Home Web Security and Filtering

April 20, 2018

by — Posted in Bible Reading Challenge, Children, Culture, Family, Open-Mike.ca, Technology

One of the biggest challenges for parents in the digital age is how do they control and limit access onto the internet for their families.  Right alongside this is how as adults is there accountability in how technology is used to ensure that it is not being used inappropriately by adults.

This blog post will examine a number of options out there for families that are effective and hard to work around when setup properly.  One key to do this is if men want their wives to ensure their access is filtered is they need to make sure all passwords are held only by their spouse.

Below are some of the solutions out there to help out families.   Where possible I’ve had someone review the product based on their personal experience.

General tips:

  1. If someone wishes to be accountable for how they use the internet they should not have passwords to the internet modem/router or any other device used on the network for accountability.  If you want everyone in the home to be accountable consider having a friend set your passwords and keep them.
  2. Internet devices rarely reset themselves and reset the passwords.  If this is happening regularly you need to investigate why this is happening.
  3. No technology is fool proof, however part of accountability is making it inconvenient for those involved to access poor content.  Especially with kids, if they know they are accountable for what they do, but don’t know how you’re doing it it is far more effective.

Below are some devices which you can add to your network.  Some are settings, and some are devices, and others are seperate wifi routers…. whatever you do learn about the device and it’s capabilities.  The best devices block inappropriate websites, log usage, and also allow you to schedule the times that specific devices are allowed on and the duration they are allowed to be online.

So without further delay…. here are some solutions for you to use in your home to block inappropriate usage and to help others be accountable.  This post will grow over time as I become aware of other devices and gain a sense of their usability…. so bookmark it and check back once in a while if you are so inclined!

  1. Disney’s Circle.  www.meetcircle.com

This device has become one of the most user friendly  and complete solutions for families. You can find a variety of reviews online, but it does work.    Perhaps one of the biggest features for the connected family is Circle Go which works with cell phones that aren’t on the wifi network.  I do believe that feature is subscription based but could be useful for a family of teenagers.   I love how you can limit time usage, schedule internet availability, but also how you can give internet rewards based on behaviour.   This incentive based approach can be very beneficial for a lot of families.   As I look at this device for my family I like the ‘family bedtime’ feature where you can set an end time for using technology before bed on a per device basis.   You can also choose one of several preset internet filters based on age group.  the filters though can be adapted and tweaked.  Adult content is only remotely possible with the adult filter setting, but even then can be disabled.  Also as important in many ways, is the ability to block ads.  Many ads have inappropriate content or are age inappropriate.    You can block ads for all involved.  Circle is also able to default your web searches to the search engine safe search feature to ensure no bad content coming from that.  Finally, kid not listening but wants to play online?  You can pause their internet connection so they are no longer online.  One final feature is it can be easily configured from an app for your phone or tablet.  One caveat is this device does not seem to work with a Telus Wifi Router.  For a solution to that check out the next item…   The cost for this is about $100 USD or $130 CAD.  You can purchase it online at Amazon or else in store at places like Best Buy.  I’m hoping to get up a perspective from a friend posted here in the near future.

 

2) Netgear with Disney Circle . http://www.netgear.com/landings/circle/

This is the same as above, yet instead of a seperate box, the circle software is built directly into a netgear router.  I do believe this would work around the problem by replacing the default Telus wifi router with the netgear router including software.  This solution can work well, however cost wise is a bit more prohibitive with costs ranging from $300 to $500.

 

3) Unglue   https://www.unglue.com/

The first two options are still fairly expensive, as some of the other options will be.  This option is relatively cost effective at $30 USD with the basic plan being free.  Other plans range from $7-$10 a month to enable significant features.  The basic plans shares usage stats with parents…. for some this may be sufficient.  For others the basic subscription will enable features such as turning internet off, filtering content, internet scheduling, etc.   Like disney you can reward things such as chores with internet time (remember when we used to get allowance?  the currency today seems to be internet time!).  The entertainment time limit is useful as it still allows the internet usage for things such as homework after kids have used up their ‘play’ time.  There is also an app for managing this.

