Windows

Peanut Butter PC: Trying to keep kids safe

Peanut Butter PC by Peanut Butter Software is designed to deliver a secure, parent-sanctioned desktop for kids.

For today's review, I'm going to shift gears from purely business-centric apps and take a look at one that focuses on our youth. Letting kids have full-range access to the family PC might not be a great idea. Don't believe me? Ask Helen LoveJoy, the Reverend LoveJoy's wife from The Simpsons TV show who famously said, "Won't someone please think of the children?"

When I was a little rascal back in the early to mid-90s, my parents locked the lone Windows 3.1-powered family computer down with Edmark KidDesk software. Suffice to say, it did a decent job keeping my mitts off sensitive parts of the operating system. With those days long since passed and KidDesk relegated to the dustbin of history, it might behoove parents to know what sort of software can accomplish a similar task for their family PC in the 21st Century.

An answer

Peanut Butter PC by Peanut Butter Software sets out to fill this void with a product designed to deliver a secure, parent-sanctioned desktop for kids. I found this application to be surprisingly robust and highly configurable. You can generate special user accounts tailored for each child, limit access to certain websites and applications using a whitelist, disable the use of external drives and media, and catalog media files like music, video and pictures for kids. Peanut Butter PC also offers the ability to auto-run whenever the computer is powered up and logged in, or the parent can leave that option off if he or she prefers to start the kiddie environment manually.

Of course, as a reviewer, I have to play the part of a kid trying to break the system. I tried the usual suspects for getting around safeguards, such as attempting to open Task Manager and kill the user process, opening an application via an Open file dialog using common programs like WordPad, and more. Unfortunately, unless you are extremely careful with what programs you allow, anyone enterprising enough can defeat Peanut Butter PC's security by allowing complete access to the file system. Therefore, it is important to configure the Windows user account in such a way that permissions are not granted to folders not specifically created or belonging to the user. Keep in mind though that this could take considerable time to do.

Another glaring flaw I noticed is that some apps could ignore the protective sandbox measures and allow access to the wider desktop. This is especially true if you use a modified installation of Windows with user interface patches. A notable example of this would be the Classic Start Menu mod for Windows 8. Despite launching the Peanut Butter PC and letting the software take over the desktop, the hacked Start Button still manages to appear on the screen, allowing youngsters access to programs they might not be allowed to use.

Bottom line

In summary, although Peanut Butter PC as a product offers a good idea for making the computer safe for kids, some youngsters with more crafty hacking smarts could get around the confines of the custom desktop and back into the cruel, unprotected world of regular Windows. Although this application serves as a decent roadblock for some that aren't familiar with computers, it cannot be considered a replacement to parental supervision. It is always important to monitor your child's usage of the machine, just in case someone does end up finding a way around the fence. At the price of $24.95, it might be worth considering after you give the software a test run via Peanut Butter PC's 15-day trial.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

16 comments
kfann
kfann

I support the computers at "The Children's Peace Pavillion" www.kidpeace.org. We were using Edmark's Kid Desk on a 1996 vintage WFW 3.11 computer. That machine is being replaced with a Windows 7 touch screen computer, and needs to be locked down to keep the kids from the operating system. We are going to use Peanut Butter PC (PBPC) on them. We are aware of the weaknesses of PBPC and are taking steps to reduce the risk. Windows 7 is locked down as much as we can, and we are making sure that we don't add any programs in PBPC that have a file open dialog box. The kids also will not have access to the keyboard or mouse.

rpb_
rpb_

... because kids tend to have their own gadgets (iPods, smartphones, games machines, laptops, ...) that can all access the Internet anyway, often with their own browsers, completely bypassing the "home PC". So you really need to lock things down at the router. But more and more kids are getting data plans with their smartphones these days, meaning they get their own access point to the Internet completely bypassing your home PC and router. And even if you stop them owning such a device, *and* lock down your router *and* your PC, not only is quite a bit of inappropriate stuff still available even via your filtered connections (none of them are close to perfect) but it's a very good bet that at least one of their friends will have much looser (or no) restrictions at their house, and quite probably most of their friends. It's a losing battle.

ator1940
ator1940

I only have windows, on my computer for the kids to play games, all REAL work is done with Linux. Didn't know it was possible to secure a windows based PC.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

did you used to lock it down? I no longer lock it down as the little sucker is now a big sucker and is taller than me, and also 24 years old.

marty9999
marty9999

If you need full parental control that records everything teens do online (such as Facebook) , as well as filters inappropriate websites, and does linguistic analysis to watch out for dangerous activity - such as online predators or cyberbullys - check out McGruff SafeGuard's Parental Control system: http://www.GoMcgruff.com You probably remember McGruff “The Crime Dog” - Take A Bite Out of Crime - from your own childhood. For FREE iPad/iPhone parental control, check out http://www.GoMcGruff.com/browser

magic8ball
magic8ball

While I dont want to be the internet police, there are certain parts of the internet that kids should not visit. I have an Untangle utm box as the gateway of my home network. Being a hardware device they cannot bypass it and there are no open wireless points around my house for them to circumvent that way either, so its be filtered by Untangle or no internet access at all.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you lock down your children's access to the family PC in some way? How do you do this? Do your children find ways around it? Are third-party applications like Peanut Butter PC the best way to control your children's PC activities?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Wow! You still had a WFW machine running with KidDesk up till now? Impressive. I guess most kids don't really know or care about the difference, so long as the system works as intended.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Parents that care and take an interest in what their kids are doing. Parents that raise their children to know right from wrong so that they can trust their kids to make the right decisions most of the time. But it is useful for parents that care to have a helpping hand

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Thanks for mentioning the McGruff tip. I'll have to check this software out sometime.

JCitizen
JCitizen

How effective that McGruff solution was. I also always enjoyed the educational spots featuring the "crime dog", on TV.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Perhaps if one only purchased web filtering, the price would be more affordable? I notice the streaming anti-virus/etc. is pretty pricey.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I also found iBoss to be interesting. iBoss offers a router you can buy for your home network and it allows you to control what content gets filtered without finicky software on a PC that can be overridden. http://iboss.com/

JCitizen
JCitizen

Some of the best secured school systems servers, used Novell technology. I guess using an appliance will make up for outdated science. Novell has some catching up to do, unless I've not heard of the latest support projects on it.

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