If you want to beat the system, learn how it works first! Internet security at schools is becoming tougher to bypass every day. Here’s how those pesky administrators are preventing your fun:
Blacklisting works by the school (or district) network saving a database of ‘blocked’ sites – such as gaming sites or social networks like Facebook. If a student tries to access a ‘blocked’ website, the network system will refuse connection to it. These systems can be inconsistent, because there is no way they can keep up with the growth of the internet.
If anyone finds a games website that was created very recently, chances are it isn’t blocked. Blacklist filtering systems are also vulnerable to being bypassed by proxy servers, though it is very likely schools will stay on top of blocking as many proxy sites as possible. Find an unblocked proxy site, though, and you’re good to go on any website you want.
Whitelisting is the opposite of blacklisting. Schools specify a ‘whitelist’ of sites which students can access. Any sites not on the whitelist are inaccessible. It is unlikely your school will use this system since teachers are often dismayed at the number of ‘educational’ sites that the system will block, and applying for a site to get whitelisted can take a while.
Unfortunately, if your school does use this system, there isn’t a lot you can do about it. Trying to access a proxy server would be impossible, since no school would add one to their whitelist. All you can do is persuade your teachers to try getting the system changed!*
*Obviously you want to complain that educational sites that you like are blocked. The teachers won’t care if you can’t access your favorite online games.
This system is more complex than blacklisting or whitelisting. The system identifies ‘keywords’ on a website (such as ‘games’ or ‘videos’). Based on these keywords, the system will try to figure out whether the site is appropriate for school use or not. Trying to access an online games site, for example, will probably send alarm bells ringing for the system and it will promptly refuse you access. Or, you might search Google for a term like ‘online games site’ only for the keyword filter to block the search.
Generally, it is too difficult to explain how these systems work, since they are based on complex mathematical algorithms. However, these systems are not perfect, so you may stumble on a site a teacher would find inappropriate, but the filter (incorrectly) says is OK. Note that it’s perfectly possible to combine keyword filtering with blacklisting too – so if the keyword filter gets it wrong, the site you’re trying to access may be on the blacklist anyway.
Be paranoid – because the school computer admins are watching you!
Trying to avoid your teacher’s supervision is one thing, but getting past your school’s IT staff is another. You may not realize it, but admins can watch your activity even to the point of monitoring your computer screen remotely. I’ve even seen admins take control of someone’s screen and send them a message telling them not to play games! Depending on the size of your school, though, you’d have to be very unlucky for the admins to pick on you for this, especially if dozens of people are using school computers at any one time.
Another tactic is for the school’s computer system to log every website you access, and bother you later about it. But you would only get into trouble under this system if you were careless. Most people in the computer classrooms will go on a few websites they shouldn’t go on anyway, and your teacher might even occasionally let people browse the internet freely for a while. Only if you had a history of constantly accessing ‘inappropriate’ sites would you possibly get into trouble for it.
Another way schools block websites, especially game websites, is to configure school computers to stop flash and java files from being loaded. Flash and java are two kinds of programming tools that developers can use to create games – and since most internet games are powered by flash or java, blocking them means virtually all internet games are blocked.
Some schools may just not install java or flash on their systems, which would also block the games. It is sometimes possible to get around these systems though – some tech-savvy kid in your class might know how to install flash on the computers, for example – but trying to manipulate your school’s computer network is something you don’t want to get caught doing.
Hopefully this article shed some light on what your school is doing to block your beloved gaming websites. Knowledge is power, use it to your advantage!