Although network security is not his professional specialty, Porterfield began educating himself on issues such as session hijacking after noticing that many websites managing children's data seemed to have lax information security practices.
In May, he was also quoted in a Mother Jones feature on how other websites such as Shutterfly fail to adequately protect data about children. In that case, what caught his attention was a promotional connection between the website and the American Youth Soccer Organization.
"I was an AYSO coach for my younger son last fall, and I went to a coach training session where I was given a flyer about how to set up a Shutterfly account for my team," Porterfield told Mother Jones. "So I went on, I set up a roster, and then I realized right away that there was no SSL security. I couldn't believe it. I thought: 'We're protecting our credit cards, but we're not protecting our kids?'" He was concerned about what a child predator might do with access to a team account that would include pictures of the children along with their names and other information about them.
Similarly, even though Edmodo says its service is not intended to amass personal information about children, it collects plenty of information that could be misused, Porterfield said.
What concerns him more is that poor support for or improperly implemented Web security seems to be commonplace across educational apps. Now that it has addressed its own shortcomings, Porterfield said he hopes to see Edmodo follow through by requiring more attention to security from its app store partners.
The latest updates to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) state that in addition to its own "reasonable procedures" for protecting the privacy of children's data, software and service providers must "must also take reasonable steps to release children's personal information only to service providers and third parties who are capable of maintaining the confidentiality, security and integrity of such information, and who provide assurances that they will maintain the information in such a manner."
However, the loophole seems to be a vague reference to "commercially reasonable" measures for protecting data, Porterfield said. "I think SSL is commercially reasonable. You've got to be extra careful when it's kids you're dealing with."