Worried about your children going online? We look at software and advice that could help you and them learn to enjoy the Internet safely.
K9 Web Protection
Free on Windows, Mac, iOS
Based on Blue Coat's enterprise grade security expertise, K9 Web Protection covers all accounts present on the PC. However, the block page optionally allows an administrator to lift the block temporarily or adjust the settings for each account, making it relatively painless for a parent to also use a locked-down desktop.
There are different filtering pre-sets for different age groups,'plus you can set time limits, block Internet access at night, or impose a time-out if there are too many requests for blocked pages within a certain period of time.
Then there are tools to track and enforce those rules, blocking access where deemed necessary.
One of the categories enabled by default for all protection levels is proxy avoidance, which covers sites and advice to bypass K9 and anonymous surfing services.
It is also possible to block search pages, giving the user the option to go instead to K9's own Safe Search page. A relatively unusual feature of K9 is the ability to block specifically open image/media search pages; it can also hook into safe-search on YouTube.
We found K9 to be a solid filter with good logging and just one or two oddities, most notably that while English-language pages in ticked categories would normally be blocked, ones in other languages occasionally were not.
Free on Windows, Mac, iOS
There is a lot of parental control software around, much of it free: not only do many broadband providers offer some kind of parental control software free for their customers, but Web filtering is also built-in to the latest versions of the Windows and Mac OSX operating systems.
FortiClient takes a different tack: it is designed as a complete security solution for corporate PCs. As well as Web filtering it features anti-virus/anti-malware, VPN and remote administration capabilities, and it can be downloaded free for standalone home use, making it something of a bargain.
Once installed – you will need to uninstall your existing antivirus otherwise FortiClient will complain about conflicts – you can toggle between allow/warn/block/monitor on a per-category basis for dozens of website categories. FortiClient can log all URLs, too. If a category is set to 'warn', the user gets the option to click a button to bypass the filter for the next five minutes.
Perhaps unusually for enterprise software, the default block list is labelled 'Parental control'. It covers adult, malicious and abusive content, but not webmail or chat, for example, so will need some individual configuration. There is no explanation in the client of what each category covers, nor are there any age-based pre-sets.
FortiClient's admin program is password locked to prevent configuration changes, and can enforce safe search settings on Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex. Its log files are stored locally and are designed to be imported into'a management program, so while they are human-readable directly, they are hard to analyse directly.
Free with ads, or $19.95 (£13) a year
The Web filtering solutions involve software running on the computer; this communicates with centrally-held lists and determines when to allow or block access.
A technically simpler solution is to filter at DNS level – DNS is the Internet service that converts a typed address, such as www.theiet.org, into a numerical address that Internet routers and servers understand. Changing your DNS provider to a filtered, family-friendly one such as that offered by OpenDNS can protect any Wi-Fi connected device, including tablets, phones and consoles, if you do it at your home router or Internet gateway.
OpenDNS provides extensive instructions for changing to its filtered DNS – it also offers unfiltered DNS services – on a wide range of platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and on your home router, which is the recommended method. In addition it provides a simple update program so it can still filter for you if your Internet provider periodically changes your network address, as is common with home broadband.
DNS-level filtering is also optional with TalkTalk, while software for Windows such as DNS Angel can make the settings changes for you. Of course, you will need to prevent your children from changing to a different DNS provider, for example by ensuring they do not have administrator privileges. Some home routers can also enforce a specific DNS service.
Free on Windows, Mac, Android, Blackberry, iOS, Symbian
No matter what politicians claim when trying to whip up a tabloid storm, it is not just about porn and subversion. Web filtering alone cannot protect children from bullying or grooming, or simply spending too much time online when they should be doing their homework, nor will it help parents deal with problems that their children might not want to admit to.
Sometimes you need to see exactly what your children have been up to. KidLogger is a freeware keylogging agent designed to do exactly that, either on its own or running alongside a Web filter. It can optionally log everything – program executions, usernames and passwords, Web pages visited, and so on. Logs can be stored locally, emailed or uploaded to a free KidLogger online account. Upgrading to a paid account ($29/year) brings access to online analytics, where you can look up the most used applications or websites, or see when your child was working.
It can periodically take a screenshot, start recording audio when the sound volume rises above a defined level, and take a webcam photo when the user resumes a session. It can also be set to trigger a screen capture when the user types one of a specified list of words.
The caveat is that it is simply a keylogger and is not especially covert. The admin program can be password-protected, and the read-me file includes tips on how to hide it, but if the user knows it is there, there is a chance they will be able to find and uninstall it.
Lastly, if you want something more sophisticated for family protection than the free tools mentioned here, there are highly capable paid-for solutions such as Net Nanny available for around £30 a year – note that most of these are subscription-based, as they will need continual updating.