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6/27/2007
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Schools Lack Cybersecurity Training As Students Grow Cybersavvy

The School Safety Index indicates that while 95% of districts surveyed are blocking Web sites, only 38% have a closed network that lets them control the content students can access.

Schools need to take the lead in educating kids about the dangers of the Internet, taking into account the fact that their students are growing increasingly tech-savvy every year. Those are the main findings of the School Safety Index published Tuesday by CDW Government Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corp., which sells IT products and services to schools and government agencies.

CDW-G's School Safety Index is a research project to benchmark the status of public school districts' safety and emergency response programs. It's based on 14 elements of physical and cybersafety -- including data monitoring, security software, and safety education -- and includes responses from 381 school district IT and security directors.

The School Safety Index indicates that while 95% of districts surveyed are blocking Web sites, 89% are placing computer monitors so that adults in the classroom can see them, and 81% are monitoring student Internet activity, only 38% have a closed district network that provides them with control over the content students can access and the communications they can send and receive. For those who do have a closed network, an emerging challenge for educators and IT directors is the ability of tech-savvy students to build proxy sites that get around closed networks.

On a positive note, nearly every district surveyed said is has an acceptable-use policy that defines how students are permitted to use school computers and networks. Still, 37% say they update these policies less than once annually. And only 8% of districts provide cybersafety training to students. Respondents indicated that they rely more on filtering software to protect networks than on actively engaging students to be part of the safety solution.

"Popular social networking sites such as Facebook have just opened up to high school users in the last year, which means that many districts have no stated policy about students using district resources, especially bandwidth, to access these sites," Bob Kirby, senior director of grades K-12 for CDW-G, said in a statement.

The study comes at a time when parents and educators are struggling to understand how their children and students can use the Web to learn and interact with other Web users while at the same time keeping these children safe from sexual predators and pornographers. The Pew Internet & American Life Project and security vendor Webroot Software have each recently released reports that measure, among other things, how often children are contacted online by strangers or received sexually explicit e-mails.

IT managers likewise have a vested interest in keeping tabs on the content their users send and receive. In January, a jury found former Connecticut substitute teacher Julie Amero guilty of four counts of risk of injury to a minor after her classroom computer in October 2004 started displaying pornographic pop-up advertisements. Amero was later granted a new trial, but her ordeal sparked a controversy over the role that IT managers and executives should play in ensuring that PCs and other equipment are secured in such a way that only appropriate content is provided to end users.

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