Saasyan Blog

Are you using an Enterprise Service Bus?

Are you using an Enterprise Service Bus to connect disparate systems?

Increased adoption of technology at schools has led to the proliferation of siloed apps. Problem is – these apps do not integrate well. Schools house several apps: a school management system, a timetabling system, a learning management system, a web filtering system, a student/parent portal etc. The list keeps growing.

Can schools benefit from a solution that makes it easy to glue systems together? This got me thinking of the concept of an enterprise service bus (ESB) for schools.

ESB is a communication system between software apps in a service-oriented architecture. It allows an organisation to connect disparate systems together. It performs the functions of protocol transformation, message modification, routing, logging etc. Essentially, ESB provides the middleware to connect their apps without rewriting them.

The idea of a central bus on which everything passes gives the opportunity for additional layers of abstraction. Using industry standards to “plug” other applications, clients, and such into this bus makes it so that connecting new services, data sources, and/or clients with disparate needs is relatively easy.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

The Dark Web

Is your child on the Dark Web?

Drugs, weapons and hacking. These are all illegal activities which students could be participating in, without a trace. In the past, school children might have cheated on tests by secretly passing each other the answers. Today, students are secretly using hidden websites to change their grades. The services available extend far beyond this. Students can use the darknet to attack or hack their school servers. The information and tools to achieve this are widespread, meaning it’s not difficult for one school kid to cause massive damage.

 

The tip of the iceberg

Most of us understand the Internet to be what we access through search engines, like Google. But there is a much bigger part of the World Wide Web that traditional search engines cannot access. It’s invisible. It’s known as the Deep Web and accounts for as much as 95% of the information that’s online. We can compare the Deep Web to an Iceberg. The tip of the iceberg above the water is everything you can access. Facebook, YouTube, or your favourite restaurant’s website are all here. The vast majority of the ice, however, is under the water – away from prying eyes. Here you will find company intranets, government records or university networks. But there is a much more sinister part of it also.

 

 

Known as the Dark Web, this is a part of the Web that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations or authorisation. It exists on darknets, which are overlay networks that use the Internet but, unlike traditional websites, need particular tools to see them. If you search for something on Google, for example, the results are generated from the “Surface Web”. To access darknet sites, you would need software such as Tor. Short for “The Onion Routing”, the Tor browser has been specifically designed to access the Dark Web. Other common software that is used is called I2P or “Invisible Internet Project”. Tor-accessible sites are widely used among darknet users and can be identified by the domain “.onion”. While Tor focuses on providing anonymous access to the Internet, I2P specialises in allowing anonymous hosting of websites.

These hidden aspects of the Dark Web are what make it so attractive to users, especially criminals. Users of the darknet can hide their identities and locations. The darknet’s layered encryption system means that law enforcement cannot track them. By routing a user’s data through many intermediate servers, the darknet keeps them anonymous and out of reach. To monitor or decrypt any information sent over the darknet, you would need a subsequent node in the scheme – leading to the exit node. It’s a complicated system. The complexity makes it nearly impossible to decrypt any information by duplicating a node path. The advanced level of encryption also means websites cannot pinpoint the location or the IP address of its users, nor the users of the host. The result? People on the darknet can talk, blog, transact and share files entirely anonymously.

US military researchers in the mid-1990s created the Dark Web. Its primary purpose was to allow intelligence officials to exchange information anonymously. However, after being made available to the public, it quickly becomes a sinister playground for criminals who use it for illegal activity. It has become a dimension on the Web where child pornography, illegal drug trades, identity theft and a black market for guns and human organs thrive.

Watch this video to learn more about the Dark Web.

 

How does this relate to students?

Just like before, today’s students want to find ways around the system. The only difference is they’re putting their safety at risk by using the Dark Web. Because of Tor’s “virtual tunnels” provided by its encryption tools, students can stay anonymous. They can also keep their location secret, as well as hide all the websites they visit and their posts or messages. It’s these highly encrypted and anonymous aspects of the darknet and Tor that appeals to school children. The appeal could even be as simple as wanting to bypass school internet filters so that they can access blocked websites. They could also want to hide their web traffic from others, such as their school or parents. But it often goes much further than that.

Students use software such as Tor to buy “smart drugs” in a bid to boost their academic performance. The problem is even fuelling growth in online companies marketing their pills to students as a means of “enhancing their brains”. This would be to give them the edge in their end of year exams. According to research presented at the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association Conference in 2017, Australia is one of the top countries in the darknet drugs trade. Students are also increasingly turning to modafinil, a prescription pill usually given to treat narcolepsy. It is part of the family of drugs called “nootropics”, which includes Ritalin and Adderall, and are believed to improve concentration. But there are much more dangerous drugs available. Australian dealers account for more than a quarter of the world’s darknet methamphetamine trade.

For some frustrated students, a perfect solution to unleash vengeance on a school is with a DDoS attack. Also known as a Distributed Denial of Service attack, its purpose is to shut down a school’s website or network. It sounds like something only an expert hacker can do. The reality is that a student doesn’t have to be a pro hacker to harm a school network. There are hackers for hire easily found on the Dark Web. Websites such as Vim’s DDoS Service on the Dark Web offers to attack a school network for a fee. Students can also access the Dark Web to hire a hacker to change their grades or attendance records. All they have to do is pay bitcoins to websites like PirateCrackers, and they’ll hack the school website for them, alter their academic scores, increase their attendance etc.

Despite giving children access to illegal drugs and activities, the Dark Web also exposes children to numerous threats. Cyberbullies, hackers, fraudsters, child predators, and criminals take advantage of the Dark Web’s ability to hide their identity. We cannot be confident who we are talking to on the Dark Web. And, since criminal activity can’t be traced, children might see unbelievably heinous material that could potentially scar them for life. A report by UNICEF found that children on the Dark Web are in danger of becoming victims to sexual exploitation, cyberbullying and being used as currency.

