Congrats to Utah for passing new legislation (H.B. 72) that introduces a “default-on” mechanism for pornographic content on devices sold in Utah.
This bill establishes filter requirements and enforcement mechanisms for tablets and smart phones activated in the state on or after January 1 of the year following the year this bill takes effect. (Description of HB72)
The bill is tailored towards minor and has the following requirements:
Filter must be enabled at activation (today it is a default off, the user has to enable);
The device must prevent the user of the device from accessing material that is harmful to minors on the devices;
The device must enable certain users to deactive the filter for the device for specific content;
The device must notify the user when the content if filtered;
Device makers must introduce a way for the AG to bring a civil action against the manufacturer if the device doesn’t allow this;
Introduces a $10 penalty for each incident;
The effective date is the 1st of January of the year following the bill passing, which means January 1st, 2022.
It’s going to be interesting to see if other states take similar action, and specifically how manufacturers are going to respond. Stay tuned!
Regardless of your feelings about online pornography, it is here, and it is here to stay. As such, individuals, parents, organizations and other network owners are working to find effective ways to block online porn. Whether it’s driven by personal needs, internal policies on acceptable online usage, or federal regulation, there is a need to help create porn-free web environments.
This article won’t focus on the science and impacts of pornography on youth, societies, or online addictions. It will help speak to some fo the available technologies; presenting you with some options to make your own informed decisions on ways to block online porn.
We also prepared a 10 step guide to help all users and organizations create porn-free web environments.
Who Needs to Block Online Porn?
This article will be extremely useful to a wide range of individuals and organizations. Here are a few examples of audiences and their application:
Individuals -> Those struggling with online addiction to pornography, looking for better accountability tools.
Parents -> looking to apply guard rails for their kids, help them from following the yellow brick road on their searches;
Schools / Libraries-> conforming with CIPA which puts forth mandates to help strip and monitor access to pornographic or obscene content
Local Governments -> Looking to provide family friendly networks on their public Wi-Fi’s (e.g., City / County Buses, Public Hotspots, etc..)
Businesses -> Looking to reduce distractions, or inappropriate online behavior on their internal networks, while reducing risk of security issues that come from malware laced sites;
Effectively Blocking Online Porn with Technology
The most effective way to block online porn is going to be at the network level, specifically using the internet central nervous system – Domain Name System. Its effectiveness is why we built our technology on top of it.
DNS is part of the fabric of the internet. All devices that needs to connect to the internet use it (e.g., phones, computers, fridges, and anything else that requires internet access). It can see every request that goes out of your network and has the power to apply rules based on your preferences.
This simplified illustration shows you how it works:
The real power in this technology is the ability to apply a rule that affects all your devices on a given network.
DNS effectiveness is unrivaled, which is why we give it away for free via our Free Filters. Our free filters, specifically the Family filter provide the most comprehensive technology to block online porn.
Here are a few insights into how it works, and what it does:
Integrates with Safe Search with any search engine that offers it (e.g., DuckDuckGo, Google, Bing);
Enforces a “mixed content” rule that blocks non-pornographic sites that disseminate pornographic content (e.g., reddit), more about our filters;
It enforces a rule that helps stop users from trying to evade this control (e.g., proxies, VPN’s, cache sites).
Side Note: There may be changes you’d like to make to the Free family filter, by design we don’t allow it on the free service. Every filter can be tuned on the paid plans. Two examples of this include Social Platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram) and YouTube (that is highly conservative with its filtering and can cause a lot of false positives).
Leveraging Technology to Block Porn
There are a couple of different ways you can go about blocking porn. Leverage whichever you feel most comfortable with, and understand there are Pro’s and Con’s with each.
Blocking Porn on Your Router
If you are looking to block porn across your entire network (e.g., a school, home, etc..) then you should always start at the edge of your network. The edge will often be the point at which you connect to the internet. This usually manifests itself in the form of a router / modem.
