In schools, free online Web proxies thwart enterprise Web filtering

New survey results show security managers in education struggle to control student use of services that bypass enterprise Web filtering systems.

Students at schools and colleges often bypass enterprise Web filtering systems by using free online Web proxies, undermining policies set by security managers.

It's easy to find websites that show you how to do it, and there are even YouTube videos.

Eamonn Doyle
managing directorBloxx Inc.

According to results of a recent survey by security vendor Bloxx Ltd, anonymous proxies are a problem for 87% of IT managers in education, compared with 56% and 44% in the private and public sectors, respectively.

Detecting the use of anonymous proxies is also a challenge, with 43% of IT managers in education saying it takes between a day and a week to detect and block access to new proxy sites.

Anonymous proxies allow users to bypass an organisation's Web filtering defences, and enables them to surf any website completely unmonitored, even sites that are blocked by organisations' enterprise Web filtering systems.

According to Bloxx managing director Eamonn Doyle, many students are quite capable of building their own proxies. "It's easy to find websites that show you how to do it, and there are even YouTube videos," Doyle said. "Otherwise it is easy find existing proxies you can use to get around filtering systems."

The survey found that more than 60% of IT managers consider anonymous proxies a significant network security threat that adds to their overall workload. In education, 29% of IT managers said they have spent more time dealing with the problem this year than they did last year.

"The volume and widespread availability of anonymous proxies continues to grow dramatically and there are now thousands of these sites created every week," said Doyle. "Students in particular are using them to easily bypass Web filtering so that they can surf the Internet free from any restrictions, oblivious to the associated security or safety risks."

The survey, conducted in May, is based on responses from 235 IT managers, 61% of them from the education sector, 29% from private industry and 10% from other public sector bodies.

Doyle also warned that the problem is likely to increase as today's students move into the workplace. "These kids can build a proxy today and another tomorrow, so we need to be able to tackle the problem faster," he said. "Under 35s also know how to use anonymous proxies to bypass corporate filters. There is a time bomb ticking for IT managers, because this generation expects to get access to Facebook and Twitter, and want to use it while they are at work. If IT says they can't use it, they'll find a way around it."

Read more on Network security management