Friday, April 4, 2014

Managing parental controls in a multi-platform household

Everyday parents out there have their kids go on the Internet with an assortment of devices found in the household and the traditional method of filtering are no longer efficient as they want to be installed locally on the device.

So how to you control the content your kids access through their iPhone / iPod / iPad / Android / Blackberry / Windows Mobile / PS3 / PS4 / XBox 360 / XBox One / Wii / Wii U / Smart TV / laptop / desktop / etc?

You filter centrally at the Internet access source: the router/firewall.  All the devices regardless of what they are need to go through that choke point, so let's capitalize.

Home-based routers come with some basic blocking tools for the most part, but since it implies you manually add sites one-by-one (augh), consider it pretty much useless.

How let's look at something much stronger, effective & free: OpenDNS.  This service is based on DNS entries (or the Internet equivalent of the white pages which translates domain names like google.com to an IP address like 74.125.226.99).  You need to open an account and you can use their parental controls, free, if you are a home user.  They even have a service named Family Shield (again free) designed to block adult web sites.  They also have a paid option for those who want support.  You need to replace your ISP's DNS entries in your router with the OpenDNS ones (easy trust me) and they have guides for most brands.

Once you set this up you need to log on their web site to configure your preferences (what you want to block, blocking message, etc.) and you're off to the races.  You also need their DNS updater software running on a PC/Mac which is "always on" as your ISP must give you a dynamic IP address (it changes on a regular basis) and OpenDNS identifies you with that IP address.  You get this software here.


I've recently moved from OpenDNS for other reasons than their ability to deliver, really geeky but that's for another day.  In my setup at home I don't use a WiFi router to manage my ISP but a commercial-grade firewall (Sophos UTM Home Edition) which includes content filtering.  I think it's decent and does the job but since this firewall is free for home use, it does not let me customize the blocking messages but no matter, we're only 4 in this household.  This method with Sophos is not for the faint of heart home user with issues installing a printer shall we say, it requires some basic networking knowledge.  But if you're willing to give this a spin you'll find it rewarding.  You need a PC with 2 network cards that will be dedicated to the role of firewall exclusively (unless you go with the VM, but that's another discussion!).

So what's the best method?  Education, talk to your kids.  Stuff found on the Internet is not always kids-friendly and you have to teach them that part before deploying stuff.  Then you geek out and install something.

'hope this was useful - leave comments if you have questions and/or suggestions!

1 comment:

  1. Internet safety for kids are indeed these days and parental control programs helps protecting kids. I also use a parental control program for my kid's safety. The programs helps monitoring and blocking different devices.

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