This connection point gives you access to the Wide Area Network (WAN) that is the internet. The devices that connect to the outside world are often provided by your Internet Service Providers (ISP). Not all routers / modems are the same, and it’s impossible to give a guide for all routers, but we do work to provide as many guides as possible.
In general, you want to find the section of your router that provides you with some basic information:
WAN Preferences / Settings
Section for Domain Name Server (DNS)
Allows you to choose between Get Automatically from ISP or Use These DNS Servers
Although the language is not the same, the information usually is. If the router gives you a WAN section, it’ll likely be there, but you can also find it in locations titled: Internet Setup, WAN Setup, Network, Internet, Advanced Settings.
In all instances, it will present an option to update Primary and Secondary settings.
The CleanBrowsing Family IP's are:
Note: If you have a paid plan use the DNS IPs provided in your account.
If you are worried about devices leaving your network, specifically mobile devices, then you will want to configure things locally on the device.
Every device, regardless of the Operating System (OS) you are using will make use of DNS in some shape or form. Unfortunately, how you access it and what you can do with it is not always the same.
To help with the process, we’ve built apps for the Android and iOS OS types, two of the most popular mobile OS devices. When using these apps you are assured that whether the user is on your protected network, a third-party public WiFi, or using cell service your filtering options are being enforced.
VPN’s are a great example of a technology that is built to help evade local and network control settings, and VPN providers have built evasion techniques for that reason. The most effective way to help mitigate these VPN’s is often at your local network level right at the router, but only if they offer Firewall capabilities (e.g., block outgoing ports).
Tech Note: There are new technologies being introduced in the name of “privacy” for all that help evade all solutions, like DNS over HTTPS (DoH) which you should be aware of, and in for which we’ll have solutions in the very near future.
Platforms Known For Porn Distribution
You should be aware of a few services and platforms that are known for having a plethora of pornography and do a very poor job of filtering it out. We have reached out to a few to ask for their help to expose a network solution so that other providers can help users enforce them, but they have refused or been unresponsive
As such, you should be extremely aware of these:
Image Sharing services
You Can Take a Stance Against Porn
When it comes to effectively blocking online porn, regardless of your reason, it often boils down to a marriage between technology, process and people.
You have to take a proactive approach, depending on your desired goal. Sometimes, depending on the size of your environment, trying to deploy individual controls is just not feasible and where network solutions like the ones we provide work great.
Other times, it is, and that’s where apps like the ones we have built for the iOS and Android OS’s come in handy. If you do have the ability to update your network via your router, we have a plethora of prepared guides to help, and if not, we’re always ready, and available, to assist via email or our community forum.
The OpenDNS project and company was acquired by Cisco, a technology conglomerate, in 2015. Since, they have maintained the OpenDNS brand as a solution for consumers and rebranded their enterprise offering to Cisco Umbrella. This rebranding took the place of OpenDNS Umbrella, OpenDNS Investigate and OpenDNS Umbrella for MSPs.
With this rebrand has come a sharp increase in costs for organizations.
For context, recent customers have described a 3x / 4x price increase in their costs with the start of 2020. Specifically, a small school with 1,000 devices was looking at an annual bill of $8,000 USD. The same customer subscribed to CleanBrowsing for the same 1,000 devices for $330 / year. Another organization in the Netherlands was quoted $8,500 for 600 devices, in our configuration they could probably get away with the Pro-500 ($220 / year) or the Pro-1000 ($330 / year). Why the stark difference?
Below is a series of questions we keep getting from Cisco Umbrella customers and we hope it helps explain our approach.
Why is CleanBrowsing so much Cheaper than Cisco Umbrella?
The answer is simple, we are a bootstrapped startup. We do not share the same economic growth requirements funded startups face. We also don’t have the same obligation to show exponential growth year over year larger enterprises demand. This gives us the flexibility to charge what we believe to be fair to the market, and more importantly our customers.