 

What can you do?

After seeing a glimpse of the dark, hidden world of the Deep Web – you’re probably sure that you want to limit your children or those in your care accessing it.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Find out if they’re using the Tor browser. If they have a computer, you can search for the word ‘Tor’. If the software is present on their computer, the search results should point it out. If you find the Tor browser, delete it from their computer and ask them what they were doing with it.
  2. Check their internet browsing history; look for unusually long URL’s. Websites on the Dark Web often have long website addresses. If you don’t recognise a URL, Google it. You could also ask someone such as a friend/expert to help you identify suspicious URLs. Search forums are also helpful.
  3. Look through all mail and parcels delivered to your house. Insist that children open any packages addressed to them in your presence. Often, kids who buy/sell drugs or other illicit items through Tor, rent a PO Box. Ask your local post office if your child has a PO Box with them.
  4. Regularly check your children’s internet activity. Use a firewall application to detect Tor usage. Educate students about the dangers of the Dark Web and explain that there are no safe ways to use it.
  5. Start an open discussion about Dark Web dangers with your children. Ask what they already know about it and if they have friends who use the Dark Web. It doesn’t matter what age your children are. You should always keep an eye on their online activity and who they are contacting.

 

Conclusion

The Dark Web is a dangerous hub of illegal activity. It is also the perfect environment for cyberbullies to thrive or criminals to take advantage of children. It is dangerous for anyone, especially children. That’s why, if you suspect that your child might be accessing the Dark Web, you need to take action. This includes limiting their access to it. The Deep Web is becoming more popular, especially with the youth. This may drive more children to look up ways to explore it. It’s essential that we set boundaries. Technology is not scary in itself, but we should respect the fact that it can be disastrous in the wrong hands.

Why is the Palo Alto PAN-OS API exemplary?

Palo Alto’s PAN-OS API allows you to manage firewalls. Systems Administrators use it to access and manage firewalls through a third-party service, application, or script.

At Saasyan, we have been developing solutions that integrate deeply with the Palo Alto Networks PAN-OS API. We have a four-year track record with the technology and we think it is a gem and a joy to work with.

The solutions I refer to above comprise our cyber-welfare assurance platform for Palo Alto firewalls – Saasyan Assure, our User-ID broker for Palo Alto firewalls – Saasyan Advance, our software-defined HA/DR solution for Palo Alto networks firewalls – Saasyan Paximus.

Internally, we at Saasyan have come to consider the PAN-OS API to be the gold standard on how APIs should be designed and structured for core IT infrastructure devices. In this blog post I would like to share why this is the case.

Unified API

The PAN-OS and Panorama XML API allow you to manage firewalls and Panorama through a programmatic XML-based API. It is a unified API that allows API based interaction with both Palo Alto Networks Next Gen Firewalls and Panorama (Palo Alto Networks’ Network Security Management Platform). This makes it easier for us to support both platforms (pan ngf and panorama) with our software without having to create and maintain separate modules for panorama.

 

Single Pass Architecture

The Single-Pass Architecture is the overall design approach for Palo Alto Networks Next Generation Firewalls. The architecture enables full, contextual classification of traffic, followed by a rich set of enforcement and threat prevention options. The architecture classifies and controls traffic in a “single pass” through the firewall using a variety of stream-based technology components. This is also reflected in the PAN OS API as all the API calls we make are targeted at one unified engine.

The Palo Alto Networks single-pass architecture stands in contrast to many competitive offers which are typically based on traditional port-based firewall technology. In competitive approaches, next-generation features are often added in a sequence of separate engines which means there are a web proxy engine and an API which is separate and distinct from a stateful inspection firewall engine and an API , etc. In the case of Palo Alto Networks Next Generation Firewalls it is truly one engine and one API. This makes API based integration a joy.

 

Full Access to Functionality and Ease of Use

The PAN-OS XML API allows you to access almost all of the functionality normally provided through the firewall web interface and CLI. Moreover, because PAN-OS XML API functionality mirrors that of both the web interface and the CLI, it’s straightforward to translate what one has to do manually to achieve a specific outcome through the web interface or the CLI to a piece of code that produces the same outcome in a programmatic manner. To explore all various functions of the API, you can use the API browser through the firewall web interface. You can also enable debug mode through the CLI to see the API equivalent of CLI commands.

Often, in school circles you hear IT leaders talk about the complexity of getting applications to speak with one another. Especially if these applications come from different technology vendors. It is open technologies such as Palo Alto’s PAN-OS XML API that allows organisations such as Saasyan to build cyber-welfare assurance platforms such as Saasyan Assure, User-ID brokers such as Saasyan Advance and software-defined HA/DR solutions such as Saasyan Paximus.

We encourage other technology vendors and IT professionals alike to leverage the PAN-OS XML API to integrate, automate, build applications and make what was previously considered next to impossible a reality.

Why are Fortinet FortiGate and Saasyan Assure a winning combination?

The Fortinet FortiGate Next-Gen Firewall

I have had the pleasure of working with Fortinet’s FortiGate Next-Gen Firewall for a while now. Working with several security architects over the past few years, I have witnessed them face a major complexity hurdle, managing point products, with no integration and lack of visibility.

Research shows that by 2019 80% of enterprise traffic will be encrypted, and 50% of attacks targeting enterprise will be hidden, in encrypted traffic.

FortiGate utilises purpose-built security processors and threat intelligence security services to deliver top-rated protection and high performance including encrypted traffic. FortiGate reduces complexity with automated visibility into applications, users and network and provides security ratings to adopt security best practices.

