TDSB Students Teaching Themselves to Work Around Website Bans
The Toronto District School Board’s restrictions on its over-taxed Wi-Fi network have only been in place a few days, but tech-savvy students are already finding ways to beat the system.
Students have been using virtual private network (VPN) servers to bypass the restrictions on Snapchat, Netflix and Instagram on school Wi-Fi systems.
One person claiming to be a student even posted a Facebook guide on how to access school Wi-Fi with a VPN.
The TDSB says it knows about the workarounds but that, despite the students’ resourcefulness, the network is working much more efficiently since the restrictions were imposed.
Lindsay Holley, a TDSB spokesperson, said that just a day after the ban was implemented, the board received numerous emails from schools saying that “they noticed a significant difference.”
Holley said the board is now working to block VPN apps — some of which are free — that students might be using to hack the system.
VPNs work by connecting users to the internet through a server while blocking the user’s internet service provider (ISP) from seeing what the client is doing on the web by encrypting the data. They also hide the user’s IP address, making it look like the user is accessing the network from a different location.
The net effect, Holley said, is “like a back door to a network,” that allows VPN users to browse restricted pages at school.
Although the board has blocked some VPN apps, its senior manager of client of IT services acknowledged that it isn’t a perfect fix.
“It’s a little bit of a never-ending effort,” said Kevin Bradbeer, “because as soon as you block five, students will say, ‘oh let’s move onto the sixth one.’”
And while Bradbeer predicted “diminishing levels of effort” to circumvent the ban, he said the board is “really hoping” not to have to block more apps.
Apps like Google and Facebook were using up a chunk of bandwidth, he noted, but the board opted not to ban them because they served a useful purpose in the schools.
“There were some that were easy targets but there were others where we said we certainly can’t block those.”
Some students have just abandoned using school Wi-Fi altogether.
“For me (the ban is) going fine because I have unlimited data,” said 17-year-old David Nicholson, a student at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts.
But, he noted, “a lot of people are just really annoyed.”
With files from Azzura Lalani