The founders built CleanBrowsing with the goal of making technology more accessible and affordable to organizations of all sizes. They both share the same belief that technology as a whole and their associated pricing has reached outrageous levels. Organizations doubling, tripling, costs simply because they can with no added value to the customer does not conform with our Founders beliefs. We understand that DNS is but one layer of your overarching security program and price it accordingly.
How long has CleanBrowsing been in business?
We have been in business since 2018.
Do you service businesses? It looks like you’re consumer focused.
Yes, we service a wide range of customers. Our consumer focus is based on our Founders building a solution for their own families, but DNS is audience agnostic. The applicability of DNS to a parent is very similar to that of a large organization, what differs are the features a larger organization might require in the platform itself. Thankfully, those same features are being introduced to the platform daily.
Does the low-cost mean you’re less effective?
No, the price has no indication of effectiveness, only fairness. We leverage our own detection and updating techniques to stay ahead of the domains and their categories.
What the low-cost does mean is less headaches for your organization. We make it easier for organizations to subscribe via a self-service model. As an organization we don’t believe in heavy, unnecessary, administration. This means you don’t have to wait for a “Sales Consultant” to reach out, or to schedule a call, or to go through any of the other steps in a “high velocity sales model.” We do not require organizations to review and sign complex agreements. The agreements you sign are the same ones found on our account creation process. This streamlined process allows us to pass the savings on to you, the customers.
Our obsession with effectiveness comes from our audience superset, young kids. This forces us to work hard to be as effective as possible because unlike adults, kids are sly little foxes that are continuously looking for ways to bypass network controls. We place our core focus on two key filters – security and pornography.
Do you offer support?
We offer support via email. This is another way we keep our costs low and pass our savings on to you, the customers.
How big is your network?
We’ve built an Anycast network for our DNS resolver. The exact number is hard to pin point because we’re always changing, but you can get a sense of our scale on our status page.
Does CleanBrowsing work the same as Cisco Umbrella?
Yes, we are a DNS resolver. We are also continuously adding more features and enhancements to improve the users experience. All you have to do is switch Cisco’s DNS IP’s with the IP’s assigned to you in your profile.
Does CleanBrowsing offer the same features as Cisco Umbrella?
Yes. We offer a number of advanced features for organizations. Everything from custom whitelists and blacklists, blocking TLD’s, custom block pages, an API for direct configuration changes, and most recently, the new DNS mapping feature for a local DNS like configuration.
Do you offer a trial?
Yes, we offer trials on Pro-500 accounts and up, so if you’d like to give it a spin send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work to get you set up quickly.
If you have young kids (well, and if you haven’t), I recommend watching this video by Matt Watson where he describes a ring of pedophiles misusing Youtube to share videos of kids in compromising positions (and in some cases even child pornography):
It is long, but worth a watch. It was already picked up by the media and many companies stopped their Ad Spending on Youtube until it is fixed. However, even if when fix this hole, others will come. So as parents, we have to be careful on what our kids are watching and uploading online. Starting with Youtube.
Safe YouTube For Parents
Many of these videos were actually uploaded by parents without malice. Whenever you are uploading videos online, this is what we recommend:
Youtube is an open social platform. Only upload videos that are supposed to be public.
If you plan to share a video with a small audience, mark them as unlisted
Maybe don’t upload it at all. Find other ways to share them privately (Dropbox, email).
Safe YouTube For Kids
The other aspect is dealing with kids recording and uploading their own videos.
Talk to them. Explain the risks of uploading and sharing their personal lives online. Once it is out there, it can’t go back.
Supervise. Watch what they are watching and uploading. Make sure that their videos have the right settings (unlisted & no comments).
Do not allow your kids to fall for the pedophiles games (the Lolipop and Yoga streches that Matt mentions on the video).