 

Application Control

I have long regarded FortiGate as a leading firewall offering. Although there are several reasons I hold FortiGate in high regard, one of my favourite features on the FortiGate platform is Application Control.

FortiGate’s Application control technologies detect, monitor and act against network traffic based on the application that generated the traffic. It also uses protocol decoders with signatures that analyse network traffic to detect application traffic, even if the traffic uses non-standard ports or protocols.

This deep level of inspection normally leads to reduced throughput. However, unlike a traditional security gateway, which relies heavily on CPUs for packet inspection, FortiGate’s hardware architecture allows FortiOS to automatically utilise appropriate hardware components to achieve optimal performance. This prevents the CPU from becoming a bottleneck.

In support of application control, the Content Processor (CP), which is a specialized ASIC chip that handles demanding cryptographic computation for SSL inspection and intensive signature matching, is used to offload these processes from the CPU. This enables FortiGate to minimize performance degradation when administrators opt for greater visibility, security and control.

At the time of writing, FortiGuard Application Control supports more than 4,100 applications, of which 310 falls within the “collaboration” category and 150 falls within the “social media” category. The social media applications include popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram just to name a few.

 

For more up to date lists and figures, please visit:

https://fortiguard.com/appcontrol?category=Collaboration&deepapp=&page=3

 

So why is Application Control my favourite feature?

Let me validate why this is my favourite feature. In addition to providing network administrators with the ability to granularly control what users can access – going down to what function they can use within a particular application  (such as login to Facebook is allowed but Facebook chat is disallowed), it can also expose the contents of chat messages and other valuable pieces of information. This allows Saasyan Assure to unlock the value of data and help schools better fulfil their pastoral care duties.

Saasyan Assure analyzes the data and notifies pastoral care staff and educators when students attempt to access inappropriate websites and videos, use potentially dangerous search keywords, or are involved in negative social media activity. Artificial Intelligence built into Assure helps teachers by automatically categorising abusive content.

Furthermore, enabling Application Deep Inspection on social media applications is extremely simple with FortiGate. It starts with creating an application sensor that monitors the social media category or a handful of social media apps and setting the list action to Monitor. The Monitor action instructs Fortigate to not block but monitor and log the behaviour and payload of these applications. Once this is in place, you can assign this sensor to the security policy which allows the network users to access the Internet. Please note that to inspect all traffic, SSL/SSH inspection must be enabled.

 

Best of Breed Pastoral Care with FortiGate and Assure

Having accomplished the above, Fortigate exposes the chat messages sent over social media platforms through its logging mechanism which feeds into Saasyan Assure. Assure in turn adds the required metadata, normalizes it, passes all these chat messages through its alerts module which detects profanity, cyber-bullying, self-harm, etc, notifies the relevant people about such activity, stores all this info in a cloud-based data warehouse, retains it for 12 months and makes it available for easy reporting and analysis.

Often, in school administration circles you hear IT leaders talk about having to make a choice between an enterprise-grade firewall and a best of breed pastoral care system because it is widely believed that you cannot have both without doubling up the investment. Fact is when you leverage an enterprise-grade firewall such as Fortinet’s FortiGate and a best of breed pastoral care system such as Saasyan Assure, you are not making a compromise, you are betting on a winning combination, without necessarily overextending on your budgetary allocation.

Digital Citizenship in Australian Schools

Digital Citizenship Should be Part of Formal Education.  Here is Why…

The global digital landscape is growing at an exponential rate and with it, the need for digital citizenship.

According to research, over half the world’s population is online, with an average of six hours spent in the digital realm – every single day. Times that by around 4.1 billion people and you will find that they will spend over a billion years on the internet in just one year. We are living in a super-connected age which means and as a result our digital footprint is rapidly expanding. No matter who or where we are, when we are online we are all digital citizens. We are part of one global community, and what we do in this community can have a big influence on ourselves and everyone else.

In Australia, the percentage is even greater: 88% of our population is active on the internet. Our schools exist to shape the future generations: in keeping with this mission, every Australian school must teach good Digital Citizenship. This is not a nice to have. This is a must have.

 

Digital footprints create lasting memories

No matter how aware we are of online privacy, every digital citizen has a digital footprint. Our digital footprint is the trail of data unintentionally left behind as we explore and use the internet, or as others include us in their internet activities. Most people start developing a digital footprint from the moment we are born, or even before that. As we grow up, this digital footprint grows with us. In some ways, the digital world is as real as the physical realm. We should treat our digital selves with the same respect and care as our ‘real world’ selves. But unlike physical footprints, a person’s digital footprint is almost indestructible and everlasting – it will affect our legacy and how people remember us.

 

What goes on the internet, stays on the internet

It is great that digital citizens can share interesting information, stories about their lives and images in the digital world and get feedback. But unfortunately, sharing doesn’t always have a positive outcome. As soon as information gets online, people can share it around quickly and easily. It can also be challenging to remove. Every image and word can be altered and misinterpreted. Issues happen when people share content outside of a trusted group. A good digital citizen is careful not to betray that trust.

 

It’s become prevalent for teens to misuse their mobile phones by taking sexually inappropriate photos or videos of themselves and sending it to others. They may not be conscious of the potential repercussions of such behaviour. Australian schools often end up dealing with these issues once they have reached a point of no return: the damage has happened. Instead of allowing the damage to occur, schools should educate students and monitor their online behaviour with a tool such as Saasyan Assure. This proactive approach allows schools to fulfil their duty of care and prevent reputational damage to their students and themselves.

 

Crafting a positive digital reputation

We define our digital reputation by how we behave online, and by what content we post about ourselves and others. Every tagged photo, blog post and all interactions on social media shapes how people see us currently, and in the future – both online and offline. A poor digital reputation can influence relationships, friendships, and even job prospects. It is fast becoming standard practice for employers, college admissions offices and scholarship committees to do online searches as they consider applications. They are finding content and judging us by it. As such, it is extremely important to protect our digital reputation these days. It has the potential to make or break our careers and academic prospects.

