Web Surfing's Inception

How do you open a locked door without a key? Easy, you open it from the inside. How do you steal someone’s secrets? Easy, you find Leonardo DiCaprio and invade their dreams, of course. How do you access a blocked site at school? Easy, you plug in your flash drive to the computer’s USB port, open up a folder to view its files and click on the Ultrasurf program. It really is that easy thanks to Ultrasurf, a free download quickly becoming a legitimate way to beat the system.

Ultrasurf is a technological marvel. The constantly expanding and updating program is in a class of its own when it comes to proxy technology. A proxy site is a webpage, which allows you to browse your favorite websites, even though your access to those websites might be blocked by a content filter, according to tech-faq.com. Ultrasurf is a program that has its own proxy inside of it so, unlike other proxies, its website can’t be blocked.

It has been around for more than seven years, outpacing nearly every other proxy program available. With over 800 million daily hits from more than 180 countries, this program has become an incredible technological achievement. Operating under its GIFT System platform, Ultrasurf lives up to its slogan of “Privacy, Security and Freedom,” while bringing Internet service to millions of users simultaneously. The program is remarkable in that it was created to help overcome Internet censorship in China, and not only broke through the massive Internet firewall in China, but survived numerous attempts by the Chinese government to take it down.
   
Ultrasurf has many upsides; one being that it has helped millions gain access to news in countries that use Internet censorship to restrict citizen access to information. However, in public education, it can lead to many problems. Students can very easily download the program to their flash drives and have free access to the entire online world.

As a high school student, I have seen other students use it to access gaming sites, Facebook, YouTube and other blocked sites at my school. There is a reason these sites are blocked; all are distracting and contain content schools have deemed inappropriate. YouTube is full of videos with objectionable content, gaming sites could easily be renamed “virus central” and pornographic sites speak for themselves.

The program erases browsing history so that, unless you know a student is using it, you have no way of knowing where he or she has browsed. The Ultrasurf program becomes a small gold padlock when its window is minimized, instead of showing up as a tab. This makes it difficult to know if a student is using it unless teachers are aware of this disguise. Also, if you don’t monitor everyone’s screen from a faculty computer, there is no way of knowing what sites students have been visiting — highlighting a large hole in school Internet security.

Like security in general, there is no perfect solution to this problem. It would take nearly unlimited resources to take down a program that baffles even Internet police in China. However, to ignore it would create an even greater issue. The key to risk management is heightened awareness. If schools take the time to educate faculty about updates in technology, such as Ultrasurf, potential problems can be minimized. The time is now, as the worst can be avoided by informing teachers before an epidemic breaks out. The opportunity to address a potential issue has been presenting itself, and it mandates action if we truly want to reduce the risk.

How do you educate staff? Easy, you get the word out via email, in meetings and by demonstration. After all, we all will sleep easier knowing our schools are safer. As for our dreams, well, hopefully that top is still spinning…

Joshua Timm is a high school student who works with his dad on special projects at RETA Security. In addition to writing, he is involved in sports and serves as a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

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