As a parent I understand the desire to want to share technology with your kids but not wanting to just let them roam free on the internet. There are dozens of companies that offer almost as many solutions. As a technology professional working with adults daily, I can tell you that even adults require some level of internet safety – While the audience and goals may differ, from the work place to the home, the basic underlying technologies are the same.
I also would like to mention that no tool is a substitute to being a parent. In my home, I started at an early age with my kids teaching them about computers, the internet. One of the first things I had to teach them is that every website or YouTube video is NOT okay for them to be watching.
To assist me with ensuring that my kids have access to only the parts of the Internet that I feel is safe I employed a standard tool called a Web Filter.
A Web filter is something that your device sends its internet traffic through and the filter will either allow or block the content. Now blocking can be done by blocking an entire site like YouTube.com, or most filters will have already established categories (i.e. Adult, Gaming, Chat…) that they have already sorted most of the most popular websites into. This simplifies management by allowing parents to target specific categories that they feel are inappropriate.
There are three primary types of web filters that you will find: Software, Hardware, and Cloud. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Lets spend some time going through each different type.
Software based web filters are programs that are installed on your computer or mobile device. In general software based web filters are the standard solution for most home based implementations.
- Easiest for less technically inclined individuals.
- Many different providers with a wide price range.
- Separate policies for devices or users.
- Can be bypassed if a weak password is used.
- Could be uninstalled.
- Software is typically managed separately on each device (Not true for all software).
- Usually the most expensive as there is typically a cost per user or device.
Net Nanny is one of the go to providers for software web filters. Having been around since 2001, Net Nanny has long been the Gold Standard for software based web filter products. They have pricing models that allow you to mix and match to fit your needs.
Hardware based solutions have been around in the business environment fora long time. The main idea of hardware based solutions is that a device is added to your network and
- Management controlled in a single location for all devices on the network.
- More flexible control allowing for different policies for specific devices.
- Will support all device types.
- Some level of technical competency to connect the new hardware.
- Physical devices tend to have a larger upfront cost.
Probably the best home product in this category is by a company called Circle. Circle partnered with Disney to create this device which charges off of a USB cable and connected to your network wirelessly. Circle uses a technique known as “ARP spoofing” to intercept all internet based traffic and either allow or reject that traffic depending on the filters setup. Circle also allows you to setup different policies for different devices, meaning that each child or adult can use the internet in the way that is most appropriate for them.
And probably my most favorite feature is the Pause button, that allows you to pause the Internet at home if you need to get your kids attention.
Cloud based solutions are newer compared to Hardware and Software, however don’t be mislead thinking that the Cloud is some new magic type of service. All a cloud service is someone else software and hardware. Meaning that instead of installing a program on your computer or connecting a device to your network, you are using software installed on a remote computer that is being shared with you.
- Management can be done from a single interface.
- Will support all device types
- Best Cost Option
- Policy affect entire network and is not able to apply separate polices to separate devices.
- Most cost effective solution.
In the cloud solution provider, my personal favorite solution is OpenDNS. I have been using it for almost 10 years now for my at home internet filter. The way it works is by becoming your DNS provider it can control what sites and services that are allowed from your network. Configuring it was the most complex, of all of the solutions but it was simple, and yet the free tier is more than needed.
No matter what solution you decide to use, please remember that none of these tools are a substitute for talking with your kids about Internet safety and monitoring their activities closely.
If you have any questions about using web filters, please leave a comment below. If you would like assistance in configuring I would be happy to assist. Please reach out to me using the links on the right side and I’ll contact you as soon as possible.