Students form life-long relationships and shape careers during their school years. They can also build a strong digital reputation while in their teens – or damage their future, with irresponsible, dangerous, or hurtful actions online.

 

What is digital citizenship? 

Digital citizenship is considered to be “the norms of responsible and appropriate technology use”. A digital citizen uses digital technology for gathering information, researching, entertainment and expanding horizons. Becoming a better digital citizen in the online world involves having appropriate online etiquette, protecting private information, keeping up a good digital reputation and not engaging in cyberbullying. Another highly important aspect of being a good digital citizen involves standing up against cyberbullying and all other cyber malpractices including hacking, phishing, spoofing and spamming.

 

Good digital citizenship means having responsibility

Being a digital citizen is a fun and enlightening experience. So many social media platforms, apps, and forums are available to us. We digital citizens can speak our minds to the world about any topic. We can comment, learn, or create something brand new. We have opportunities to leave a unique and lasting digital footprint.

The top three elements of good digital citizenship are safety, social and savvy. Here are some guidelines with school students in mind.

 

Safety for digital citizens

Keeping digitally safe means using digital literacy and know-how to protect yourself and your friends. Digital Safety involves acknowledging your responsibilities and rights when using digital technologies. And – a good digital citizen also helps keep others safe online.

Safety for digital citizens involves:

  • Standing up against cyberbullying and protecting your friends by blocking and reporting cyberbullying and other upsetting online experiences to trusted adults.
  • Reporting offensive or illegal content, collecting evidence and reporting threats of violence to the police.
  • Making sure your behaviour is within the confines of the law. Hacking is a crime. Illegal downloads, digital theft and causing damage to other people online are crimes. Even sabotage to someone else’s relationship online is a crime.
  • Protecting your online privacy, and the privacy of others in the online community.
  • Setting your social media profiles to private and checking now and then to make sure the settings haven’t changed.

 

Part of digital citizenship is being social

The internet is a great place to socialise with friends and family, especially when they’re far away. You can also make new friends and even find work and study prospects. For this to work for you, it’s important to keep up a good digital reputation. Do this by:

  • Making well-informed decisions about the actions you take online.
  • Thinking before sharing personal information, or posting or sending anything, and carefully considering whether any of these actions may damage your digital reputation.
  • Remembering your online information could be there forever, and your personal information may end up being seen by people you don’t know, including potential employers.
  • Asking good quality questions online and thinking about what to ask, where to ask and how to ask. Being mindful of your attitude when asking questions is important. The better your attitude, the better your chances to set up and maintain healthy relationships with your online world.

 

Becoming internet savvy

Internet savvy is all about education and getting to know the rules and etiquette of the internet. If you want to be a savvy digital citizen, make sure you are:

  • Respectful of the rights of others to have their opinion and views.
  • Being polite and not overreacting in the case of any negative response. It’s often hard to ‘read’ emotion in digital communication. Err on the side of thinking the best of others.
  • Asking before tagging other people or posting photos of others. Keeping an eye out for photos of you that were tagged by friends and removing any offensive images.
  • Thinking about how your actions online can impact on you, the people you know and on the broader digital community.
  • Analysing your online surroundings properly and accepting what helps you. Being wise enough to reject what is “wrong” and pick up the one that is good and trustworthy.
  • Treating others in the digital realm as you would like them to treat you.

 

The role schools play in digital citizenship

We believe schools should ask their students, especially the senior ones, what digital citizenship is. The goal is to get them thinking about the cause and effect their attitudes and how they behave online. Starting a discussion about digital citizenship will pave the way for students to start becoming more aware of what’s right and wrong in the digital realm. It will help them to take other perspectives into account when it comes to discussing controversial topics. As an exercise, students should “Google” themselves to see how they seem to the world. Each student should present their findings in class, and if any of the content they uncovered is upsetting or disturbing, they should discuss how it made them feel.

 

Cyberbullying

Although bullying has been around for a long time, it has become a lot more invasive. Before the internet became widely used, bullies could only harass others at school or in social situations. Now they can infiltrate lives through social media platforms, texts, games, apps email and countless other methods of communication available to digital citizens. Thousands of young people get bullied online every day. They suffer from embarrassment or humiliation and experience emotional and psychological distress. Some experience so much trauma that they feel the only way out is to harm themselves, or even take their own lives. The 2017 Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance System by the CDC indicated that 14.9% of high school students were bullied online in the 12 months preceding the survey.

 

Digital citizens should be aware of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a crucial topic for teens, and many students have experienced it in some form. As cyberbullying is so common among young people, students have usually seen it happening to someone they care about or know. They may also have experienced or heard about cases of self-harm and even suicide resulting from cyberbullying. These students can conceive the worst-case scenario. It is vital that they understand that the school won’t tolerate online bullying and that there will be consequences. They need to understand that what happens online cannot be taken lightly and that it has the potential to ruin peoples’ lives.

Only through education, monitoring, and good Pastoral Care can a school play an effective role in cultivating good digital citizens and so help combat cyberbullying.

Start your journey of creating good digital citizens here.

