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Chicomm Blog

Outsmarting School VPN on Student Smartphones and Devices

Posted by Lisa MacGillivray on Tuesday, May 22, 2018

outsmarting-school-vpn-on-student-smartphones-and-devicesKeeping a step ahead of school VPN on student smartphones and devices may feel like a race you’ll never win – as soon as administrators find a new way to keep your internet safe and secure, students find a new way around it.

The best approach for ensuring security is to employ a mix of secure communications equipment, technology, and policy that allows school leadership to set clear expectations about internet access, identify wrongdoing and handle it quickly.

Outsmarting school VPN on student smartphones and devices will keep you on your toes, but the safety of your campus depends on it.

Why Students Use VPN

In other industries concerned about data protection and security, the VPN, or virtual private network, is a lifeline. A VPN allows staff working remotely to securely access an employer’s network by bypassing public wifi or less protected connections, for instance.

In education, however, VPN technology is being used by students to bypass schools’ internet service and the restrictions that come with it. And it’s incredibly easy to do: Students simply download VPN apps, and they’re able to get around school protections.

For the most part, students are using VPN services to access social media, online games and video streaming sites while at school, but administrators have also come across students accessing more dangerous or explicit content.

Be Sure to Ban School VPN

In order to use the internet, phones and other devices on campus, your students, along with their parents or guardians, signed your Acceptable Use Policy at the start of the school year.

That policy is also the place to specifically prohibit the use of VPN apps or technology anywhere on school grounds. Students using school internet are subject to the rules you’ve set forth, and that includes banning access to items that don’t serve any academic purpose.

You want to be sure that your policy spells out exactly what is and what isn’t allowed and the consequences for any infractions. VPN services are so ubiquitous that there’s a chance – albeit a small one – that students may not realize they’re breaking the rules unless you explicitly say so.

Get Technology to Scan for VPN Services

There are a number of solutions available that work in the background of school internet services to scan and detect VPN activity, then notify administrators. This technology is an important complement to the standard set of school communications equipment

School VPN technology is constantly changing to become harder to detect, and it’s worth finding a provider who’s committed to keeping up with what’s new. 

Once you’ve been alerted about VPN use, it’s up to leadership to decide what to do next. After detecting VPN apps or services, administrators have enacted policies to:

  • Wipe all apps on the device
  • Shut down the device in a way that can only be unlocked by the school
  • Disable network access for students with VPN on their devices, effectively blocking student access to printing, textbooks and other class-related material

Students with VPN apps on their devices have also been subject to discipline including detentions and suspensions, with expulsion for repeat offenses. Some districts have even threatened legal action over VPN use for what they consider “hacking.”

Be First to the Finish Line

Technology and policy can and should work together to keep student internet use safe. Making sure students, parents and guardians understand exactly what’s allowed and what isn’t and setting appropriate consequences, coupled with the ability to sniff out school VPN and other prohibited apps will help administrators stay one step ahead.

It's also worth enlisting parents and guardians to get in on the internet security act by actively monitoring minors' use of smartphones and devices and using technology to block access to certain content.