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Students Use Technology to Hide Activity From Schools and Parents – And Put Everyone at Risk

By: Steve Meany, CEO

From dodging questions about what they do online to covering their phones when an adult enters the room, kids take all sorts of action to hide their digital behavior, and they’re often far better at it than adults are aware of. With a majority of kids now online at least once a day – sometimes for several hours – it’s no surprise there are ways to manipulate settings on devices to hide information.

Why does this matter? It poses the risk of kids sharing inappropriate content and/or interacting with people who are not who they claim to be. It also increases cyberbullying and school data security risks.

Secret, Vault, and Ghost Apps

It seems innocent enough. The HiCalculator or Calculator% app right there on the homepage of a child’s device is a great educational tool, right? Beware – all is not what it seems. Open either one and a private passcode is required that only the user knows. Enter the code, and he or she can unlock hidden contacts lists, a separate internet browser, and storage options for notes and photos. Here are a few more of the most popular secret apps kids use.

  • ASKfm lets the user ask anonymous questions, but is also used for cyberbullying and targeting certain classmates.
  • Hide it Pro lets kids hide videos and pictures behind a lock screen and create albums they can email to others from inside the app. It automatically locks as the user exits, and has a feature that makes it appear empty if a parent or teacher tries to open it.
  • Whisper may say it requires users to be at least 17 years old, but there’s nothing to keep someone younger from downloading and using it. The app lets kids share their opinions and thoughts by placing text over images. Unfortunately, it’s also a popular app for online harassment and cyberbullying.
  • Yik Yak lets kids post text message that are visible to other kids who are closest to their location. The app contains “frequent and/or intense alcohol, tobacco, or drug use references,” “crude humor,” and “frequent and/or intense sexual content or nudity,” which means the opportunity for cyber bullying or sexual harassment are of high concern.

The Challenge of Cyber Security

Every moment IT must spend managing and troubleshooting security issues is time not available for its real job: working with administration to improve student education. If your school receives E-rate funding for high-speed internet access, though, you are required to comply with the FCC’s Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) provisions and:

  • Create an internet safety policy.
  • Use the latest content filtering technology.
  • Actively monitor user activity.
  • Educate students on appropriate digital technology behavior.

Schools must also work to:

  • Restrict user access to inappropriate content
  • Take security measures to protect users on online channels
  • Create rules that deal with unlawful online activities
  • Take steps to protect kids against unauthorized use, dissemination, and/or disclosure of their personal information.

Bullying, harassment, and even threats are nothing new. What’s changed is that nearly everyone, including kids, has a digital device that allows them to bully, harass and threaten more easily. Schools need a variety of IT solutions that can provide them real-time situational awareness, but it isn’t easy. Success will depend on using multiple technologies, sharing information with other schools, and putting pressure on anonymous app developers. Schools will also have to be flexible. As kids move from one app to another, they must be ready to constantly model and analyze new cyber threats.

If you aren’t sure if your school’s policies and practices are up to date, contact us for a review. We’d love to help.