 

 

Self-Harm in Australian Schools

Self-harm is a compulsive behavior exhibited by a wide range of age, gender, socioeconomic and racial demographics. However, it remains most prevalent amongst adolescents, in particular teenaged girls. Let’s look at some numbers around the world:

  • In the US, the rate of girls aged 10 to 14 arriving in American emergency rooms with self-inflicted injuries has increased by 19% per year since 2009. The rate of increase for boys is 1%.
  • In the UK, the rate of increase is much higher, with a 68% rise in rates of self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 since 2011. It must however be noted that the UK study included GP visiting rooms, whereas the US study only covered emergency room admissions, which may account for the high difference.
  • In Australia, the same trends are apparent. The Australian Health Ministry released a report showing that the number of young Australians seeking help for suicide and self-harm has doubled from 2000 to 2015. Furthermore, the survey also alarmingly found as many as one in 10 teenagers (about 186,000 Australian youth) had engaged in some form of self-harm in their life, including a staggering quarter of Australian teenage girls aged 16-17.

Unlike the US and NHS studies, the Australian report did not rely on GP or emergency room visits for data. Arguably this study then reveals the clearest picture of what some commentators are referring to as a “crisis”. Studies such as those of the UK and US are only taking a shallow reading of the actual instances of self-harm, since they are only using data from medical centers.

We can conclude that incidents of self-harm are rising. With that rise comes a correlated risk of increased suicide and suicide attempts. While causality is fluid in these cases, diagnoses of anxiety and eating disorders are also highly likely to rise in parallel with incidents of self-harm. In fact, the University of Columbia recently concluded that the risk of suicide increases sharply in the months after an incident of self-harm.

 

Definition

Practitioners refer to NSSI (Non-suicidal self-injury), a term also used by Australian academics, but the term “deliberate self-harm” (DSH) is also frequently used. For the purposes of remaining colloquial, let us adhere to the term “self-harm” here. The term in fact defines a wide array of physical manifestations. It must be noted that causally psychological and emotional factors preempt physical self-harm, and could be defined as a form of mental self-harm – low self-esteem, negative self-talk and self-denial.  Typically, although not uniformly, the self-harm occurs in private, in a controlled or ritualistic manner. According to the Mayo Clinic typical acts of self-harm include:

  • Cutting (cuts or severe scratches with a sharp object)
  • Scratching
  • Burning (with lit matches, cigarettes or hot, sharp objects like knives)
  • Carving words or symbols on the skin
  • Hitting or punching
  • Piercing the skin with sharp objects
  • Pulling out hair
  • Persistently picking at or interfering with wound healing

Mental Health America, estimates that the most common forms of self-harm are:

  • Skin cutting (70-90%),
  • Head banging or hitting (21%-44%), and
  • Burning (15%-35%).

People who self-harm may use more than one method to harm themselves. Less-typical acts of self-harm include:

  • Self-poisoning
  • Cyber self-harm
  • Binge drinking
  • Self-infection
  • Inserting objects into body openings
  • Purposefully breaking bones

 

The Causes. The Consequences

Studies have found that behind the behavior of self-harm lies a consistent distal risk factor (i.e. an underlying vulnerability for a condition) that points to familial environments playing a disproportionally large role in increasing the risk of self-harm. The diagram below, from the same study, illustrates this relationship.

Further to the familial environment or childhood abuse, are further underlying causes related to mental health. Self-harmers describe the act as a relief from negative feelings, a way of externalizing internal or emotional pain, and cathartic – specifically when watching the injuries heal. Self-harm is seen by mental health practitioners and psychologists as a way for individual’s to control their bodies, when they don’t feel like they can control anything else – a coping mechanism. Self-harm induces a positive feeling after a challenging emotional incident, particular interpersonal conflicts. Emotionally, self-harmers typically have low self-esteem, difficulties expressing their feelings, difficulties coping with stress or “adult” responsibilities.

Adolescence is generally a trying time for anyone. Teenagers are discovering an identity outside of their families – a process often expressed in outright rebellion, hormonal fluxes lead to extremes of emotion, and an entire world of new social realities is opening up to them, alongside an increasingly acute sense of self-awareness, within that sometimes unsympathetic social landscape. Having said all of that self-harm is certainly not, and should never be deemed “normal attention seeking”. Unequivocally self-harm is a consequence of a mental health issue, and in many cases indicates an underlying psychiatric disorder such as personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder (manic depression), major depression; anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Even when self-harm does not indicate these medical conditions, it nonetheless indicates extreme stress, inability to cope and most certainly a “cry for help”.

 

A Teachers Role

A 2017 study by Australian Institute of Family Studies recorded high percentages of self-harm amongst the 3, 318 teenagers surveyed. 10% said they had self-harmed in the previous 12 months, and 5% said they had considered suicide. When adjusting for gender, that figure jumps to 15 per cent of girls who had self-harmed in the previous 12 months, and 25% having thought about self-harming in that period.

In the Australian school context, the numbers equate to around 2-3 students per high school class that are self-harming. Effectively every Australian high school teacher is in contact with a self-harmer daily. While a student under stress, and self-harming, is more likely to admit their behavior to a peer, the attendant issues associated with self-harm, as described above, make identifying and treating it an “all round effort.” The concerned teacher should look out for the following behaviors, especially amongst their female students:

  • Inexplicable or sudden withdrawal from school activities
  • Wearing long sleeves, even in summer
  • Struggle coping with a divorce or other trauma
  • Being bullied
  • Impulsivity
  • Difficulty coping

Having understood firstly that students who are, or are considering, self-harm are most likely to be secretive, but also that the consequences of untreated self-harming behavior are dire, there exists a strong argument for class- or school-wide education with a view to prevention.

Adopting a universal approach to prevention will not only create awareness amongst the self-harmer’s peers, but may also address the self-harmer that is not outwardly displaying typical characteristics and who therefore may not have attracted the attention of a school psychologists or counselor. Additionally, educating the broader community about steps to take when a young person admits to self-harm will ensure that parents of friends, sport coaches, mentors and older students and youth leaders are aware of the significance, and know what steps to take.

 

Are schools equipped to deliver mental health services?

