As anonymized messaging apps top the download charts, their popularity raises the increasingly serious issue of cyberbullying. Communication service providers, network owners and operators that are conscious of this issue can play a significant role in protecting vulnerable users and strengthen their position as more than just “pipe providers”. So how can you become the “Knight in shining armor”? Well, by offering comprehensive Security as a Service.
Sarahah and the rise of anonymized messaging
Summer 2017 has seen the messaging app Sarahah rocket to the top of the download charts in Australia, Ireland, the US and the UK. Essentially it’s a social networking app that lets anyone send anonymous messages and it has caused alarm amongst parents that it is exacerbating the incidence of cyberbullying and the sharing of inappropriate content among school-age students.
Sarahah isn’t unique. It’s simply the latest in a line of apps that enable anonymous messaging, alongside predecessors like Secret, Yik Yak and Whisper. In some cases, adoption of these apps is meteoric, followed by a falling away, such as the case of Yik Yak, which has recently closed.
The dark side of anonymized messaging and the effect on children
These applications are designed with fun in mind, but the dark side is that their capability to send anonymous messages is a breeding ground for malicious behavior, which is becoming endemic in schools and colleges.
According to a survey by the Cyberbullying Research Center in the US, 34% of students had experienced cyberbullying in their lifetime (17% within the last 30 days). Four out of five of the students who were cyberbullied said they had been targets of malicious comments online, while 70% said someone spread rumors about them online. Notably, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the students who experienced cyberbullying stated that it really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school. Indeed, you don’t have to spend a long time online to find stories of young people driven to depression, despair, sometimes violence and even to suicide, by intensive online bullying, which includes the receipt of unpleasant IMs and obscene pictures.
Furthermore, these applications are enabling an increase in the distribution of inappropriate material, even among grade school children. In a recent study by a UK teachers’ union, 62% of teachers said they were aware of students sharing inappropriate content, with as many as one in six of these children being of grade school age. Even a third of the teachers themselves have fallen prey to social media abuse over the past 12 months, according to the survey.
Children’s charities have expressed a concern that constant access to social media, and the online sharing of adult content and other harmful content such as racist material, can distort children’s image of themselves and others, their view of healthy relationships and ideas of consent.
What role can network owners and operators play to protect children?
Understandably, educators have traditionally considered the best approach to bullying to be education and vigilance. However, the technological changes that have given rise to cyber bullying require a different security solution, which should be offered as a service by service providers.
Arguably, just as their services offer seamless fixed and mobile internet access that has become an essential tool for education, they can help to protect students and staff from the abuse that can accompany the countless benefits of connectivity. Furthermore, educational establishments, as customers of service providers, will increasingly look to them to help them solve this challenge and protect their users by offering security as part of the service.
When provided with the right solution, networks can prevent access to inappropriate material and stop it from spreading, and they can police or prevent the use of frequently abused messaging applications. To achieve this involves establishing and implementing policies at the network level so that networks can block and / or limit access to certain applications and websites. Service providers are in a position to deliver this as a service to school networks and educational authorities
In a similar manner to web parental controls, a network-based solution enables network operators to determine what is safe for their users to access using various content-filtering techniques that identify, classify and control access in real-time. Different access levels can be set according to different individual user profiles, for example for staff and students. Ideally this solution is scalable and multi-tenanted, able to protect both large and small populations, whether they are delivered by IT administration in an individual school’s LAN, by central IT admin across an educational district, or by the service provider itself across an even wider area. And importantly, such a solution should offer security on fixed and WiFi networks provided for users.
For example, an Asian educational ministry is currently deploying an Allot solution which protects schools nationwide. The solution has also been implemented by universities as far afield as Japan, the UK and the US, giving all of these organizations traffic visibility, management and control in order to create the safest and optimal network environment for students, teaching staff and administration alike.
Thus experience shows that providing security at the network level delivers the comprehensive protection and assurance that users need, and also provides CSPs with opportunities to benefit their business by selling Security as a Service to their customers.
To learn more about Allot Security as a Service solutions, contact us here.