Fortnite and VPNs: Weapons of mass distraction

Fortnite is the most popular game on the planet right now - and it’s reportedly fuelling a massive spike in VPN use by students around the globe.

For a variety of reasons, traditional network firewalls have struggled to block VPNs. But Linewize School Manager harnesses state-of-the-art machine learning technology to defuse these weapons of mass distraction.

For years, Australian students have been using free Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to circumvent WiFi restrictions on school networks. Today, with the explosion in mobile technology, most students have access to their own data plans on a personal smartphone or tablet. But games like Fortnite can burn through data limits fast. With VPNs, students can use school WiFi to keep playing from the opening bell right through to home time.

fortnite2-612017-editedGames like Fortnite can burn through data limits in a flash.

Recent surveys show anywhere from a third to three-quarters of high-school students may be bypassing their school firewall with a VPN. With Linewize School Manager, schools are finally winning the war against VPNs, slashing use by up to 75%.

How do VPNs work?

A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunneling protocols, or traffic encryption. In layman’s terms, that simply means VPNs add a masking layer between a computer and the internet, re-routing traffic through an additional server to disguise the user’s browsing habits.  

What do VPNs cost?

Like most other “free” downloads, the costs of VPN are hidden but substantial. In the words of one developer, “Free services are free for a reason. You become the product” - in the form of personal information, browsing history, etc. that is then on-sold to third parties.

This not only compromises students’ safety - it compromises the school’s ability to maintain duty of care.

Why do people use VPNs?

In places where oppressive governments block IP addresses, VPNs function as a kind of underground railroad to information freedom.

In Australian schools, they are used by students to play games, watch videos, and access porn or social media sites their school has blocked. Up to a third of secondary students admit uses VPNs, and they are increasingly popular among younger age groups too.

Why can’t VPNs be blocked?

Good question! In theory, they can be. The first trick is to identify them - because you can’t block what you can’t detect.

VPNs are cleverly configured to adapt and masquerade as normal traffic. That means they can elude traditional, signature-based filtering.

The second hurdle for schools is lag. Typically, by the time the school has identified and blocked one VPN, students have already moved on to a new one.

And new VPNs are being developed and made available constantly.

Like the hydra, the mythical beast who grew two heads for every one that was chopped off, the VPN has loomed as an unbeatable adversary for school IT admins.

What’s the solution?

With Linewize School Manager, VPNs have finally met their match.

School Manager uses machine learning to analyse data at scale and in real-time and to identify end points.

Consider the example below that shows the browsing history of two users over a 15-minute period:

clustering theory

Which browsing history looks dodgy?

While both users have consumed a similar amount of data, it is unusual for the use of Paypal to consume 800 Mb of data over such an extended period. Machine learning can group users together by patterns, cross-check them, learn about new patterns of behaviour, analyse the IP addresses, and then block the dodgy or suspicious traffic.

How is Linewize winning?

In many ways, it’s a never-ending game of highly sophisticated whack-a-mole.

whack a mole


But Linewize is winning that game. Blocking may not be instantaneous, and may take effect only  after a significant number of students have found a loophole. But we’ve seen a reduction in VPN use from 80% of BYODs to 20-30% in schools with high usage.

With the Fortnite craze in full swing, can your school afford not to look into a solution for VPNs that really works?

Speak with our education experts about cyber safety at your school - Book a Consultation

Topics: Screen time, screens in school, Fortnite, vpn, machine learning, Social Media

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