The Australian Government report Mental Health of Children and Adolescents (August 2015) revealed that not only had incidents of mental health disorders increased from 2.1% in 1998 to 3.2% in 2014, but also that access to school based services by students with mental health disorders increased from 19.2% 1998 to 54% in 2014. It naturally follows that school-based interventions are not only required, but in many cases preferred. As such the Australian government continues to support a number of school-based mental health initiatives that school administrators and principals are encouraged to make use of. These include:

Additionally it is well-worthwhile to learn how technology can play a role in delivering mental health services to young people here.

 

Where to go for help

With suicide being one of the leading cause of death for young Australians, a number of organizations are specifically geared to help Australia’s youth with mental and social issues. Should you be self-harming or be the teacher, parent or friend, of someone who self-harms, be sure to seek help on their behalf.

 

Closing Thoughts

The old humbug “It takes a village” comes to mind when contemplating the diverse, yet important subject of Australian youth’s mental health, but it is nonetheless apropos. While some studies show that the causes and underlying reasons for self-harm may be beyond the ambit of the concerned teacher, counsellor or principal that certainly does not mean they have no agency in affecting healthy and necessary change. Awareness, as is so often the case, is the first step. Thereafter, a willingness to embrace our broader responsibility to young people, who at times are less in need of a review of their calculus term paper, than perhaps a shoulder to cry on.

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At Saasyan we have developed Assure to help schools to proactively ensure the online safety of their students. Assure uses artificial intelligence to detect students at risk of self-harm, based on their web searches, social media messages, and online activity. Assure then notifies pastoral care staff and the student’s teacher of this activity. Read more at the Assure page or contact us if you would like to know how your school can use Assure to prevent student self-harm.

Student Cyber Welfare in Australian Schools

Australian Schools use Saasyan Assure to control, monitor, and report on student online behaviour while in the classroom, or on the school network – with the end outcome of eradicating cyberbullying and self-harm and promoting good digital citizenship.

Over 2018, thus far, Assure has monitored billions of web browsing activities by thousands of Australian schoolchildren. Assure users then receive access to comprehensive dashboards for on-demand reporting, as well as get real-time notifications regarding high-risk behaviour. This aids in keeping young people safe online, prevents self-harm and helps save young lives.

We analysed 3 months of web browsing data, from 12,000 students in 6 schools around Australia, to provide a glimpse into student cyber welfare, internet usage habits, and trends. This analysis was done to provide greater insights for teachers, School administration, and pastoral care staff who use Assure. We wanted to better understand the online habits of today’s young people in the School environment. We are committed to the well-being of students. We wanted to share our findings so that schools can better care for the Cyber Welfare of the students.

After doing this analysis, we found many interesting and even alarming statistics. Our data highlights a truth that many parents, educators, and others in our community believe: the Cyber Welfare of Australian Students must be monitored – and that too on a daily basis, with live alerts – if we are to help at-risk children in time. These findings also reveal that tech-savvy students frequently attempt to bypass web controls, which tells us a simple web filter is insufficient to ensure student online safety. Schools must invest in a fully featured, next generation firewall, and pair it with the pastoral care features of Assure.

Some of our findings include:

  • Students are heavy consumers of internet bandwidth, in some cases using more than 30GB per month
  • The word ‘Suicide’ was searched almost 289 times, an average of almost once per day, per school
  • Many student are tech savvy, using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to bypass School web filters

Please see the below infographic for a visual summary of our findings.

If you would like to explore this data for your own school, please get in touch with us here.

Cyberbullying – Is Your School Doing Something About It?

And that is precisely why we must take Bullying, and its latest edition, Cyberbullying seriously.

The national definition of bullying for Australian schools says:

And when you dive deeper into the notion of bullying, you uncover the three main features:

  • Misuse of power in a relationship
  • Ongoing and repeated, and
  • Behaviours that can cause harm.

Bullying has been around as a concept for an extremely long time. Longer than most realise. In fact, the word “bully” can be traced back to the 1530s (Harper, 2008).

Technology’s progression is often paralleled with the development of human society. Fundamental innovation, such as the Internet, forever changed how people interact. These developments allowed the human race to make great strides in many fields and also allowed forms of transgression to become more rampant and widespread.

As technology evolved, bullying flourished. With the advent of the Internet, chat rooms followed. Online forums provided a communal breeding ground for the young to assault one another (Greenfield, 2008). Chat rooms were supplemented by Instant Messaging, which enabled teens to spend hours talking to one another in private, one-on-one conversations or in public chat rooms. Even group-specific chat rooms appeared. This exclusive forum allowed for youth to get together with select groups of friends and talk about the latest gossip.

Bullying had evolved. Traditional bullying found a new version of itself in Cyberbullying. While the words, ‘Bullying’ and ‘Cyberbullying’ have much in common on face value and the intent and impact of both are rather similar, when you look under the hood, there are some stark differences.

Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying allows the offender to mask his or her identity behind a digital screen. The web’s inconspicuousness provides the perfect cover for a user to pester, harass or intimidate others without much repercussion. This anonymity also makes it easier for the offender to strike blows against a victim without having to see the victim’s physical response.

Just as Bullying causes physical and/or psychological harm, so too, in the case of Cyberbullying, the perpetrator uses online technology to bully an individual or group of people with the intent to cause psychological, social and even physical harm.

Where Cyberbullying differs, even more, is that the attacks are incurred 24/7 and the offender often remains anonymous. The elasticity and the efficiency of the digital landscape also allows the impact to be scaled across several people, instantly. Cyber bullies can impose and intrude what was once a safe haven – our homes.

So why should we take this problem seriously? Because Cyber bullying is now the second most common form of bullying in Australia. Approximately one in five young school students reported experiencing online bullying in any one year. 84% of students who were bullied online were also bullied in person. 72% of schools reported managing at least one incident of online bullying in the previous year.