Enforce the Strict or Moderate mode on Youtube, so when your kids are watching videos online, they are only seeing safer videos. We do that automatically on our Free Family filter.
Your innocent YouTube-watching child might actually be watching pornography on your smartphone. It’s a disturbing thought for most parents but research shows that it’s not a rarity. In fact, several studies including a research by American Psychological Association found that on average most children have their first exposure to porn before they’re even 13 years old.
Almost 50% of them view porn for the first time by accident on someone else’s device (mostly parents). It’s happening right under your nose and you’re absolutely clueless about it.
But do you know what’s even more disturbing?
Despite such dangers, most children get their first smartphones by their 10th birthday. It’s no surprise that many of them start watching porn from a very early age and some even become lifelong addicts.
So what exactly can you do to protect your children from exposure to internet pornography?
With so many smart devices around us, it’s not an easy task. But the first step is to actually find out if your child is already consuming internet porn.
Based on research, here are a few behavioral patterns that should ring alarm bells for you. While there may be other causes for these patterns, if you find more than a couple of them in your child you should immediately take notice.
1- Your Child Spends Too Much Time Using Smart Devices
Did you know that only 13% of children use smartphones with parental restrictions? The rest are exposed to all kinds of content on the internet.
Children nearing teenage have developing brains that find smartphones and adult content much more addictive as compared to a grown up. Once addicted, they can easily lose track of time and spend hours consuming illicit content.
Which is why if your children are spending more time than usual on the phone you should have a good look at their online activities and try to limit unnecessary access.
2- Prefers Isolation and Spends Hours Behind Locked Doors
Excessive smartphone usage is usually followed by an increased preference for isolation. If that’s happening to your child, don’t ignore it because it’s a major warning sign that something’s not right.
Children exposed to porn often have mixed feelings of excitement and shame. They feel a strong urge to view pornography when they’re alone and look for ways to get away from their parents or guardians to a place where no one’s watching.
With time, this behavior intensifies and becomes a permanent personality trait even after children reach adulthood.
Such children also routinely spend more time than usual in the shower and their bedrooms, and there’s an increased secrecy to everything about their lives.
3- Is Overprotective of His Smart Devices
To keep them safe, young children should never be given access to smartphones without parental controls and clear usage guidelines. Parents should be able to access their children’s devices any time without any restrictions.
However, that’s often not the case with children who view pornography on their smartphones or tablets. In fact, such kids are usually overprotective of their phones and hesitate to allow access to anyone else.
If your child has suddenly added a security lock or password to his phone and keeps it close to himself all the time (even when going to the toilet) you should intervene.
4- Stays Quite, Depressed and Uninterested in the Outside World
The relationship between depression, anxiety, and pornography is pretty well documented. This mainly has to do with how viewing porn frequently, alters the human brain.
These effect are exaggerated in children because their brains are still developing and more vulnerable to the extreme emotions that a person experiences while viewing porn.
As a result, the affected child experiences depression and a general lack of motivation about everything in life.
5- Has Irregular Sleep Cycles and Struggles To Get Up in the Morning
If your child has access to his smartphone and the internet even in the bedroom then you need to keep a close eye on his sleep patterns and his energy levels in the morning.
According to research, most people log in to porn sites after midnight on weekends and after 10PM on weekdays. Bedtime porn consumption can go on for hours because there’s nothing else left to do in the day and no one is watching.
When that happens, a child may experience lack of sleep, headache, and may struggle to get out of bed in the morning. If you see this happening regularly, or notice your child sleeping at odd times of the day, you must look into the matter with more concern.
6- Panics and Changes Online Activities If You Suddenly Show Up
How does your child react if you suddenly enter his bedroom, walk up to him or ask to use his smartphone?
Does he panic, stops whatever he’s doing and appears nervous? If yes, it might be a good idea to actually see what’s running on his device.
It’s a natural reaction since most children who watch porn realize that their parents won’t be happy to know about it.
