

“We subscribe to a number of different services that look for new and existing VPNs.”

More sites categorised as “games” were being blocked, with this category getting the most number of blocks on the network, he said.

Less than 0.2% of the total blocks in the three months to September 30 were for pornography, the same number as for gambling, while games accounted for 38% of blocks.

“Gaming sites can display inappropriate ads and images, including pornography, and can harbour malicious software specifically designed to disrupt or attack computer systems without the user’s consent,” Mr Moore said.

N4L applied a universal level of filtering to block 14 categories of malicious websites and harmful content that posed clear security and safety threats, such as websites depicting explicit violence, substance abuse, pornography, extremist groups and illicit hacking activities.

“N4L plays an important role in protecting schools online and we take safety and security very seriously.

“The technology we use is continuously updated in response to the evolving online threat landscape,” Mr Moore said.