The statistics reinforce that this is a serious matter and must be contended with, forthwith. And dealing with Cyberbullying is the responsibility of all stakeholders, especially the schools.

Can a school help reduce Cyberbullying? We say absolutely. And here is how…

Students spend a large proportion of their time at school. Cyberbullying occurs in school hours and after hours. It occurs on weekdays and weekends. Regardless of the timing, Schools must have the right fortitude and motives to tackle the issue. They must develop the right policies and procedures to deal with the issue. They must invest in the right tools and build the right processes to combat the issue.

Schools can be instrumental in detecting cases of cyber-bullying and self-harm. They can take the right steps at the right time to prevent a child from being cyberbullied. But they must have the right motivation, technology and processes in place to execute with precision, and just in time.

 

So, what are some of the things schools can do to grapple with Cyberbullying?

 

Set strict guidelines and policies to prevent cyberbullying

Schools must go on a journey of educating their students that all forms of bullying are unacceptable, and that cyber-bullying behaviours are subject to strict disciplinary action. Schools must educate students to contact their teachers and counsellors if they are victims of cyber-bullying, immediately.

Adopt policies that promote good digital citizenship

Schools must also promote the notion of good digital citizenship. They must educate students on the impact of cyberbullying. Real life examples of the impact on students must be shared so student become aware of the gravity. The value of being a good digital citizen must also be educated and rewarded.

Leverage peer mentoring

Schools can put a mentoring program in place whereby older students informally teach younger students and share learning experiences to promote positive online interactions. Educating students on social and emotional skills must also be mandatory. Research shows that teaching students on how to effectively manage their emotions and relationships with others can be useful in preventing interpersonal conflict.

Specify clear rules

The school must have robustly developed and clear rules regarding the use of the internet, computers, and other electronic devices. Acceptable Use Policies should become commonplace in schools and should cover online harassment. Post signs and posters in school computer labs, hallways, and classrooms must remind students to responsibly use technology.

Educate the community

The prevention of cyberbullying requires educating the community in which the children reside. Schools must leverage purposefully-created cyberbullying curricula to educate those in the community. General information sessions at school assemblies and in-class discussions must be leveraged to raise awareness among youth. Community leaders must be invited to speak with staff and students regarding the impact of cyberbullying and the benefits of good digital citizenship. Schools can send via mail and through the students, information to parents. Research shows that the largest and most powerful group in a bullying situation is the bystander, yet 70% of Australians do nothing to help. Work needs to be done for the 70% to transition from being mere bystanders to “upstanders” to eradicate bullying. Similarly, in the cyber-world, technology can make it possible for schools to be “upstanders”, intervene and save lives.

Invest in software

Schools must invest in technology and software that surfaces data about the online activity of students, including, the sites they spend time on, what they search for on the web and what they communicate over social media. Merely analysing the web searches of a student exposes significant insight into the state of mind of a person. Investing in the right software application can lead to saving a child’s life. For example: if a student searches for “Suicide Hotline” or “Suicide Helpline”, a cyber welfare focussed software application, such as Saasyan Assure, automatically sends an email alert to the dean of students informing her/him of the search performed. Schools must consider allowing limited access to social media during recesses. This could provide insight into a student’s mental state. The school may detect bullying activity over a social channel or notice students venting to their friends about the bullying they have been a victim of. Just as turning off the computer does not help the student being cyberbullied, so too, blocking social media access at school does not help the situation. The bullies find other mediums to cyber-bully. The solution is not in prohibition and blocking accress. The solution is in educating all stakeholders. The solution is also in implementing appropriate software to find the ‘cyberbullying’ needles in the haystack and intervene in person, when required.

Make Cyberbullying everyone’s priority

Schools must spread the responsibility of tackling cyberbullying amongst as many staff members as possible. It must not be confined to the function of IT. The principal and vice-principal, members of pastoral care, teachers, business managers etc. Each member of the faculty and all stakeholders must play their role in tackling cyberbullying.

Leverage the Data

Schools can leverage software to calculate the cyber-rating of each student on a daily basis and consider feeding this data as another dimension into the school’s student analytics system. As part of the good citizenship promotion efforts, the school may choose to allow students to have access to data visualizations on their online activity.

Improve the response to cyber-bullying cases

When a child is bullied at school, all the child usually wants is for the bullying to stop. Children often don’t even want the bully to get in trouble. Their primary aim is for the bullying to end. Parents, educators, and other adults tasked with responding to bullying incidents need to keep this in mind and respond in a way that stops the bullying.

The evolution of technology has provided bullies with more access, anonymity and scale. It is imperative that schools recognise the signs of cyberbullying or self-harm and give much-needed support to victims.

 

At Saasyan, we create and support open, cloud-enabled software to help Australian K-12 schools fulfil their duty of care to students and operate more efficiently. Our SaaS products are used by teachers, students, and school administration teams around the country.

Saasyan Assure enables schools to proactively ensure the online safety of their students.

Contact me at greg@saasyan.com.au for an obligation free chat around student cyber-welfare.

 

 

Signs that your child is a victim of Cyber-Bullying

Many of us have lived through the distress and anxiety of being bullied. For children today though, bullying has exacerbated and intensified. It has evolved, adding a new dimension to itself. Bullying in the physical world continues. The added dimensions of evolving technology and the advent of social media platforms have introduced into the mix, Cyberbullying.

Bullying, traditionally took the form of harsh words on school playgrounds, notes passed around inside a classroom, shoulder barges hallways and tuck shops. It was overt. It was obvious and it was painful to the victim and the victim’s family. Today, ‘that’ form of bullying continues. The new entrant in the bullying sphere is its silent and potentially more damaging sibling – cyberbullying, and it can be perpetrated from and to anywhere. What makes matters worse – it is most often anonymously executed.

