Although I don't have any children of my own, friends routinely ask me whether I know of any good applications to keep their kids safe while online. Here are five parental control applications you might find helpful.
Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.
1: K9 Web Protection
K9 Web Protection, from Blue Coat, is a free utility that's designed to regulate the way your Internet connection can be used. You have the option of restricting access times, blocking Web sites, and filtering Internet access by URL keywords. There is also an option to view Internet usage history.One of this program's nicer features is that you can control what happens when someone attempts to access a Web site you have blocked. For example, you can play a sound (so that a parent will hear an alert if access is attempted), and there is even an option to completely shut down Internet access for a period of time if someone repeatedly tries to access blocked sites (Figure A).
K9 Web Protection
Before you can install the software, you will have to request a free license key. The license request process can be initiated through the installation wizard.
2: Family Cyber AlertFamily Cyber Alert is another app that's designed to block access to questionable Web sites and to monitor online activity. I tend to think of Family Cyber Alert as every kid's worst nightmare. Okay, maybe not every kid, but I am certainly glad that nothing like this existed when I was a kid. Family Cyber Alert records every keystroke and maintains separate logs of Web sites visited, emails sent, files accessed, and instant messages. The software can also be configured to automatically record screen captures of the session, and those screen captures can even be stitched together into a video of the session (Figure B).
Family Cyber Alert
One big complaint about this software is that there is no easy way to uninstall it. In an effort to prevent tampering, the publishers have made it so that the software can be uninstalled only from the command line (and you need a password to do it). Even so, there is no such thing as a truly tamperproof parental control application. Operating system safeguards such as Safe Mode make it possible to alter and/or disable most any parental control application.
3: Anti-PornAnti-Porn is a parental control app whose goal is to prevent access to Internet porn. It's set up a lot like a spam filter, in that you can adjust the sensitivity, create whitelists and blacklists, and filter keywords (Figure C). Like some of the other parental control applications, Anti-Porn can periodically grab screen captures of online activity and save them to a log for later review. There is also an option to control the total amount of time the Internet is accessible each day.
During testing, Anti-Porn seemed to be more effective (at least as default configurations are concerned) than many of the other parental control applications. Even so, the program contains at least one feature that seemed to be a nuisance. Anti-Porn is designed to protect children's eyesight by shutting down the monitor for 15 minutes every 45 minutes. Although this feature can be disabled, it is enabled by default.
4: ParentalControl BarParentalControl Bar is another app aimed at preventing kids from accessing unauthorized Web sites. What sets this utility apart from some of the others is that it is integrated into an easy-to-use browser bar (Figure D).
You can provide ParentalControl Bar with a list of sites you want to block, but there is also a generic filter for blocking adult content even if a site isn't currently on the blocked list. Unfortunately, the filtering mechanism doesn't seem to work all that well. In testing this product, I didn't explicitly block any site, but I did configure the filter to block adult content. After doing so, I was able to access several adult sites without any problem. Ironically, the utility blocked access to MSN (Internet Explorer's default site) because the site was unlabeled.
5: CyberPatrol Parental ControlsCyberPatrol Parental Controls is one of the better parental control apps. Like most of the others on this list, it is designed to block access to objectionable Web sites, and it provides activity logging and real-time activity monitoring. But CyberPatrol Parental Controls also allows you to create different profiles for different age groups (Figure E). For example, you can configure one set of restrictions for children and another set for teens.
CyberPatrol Parental Controls
Another thing I liked about this app is that it doesn't focus solely on porn. You can use it to allow or block other types of potentially objectionable content as well, such as those containing violence or hate speech.
If you've used any of these apps, how well did they work for you? What other parental control tools would you add to this list?
Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.