Six ways students are hacking your firewall

Watching YouTube. Playing Fortnite. Maintaining a SnapStreak. Commenting on YOLO. Bingeing on Riverdale. Sneaking porn. ‘gramming pretty much everything.

How are your students bypassing school filtering? Let us count the ways.


The myriad attractions of the online world are constantly seducing our students’ attention, making them vulnerable to online harms and endangering your duty of care. That’s exactly why network filters were created.

But as students spend more and more time on their devices - to the point where nearly half say they’re online “almost constantly” - they’ve also discovered more and more ways to subvert the system.

A useful analogy

We’ll look at each of these common hacks in a moment. But first, it’s important to understand that they present a two-fold challenge to schools: technological and educational.

To unpack that a bit, let’s suppose you had a problem with students sneaking out of school at recess. You could respond in a technical way: for example, by constructing better fencing and security around your campus boundaries. Or, you could respond in an education-directed way: raising awareness about safety, responsibility and values throughout your community.

The ideal solution would cover both bases: physically blocking escape routes AND educating your community about the importance of respecting school rules and boundaries.

It’s a useful analogy, because when students bypass network filters they really are absconding - granted, in a virtual way. And they are also breaking the rules and boundaries that have been set up to keep them safe and focused.

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How students are bypassing network filters

The most popular loopholes students exploit to get around network filtering include:

1- Proxy websites  

This a time-honoured student hack that involves connecting to the internet using outside servers. It sounds complicated but is extremely easy to do, as a simple Google search for “proxy” will attest.

2- VPNs

Virtual Private Networks encrypt IP addresses to trick the network and bypass its settings. Recent surveys show anywhere from a third to three-quarts of high school students routinely use VPNs to access school WiFi without restrictions.

3- Browser extensions

A whole world of browser extensions can enable students to browse anonymously, encrypt data and disguise IP addresses.

4- Stolen passwords

This is basic but effective, and a no-brainer when staff make little effort to conceal teacher/admin passwords, or use easily guessed ones.

5- Firefox on USB  

Versions of the popular browser can be downloaded to a flash drive and simply plugged into a school device for unrestricted and undetected access.

6- Hotspotting

With ownership of 4G-enabled smartphones nearly universal in our secondary schools, hotspotting to school devices is a routine way for students to hop off the network and roam the online world without a leash.

How Family Zone can help

Family Zone’s powerful, cloud-based technology can help you close each and every one of these loopholes - from Classroom tools that let teachers see and control student screens, to best-in-class VPN detection and filtering that works even on hotspotted activity.

But the Family Zone solution goes beyond technology. Our broader mission is to assist you in creating a school community where students thrive. In today’s digital learning environments, that means raising awareness about digital safety, responsibility and values throughout your community. Through our exclusive Cyber Expert Program and our School Success Team we can provide ongoing education, timely resources and evidence-based support for students, staff and parents alike.


Topics: Cyber Safety, Cyber Experts, classroom management, vpn, distraction, BYOD, hotspotting

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