Many in the community have moderated cyberbullying to be merely harmless name-calling on channels such as Facebook. However, cyberbullies today leverage a vast array of technology to bully their victims. Children today spend a significantly large percentage of time online. They leverage computers, mobile phones, tablets, gaming devices etc. Above 80% of children in a research study conveyed that it is easier to get away with cyberbullying. So when we analyse the landscape, children are spending more time in the cyber world and there is a higher plausibility of the cyberbully getting away with it. This makes for a perfect storm of bullying. The statistic that makes matters worse is only about 10% of cyberbullying victims tell their parents.

Most children won’t admit to being cyberbullied. Their silence can be owing to a multitude of factors – threats made by the bully (“You tell anyone and I will bully you even more”) or the shame of admitting they have gotten themselves into a dangerous situation, even though it is no fault of theirs. This means, as a parent or even as an educator, you will need to do some proactive observing to keep children safe from cyberbullies.

This Infographic from Saasyan sheds more light on the signs that a child is a victim of cyberbullying.

 

Are you a Bystander, or an Upstander?

Cyberbullying; “deliberate and repeated harm inflicted through the use of online technology”, is now the second most common form of bullying in Australia.

In Australian schools, the problem is endemic. Approximately 20% of school students reported experiencing online bullying in any one year. Furthermore, more than 80% of students who were bullied online reported being bullied in person. Pertinent to note that these statistics are based on the known instances of Cyberbullying. Children typically under-report instances of bullying and cyberbullying. The actual figures are certainly and indubitably higher.

Bullying has the potency to ill-affect every part of a young person’s life, including relationships with friends and family. It can affect a person’s confidence and performance at school, at home, in sport and in other activities. Young people who are bullied are also more susceptible to develop anxiety and depression.

Bullying traditionally had obvious visible signs. Shouting, beatings, bruises, witnesses etc. Cyber bullying does not come bundled with the overt and the obvious signs. Most of the behaviour takes place behind a digital screen. It consequents into emotional harm and widespread notoriety owing to the nature of social media.

The ‘usual suspects’ who perpetrate ‘in-person’ bullying may (or not) be responsible for cyber bullying. A wider and different range of personalities are drawn into online misbehaviour. Since it is not as public an attack as is in the physical world, cyber bullying offers a kind of protection to the perpetrator – even anonymity.

Identifying cyberbullying attacks or online harassment directed towards children in schools is difficult to detect and as such, harder to combat. It is often lumped in the ‘not easy to assess’ and as such in the ‘too hard’ basket. Resultantly, educators and school administration can sometimes be guilty of neglecting Cyberbullying or bypassing the issue.

Several schools in Australia have taken the bold step to ban mobile phone use in school hours. On the surface, this appears to tackle the issue head-on: young people are bullying others or coming to harm, while accessing apps and websites from their mobile phones. Surely, banning the phones removes the issue.

When we consider the problem more deeply, we can see that banning phones simply shifts the problem out of sight. Do our students still go online? And do they do so multiple times a day? Probably. Are they likely to hide their phones and conceal their use? Quite likely. And does the bullying issue disappear? Definitely not.

In fact, a move such as banning phones can potentially increase the risk of harm to children. With phones banned from school, should a child experience online bullying, they will almost certainly not report it as they are bypassing school policy by simply using a phone on school grounds. This is what a focus on ‘policing’ does: it creates more offenders, and reduces the chance of schools to have a positive impact.

So, how should schools react to the increased issue of online bullying?

Research shows that the largest and most powerful group in a bullying situation is the bystander, yet 70% of Australians do nothing to help when they observe bullying.

Two things need to happen for this to change:

  1. Schools must remain aware of cyber bullying being perpetrated by or on their students;
  2. Bystanders need to transition, to becoming “Upstanders”.

In a day and age of advanced technology, such as next-generation firewalls and advanced web filtering and reporting tools, there is no excuse for schools to remain unaware of online bullying.

Our own product, Saasyan Assure, allows pastoral care and other School staff to be proactively notified when certain keywords are used by children or certain behaviours are detected online.

Detection combined with action is an excellent recipe for saving lives. For example, children who have searched keywords related to suicide and self-harm would have gone undetected without the proactive reporting in Assure – and they would have gone unhelped without the response of an ‘Upstanding’ educator.

And who can be an Upstander? Parents, teachers, pastoral care staff, school administration, leadership and even other students. Many young people these days are standing up and publicly saying ‘no’ to online bullying, calling themselves out on social media as a ‘positive influencer’. Building a culture where this attitude is the norm sustainably prevents online bullying. Education and encouragement around good ‘digital citizenship’ goes a long way to sorting cyberbullying proactively, rather than reactively.

And do Upstanders need to do anything extraordinary? Do they need to front up to bullies? Do they need to come up with solutions and mediation? Not necessarily.

The key objective of an Upstander is to help students report bullying. When a child is bullied and they confide in a friend, or turn to an adult for help, all they want is for the bullying to stop. They are usually not seeking retaliation or revenge: they often don’t even want the person doing the bullying to get in trouble. They simply want the bullying to end. Parents, educators, and other adults tasked with responding to bullying incidents need to keep this in mind, and respond in a way that stops the bullying.

The biggest issue in combating online bullying is turning Bystanders into Upstanders. Technology is not the problem: apathy is the roadblock.

Become an Upstander, intervene when you have the opportunity, and save lives.

 

References:

https://www.ncab.org.au/news-blog/525-million-the-annual-australian-bully-bill/

https://www.ncab.org.au/news-blog/10-steps-to-deal-with-school-bullying-and-cyber-bullying/