Student internet use blocked after DCPS updates filter


Zoe Friedman

Central Office updated the DCPS security firewall at the beginning of this school year in an effort to filter student internet use more effectively. As a result, computers that aren’t issued by DCPS are prevented from using Google on the DCPS Wi-Fi networks. The update makes it impossible to conduct Google searches and to access Google Drive.

DCPS Central Office did not alert school administrators or teachers when the update was installed at the beginning of the calendar year, and only a few weeks later began to send schools the fix.

Typical systems of enforcing internet filters in schools have become less useful as ways of securing data online have become more complex. Most websites that start with the prefix “https” have Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. SSL encryption ensures that data on a website is hidden from everyone except the sender and receiver, making it impossible for DCPS’ internet filter to access the information.

Since DCPS cannot access the data on a website that uses SSL encryption, they can only utilize the most basic information, such as a website name, when blocking inappropriate content on those sites. DCPS updated their security protocol to automatically try to find the information SSL is programmed to conceal, so that the internet filters for students can target keywords and search results.

Most computers, however, have not given DCPS permission to access the information that SSL hides online, and informs the user that their information is at risk of being attacked. This prevents the user from viewing the site they are trying to access.

A downloadable certificate that gives DCPS permission to access information that is typically SSL-encrypted was put on the DCPS website two weeks after people began noticing that Google wasn’t working. The file tells the computer that the decryption is authorized, allowing the device to use Google. The certificate requires DCPS login information, so it is not usable for students.

Jacoby noted that other school districts have developed more convenient ways of implementing similar security measures. For example, some schools ask permission from users to access SSL encrypted information automatically whenever someone connects to the Wi-Fi, and if they respond yes to the permission, the system installs the certification software.