Protecting your children online can be a difficult task. It can also be expensive. We can eliminate much of the cost and confusion by using a combination of the tools built into Windows and two completely free programs. Our kid friendly PC will prevent children from installing programs without permission, block objectionable web pages and put chat under parental control.
We start by taking advantage of the tools in Windows. By creating separate limited user accounts for each child, you make protection much easier. The children’s accounts should be limited user accounts that do not allow to the child to install or remove software. Having a separate account for each child will also give them there own personal space. They can have whatever background images or themes they want and spare you staring at a purple dinosaur all day. Microsoft provides highly detailed instructions on how to setup these additional accounts.
There are a number of commercial Internet filtering technologies available to help keep kids safe online. In order to be effective and flexible, a good Internet filtering program needs to meet several criteria. While the programs we will be looking at are free, the same rules would apply when evaluating commercial software.
Parents Should Retain Control
Web filtering software should empower parents to make choices for their children, not hold them hostage to arbitrary standards set by the software. Good filtering software should clearly notify parents about what it will be blocking and provide parents the choice to allow or disallow content.
The web is a constantly changing environment. Filtering software that relies exclusively on lists of ‘bad sites’ or keywords may be effective today and useless tomorrow. At the very least, an effective filtering solution should include regular updates of sites to be blocked.
In order to be effective, a filtering solution needs to work regardless of what web browser is being used. While having separate user accounts for each child will allow limiting what browser a child could use, there are still holes. It is possible, for example, to run a browser entirely off a USB key without installing additional software.
K9 To The Rescue
The K9 web filtering software is the backbone of our build-it-yourself Internet filter. It provides configurable web content filtering that is constantly being updated. As an added bonus, the software also includes time limit restrictions and the ability to review web activity. This program is free only for home use. Blue Coat software (the creators of K9) license the program to companies and institutions for a fee. This works to the advantage of the home user who gets continually updated, commercial grade filtering software at no cost.
Limitations Of K9
One weakness of the K9 software is that it can only filter HTTP content (web pages). It has no ability to filter chat clients or other Internet activity. In order to make chat safe, we will need additional software.
Since you now have limited access user accounts for your children, one option is to simply to remove all chat client software. Chat Controller can help with this by identifying installed chat programs. If you would like to allow some access to chat, Chat Controller can help with that as well. The program allows for different rules to be applied to each user. One child could be allowed access to chat during certain hours while another is not. Only the Administrative users will be able to adjust these settings.
By combining the built-in user controls of Windows, the K9 filtering software and Chat Controller, you can dramatically reduce what your children are exposed to online. Even so, the best child protection device is you, the parent. No amount of filtering software or technical fix will ever be perfectly effective. The only certain way to be sure of what your children are doing online, is to be there while they are doing it.