7- Has Started Struggling at Studies and Extracurricular Activities
Falling grades, deteriorating academic performance, and a general preference for smartphones or tablets over extracurricular activities are some of the major signs of porn consumption in children.
Researchers at NCBI found that the working memory of children and teenagers who regularly viewed porn deteriorated over time. Such children also suffered from lack of motivation and found it hard to compete with their peers.
As a result, they were much more likely to stay away from outdoor games and competitive activities that are crucial for personality development.
8- Can’t Concentrate for Long and Has Sudden Mood Swings
The loss of working memory, which I just mentioned, also has a direct impact on a child’s ability to concentrate on a task or assignment. This is why children who are exposed to porn early in their lives often find it hard to perform mind intensive tasks.
This can also lead to sudden mood swings, unnecessary aggression and other forms of erratic behavior in children. Look out for these changes in your child and see if they’re connected in any way with his smartphone usage habits.
9- Has Increased Interest In Sexual Topics, Discussions, and Content
Sex is a fascinating topic for teenagers (and even young children) and it’s common for them to talk about it with friends. But if your child suddenly starts taking a lot more interest in sex related TV programs or frequently mentions sexual terminologies in conversations, it’s a clear red flag that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Protect Your Children From Unwanted Sexual Content
Internet porn is a reality that you cannot change or runaway from. You also can’t disconnect your children from the world and completely deprive them of the knowledge and the learning resources available on the internet.
But you can keep a close eye on their activities, guide them about internet usage, and protect them from any content that can have detrimental effects on their minds and personalities by using adult filters and strict parental controls.
Trust your children but don’t leave them unguarded on the internet because (as I mentioned at the start) most children are exposed to sexual content for the first time by accident.
Make sure your child browses the internet without any surprises.
For the last week or two, a new phishing campaign started to target k-12 schools and universities.
A couple of school IT administrators emailed us asking if we ever saw something like this before, so we think this is a good opportunity to remind everyone to be watchful for those phishing campaigns. Phishing campaigns happen very often and have many variations, but this last one seems to be more mass spread against a large number of schools at the same time.
Phishing Scam Emails — Are you Available?
This last phishing scam campaign is actually very simple and tries to convince teachers and staff members to buy gift certificates and send them back to the scammer.
The email subject just says: “Follow up” or “Are you Available” or similar variation and asks the person to reply back asap. If the person replies, the scammer replies back that he is busy on a meeting and that he needs a $200 or $300 gift card from Amazon or iTunes. Very similar to what was reported here months ago.
Mmmmm… Phish flavored spam… We’ve been getting a lot lately where the miscreants are setting up a email@example.com account with the name setup as, you guessed it, our head of school and then emailing the entire campus. End goal: gift cards.
In this new campaign, we are seeing 2 email formats:
Along with the old one of just headofschoolRANDOMNUMBER@gmail.com. As silly as it may sound, people still fall through for it. Specially on mobile, where seeing the real email is not as easy. We heard reports of teachers buying and losing a few hundred dollars because of it.
Update: There are 2 recent redditthreads about this same subject. And in one of them an employee paid the scammer:
Not sure if anyone has seen this, but three schools I support has seen it today alone. The email address is headofschool[randomnumbers]@gmail.com but the name on the account has been an administrator. Subject has been “Follow Up” and message just says “Are you available?” One employee responded to this and they ended up getting them to send $100 in iTunes gift cards.
Protecting against this Phishing Campaign
For this specific campaign, we recommend that you go to your Email provider and:
Black list any sender containing *headofschool*
Black list any sender containing *firstname.lastname@example.org
Black list any sender containing *email@example.com
But for the long term, one of the best investments you can do is to engage into some type of school wide phishing training to get the teachers and rest of the staff aware of phishing and its dangers.
Duo Insights is a good and easy to use product (not affiliated with us) if you are looking for such solution. Knowbe4 also seems to be well recommended.