4) OpenDNS .  www.opendns.com

I mention this option as it works on any home network but can take a bit more work to setup.  Also it’s free.  No hardware to buy and the basic options are free and can help out with filtering content.   I haven’t tried this but OpenDNS does have a decent reputation.  What’s nice is there no more hardware, just internet settings which means it works on any device on the internet.   The effectiveness of this will depend on how well you secure your passwords from those you wish to hold accountable.  In many ways this could be a good starting place for those who want to secure their connections from inappropriate content.   The only challenge is configuring the settings if you’re not technically inclined, however there are instructions on the website.

5) Router Limits .  www.routerlimits.com

For this one my friend Graeme reviewed this for me as he has put it into active use in his house… take a read of his review to understand this product.  The cost is starting at $80 and up depending on the product you use.   Here’s his review:

With a family of seven, internet safety is a must in this day and age.  After researching a variety of software and hardware based solutions, I settled on RouterLimits (routerlimits.com) and use one of their companion routers (ReadyNet AC 1200) for my home.

The reason I bought their full router instead of their simpler Mini add on device was that I use Telus Optik TV, and therefore need to keep the Telus Router active to continue to access Optik TV.  It so happens that our Telus Router is not compatible with the RouterLimits add on device due to an issue with fast packet acceleration.  So the best solution for me to get the Router Limits working in my setup was to add a ReadyNet router in front of my Telus Router and broadcast wired and wireless internet through the ReadyNet router.  With my Telus Router set into bridge mode, all internet traffic is passed through to the ReadyNet router with RouterLimits software preinstalled and filtering all content and activity.  And I still get to keep my Telus Optik TV service into the home as well.

I spent about $250 getting the ReadyNet router in place, although some people will find that the RouterLimits Mini router add on device for around $80 will be just fine for their setup.  RouterLimits has a great technical chat support system in place, and I spent several days asking questions and sorting out the best solution based on my home setup.  Their tech support was excellent, and they patiently answered all my questions and made me feel quite comfortable that they were able to service my needs.
The RouterLimits software was easy to initialize in the ReadyNet Router settings, and required very little effort to get running.  Their interface for controlling all settings for filtering content is web based, and is mobile friendly as well.  Any changes or adjustments I make tends to be from my phone, and it works quite well.  They are working on an actual app to interface with the settings, which I think will be a good step forward to making the settings even more user friendly to access.
With some very cautious testing together as a couple, my wife and I were very pleased to find that with the right settings activated, it was very difficult to bring up any explicit content on our devices.  Even Google Images, which is typically difficult to filter with many software approaches, was filtered very nicely and we were unable to access any nude photos with very clear search terms that would often be used to access that type of content.
Another great feature that we use regularly is scheduled internet time.  We place our kids devices into their own category, and then tell the router what time of day those devices are allowed to access the internet.  So from 10pm to 7am–those devices cannot connect to the internet on any level, and we can be confident that they are not being used in any way during those times for texting, chatting, or internet surfing on any level.
Further to this, RouterLimits will allow you to pause the internet for any device at any time.  We have found this to be wonderfully useful for bringing kids up from the basement when they are supposed to be doing something other than using their devices at a given time.  They have now gotten used to the fact that when the internet stops working suddenly, they are probably supposed to be doing something else they have conveniently forgotten about!
The RouterLimits program as described so far is free (after purchasing the necessary equipment).  I have no ongoing costs for the services described above.  However, for $10 a month, you can buy a subscription that allows you to put remote profiles onto any device will even a cellular connection that will apply the same limits outside of the home as inside of the home.  So if need be, you can add an extra layer of security and safety for your kids devices if you are concerned about their activity when they are away from home.  The paid service also has a more robust history profile for each device, that will allow you to monitor from anywhere what websites and content are being accessed by any device.
Overall, I have been pleased with the RouterLimits software and router hardware, and would recommend it as a robust solution for home internet safety.  I will look forward to an app interface for adjusting settings, but have no significant concerns with the web based interface as it stands.
One further note, is that my original choice for internet safety was the Disney Circle device, which operates in much the same manner as the RouterLimitis Mini device, but I ran into the same hardware issue with my Telus Router, and it would not function in my setup.  Disney Circle does not offer it’s own router solution that gets around this problem I described earlier, which is what ultimately led me to find RouterLimits and their alternate solutions that got me the internet safety that I required.