It’s essential for schools to create a safe digital learning environment. However, content filters and firewalls may not be enough to stop students from accessing blocked sites. Continue reading to find out how students use VPNs to get around school firewalls and filters.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It allows users to connect to a different computer and use the other computer’s internet access. It seems like the computer being used is in a different location and it hides all browsing history through an encryption process. This is beneficial for people using public networks who want extra security, but it can also allow students to get around firewalls and filters. They can access all blocked sites at school because the computer isn’t using the school’s network. This allows them to access any website — and hide their browser history. Students can also play video games using a VPN. In fact, there are multiple YouTube videos of students playing games such as Fortnite during school hours. In these videos, students also tell other students which VPN is best to use for games.


How do students access VPNs?

With a simple Google search, students can connect to hundreds of VPN services. Most of these services aren’t free, but plenty are — and they’re easy for students to access. Then, they can connect to the VPN as if they’re connecting to WiFi. Before leaving the computer, all they have to do is disconnect from the VPN. And students can create their own VPNs that connect to computers at their own homes, too. This way, they can access their home’s internet connection at school. To do this, all they have to do is follow a few steps.


How can schools tell if a student’s using a VPN?

Without access to the other router, there isn’t much a school can do about VPNs. However, monitoring software like LearnSafe can detect and screenshot attempts to access a VPN on school computers. LearnSafe comes with a pre-populated library of terms. This library is editable, so administrators can also flag the names of VPN services used at a school. This way, LearnSafe allows administrators to have informed, proactive discussions about VPN use at schools. Also, the presence of LearnSafe on school computers may deter VPN use before it begins.


Text by Linda Hunt


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