Rich asked: “My 10 year old son has been going to Internet sites he shouldn’t be visiting. He’s created his own accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other sites without my permission. I’ve tried using Microsoft Family Safety, Circle, and OpenDNS, but none of them give me full control over my son’s Internet activities. Most services expect me to give them control while others treat the whole family the same. Do have any recommendations for an Internet filter that allows parents to set white and black lists for their kids? I’m willing to buy a new router if necessary.”
Rich, if you want to give different users their own preferences, and those services didn’t work for you, you will probably have to go for that router, but first check the one you have.
Many routers, even the ones that ISPs give out to their customers, have parental controls, and most include blacklists and the ability to exempt certain computer’s MAC addresses from the restrictions you set. You should also be able to keep certain users offline at specific hours, if you want to make sure your son gets a break from his internet habit.
If your router doesn’t, almost any you buy will, but don’t assume they’re all the same.
Some routers actually have what is considered an added benefit: OpenDNS as parental controls. Since you’ve already tried OpenDNS and don’t want it, you want something far simpler, just a whitelist and a blacklist, that should be easier to find. We suggest you double check that you’re not getting something fancier that won’t meet your needs.
As always, keep in mind that any gateway to the internet that bypasses your home connection won’t be controlled by it, so if your son has a cellphone with a data plan, a router or any services will not help when he’s using that data plan.
Honestly, the big issue here is how tech savvy is your 10 year old son? For instance, if your home firewall allowed you to create rules that controlled incoming and outgoing traffic, you could then write a rule that blocked all traffic on port 53 (that’s DNS) not going to OpenDNS. The kids learn the trick of putting Google’s public DNS on their phones and computers, but if they’re using your WiFi, it wouldn’t work. They would HAVE to use OpenDNS, and suddenly your filtering is more effective.
However, if your 10 year old is extremely tech savvy, he might know that if he enters the IP address numerically, so the system doesn’t need to run a DNS query, that gets around OpenDNS. Or he might know how to create a local hosts file on a Windows computer and supply the IP addresses of the domains he wants to access.
We’d really need to have some more specifics regarding exactly how the filtering systems let you down. We know that Circle, for instance, can fall a bit flat if you’re running both 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi networks. So perhaps we can give you some better advice if you give us some more details. For now, we’ll say that OpenDNS combined with a router/firewall that allows you to block any DNS requests not going to OpenDNS is probably the best filter.
However, as we already mentioned, if your son has a data plan on his smartphone all he has to do is turn off WiFi and connect to the cellular network, and he’s skating past all your filters. Not much you can do there except take away the phone. OpenDNS’ Umbrella service that covers mobile devices also is an enterprise-level offering that requires corporate control of the smartphone.
We hope we’ve helped at least a little bit. Good luck in your Internet safety arms race!