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Ask Slashdot: Good Low Cost Free Software For Protecting Kids Online? 646

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-children dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I have two kids, 7 and 8. I would love to allow them internet access on a regular basis. The problem is what's out there: I really don't want them to deal with porn ads and such, but making either a blacklist or a whitelist myself would take months. So I figured I would ask you: what free software would you use with preferably prebuilt lists to protect your kids online? What is out there with fairly easy configuration ability (to allow for game servers — they love Minecraft), but secure enough they can't just bypass it using a Google search?"
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Ask Slashdot: Good Low Cost Free Software For Protecting Kids Online?

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  • Watch them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:26AM (#40407581)

    Put the computer in the living room and smack 'em in the head when you catch them going where they shouldn't

    • Re:Watch them (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:56AM (#40407863)

      That's what I do. I find that the kids are not really interested in anything that could accidentally stumble across anything untoward. YouTube is the main problem site, but hey saturday morning pop videos are bloody awful and you can't do much about that.

      With our oldest I set up a non-network account (iptable block rule based on userid (on linux)) so that when he was left at home alone there was no internet access, but he could still play local games, use open office etc.

    • Re:Watch them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by c0lo (1497653) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:58AM (#40407873)

      Put the computer in the living room and smack 'em in the head when you catch them going where they shouldn't

      About to say the same, but under the form of: use same software that protects them offline - it is called parenting.

      If you think not only real-life but also Internet is dangerous (a justified concern, I agree), I can't see why what's good for protecting your kids in real-life won't be also good for online one.

      • Re:Watch them (Score:5, Insightful)

        by nedlohs (1335013) on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:25AM (#40408405)

        Do you also suggest I remove all the "child safe" lids on the various poisonous things in the house? And store them in places the kids can access? Just use my parenting skills to watch their every waking moment, rather than having backup devices for the times my parenting skills might fail me?

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Do you also suggest I remove all the "child safe" lids on the various poisonous things in the house?

          Do you think a 7-8 years old is still stopped by a "child safe" lid? 'Cause if s/he not, I do hope that you taught her about the dangers but that age - or else store them where they cannot be accessed.

          rather than having backup devices for the times my parenting skills might fail me?

          I'm yet to see a "Parental control" software that does not fail. Have you ever seen one?

        • Re:Watch them (Score:4, Insightful)

          by h3llfish (663057) on Friday June 22, 2012 @03:18AM (#40408643)
          Good point. Drinking poison and exposure to human sexuality are very similar experiences, and have exactly the same type of consequences. To make sure that your children avoid all "inappropriate" materials, be sure to freak the fuck out if anything sexual should should come to their attention. This will help them to achieve a healthy sense of disgust and shame, so that they can be normal and happy.
          • Good point. Drinking poison and exposure to human sexuality are very similar experiences

            They can both cause a gag reflex.

          • Re:Watch them (Score:5, Insightful)

            by thesandtiger (819476) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:47AM (#40410091)

            It isn't just human sexuality, and in fact, I will say that human sexuality is the least offensive of the things people try to keep kids safe from online.

            There's a video floating around of a couple of Russian teens literally murdering a man on camera. There are numerous videos showing extreme violence to people and animals. CNN had a video of a man having his head sawed off readily available, and another news site showed one being hanged while a crowd cheered.

            While I wouldn't want my children exposed to a gangbang video or something, that's so far down on the list of "awful shit children shouldn't see" as to not bear mentioning except in reply to your post.

            I don't think a kid catching a glimpse of goatse is going to be scarred for life, but I can assure you, as an adult, I've been unintentionally exposed, with no warning (or by being told a video was something else) to videos and pictures that by the time I realized what I was seeing, it was staying with me for awhile and I can only imagine what some of those would do to a kid.

            Further, people use the real-life equivalent of net nanny software all the time: agencies testing food products and medicines to make sure they're safe, regulations about toys and clothing to make them safe, building codes and structural inspections to make sure the home is safe, the list goes on and on.

            Adding some software to a machine to reduce the risk that your kids will be exposed to videos of people being mutilated or killed isn't the be-all-end-all of good parenting, but it's certainly not a bad component to add to the picture.

          • Re:Watch them (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Pigeon451 (958201) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:25AM (#40410465)

            What about grotesque images? Most 7-8 year olds are scared of things under their bed or in their closet -- they would be scared shitless of seeing mutilated bodies on the internet. For example, do a search for Porsche girl, a fairly benign phrase, you'll see whats been plastered all over the internet. Then theres images of pets being tortured, something that will likely scar any little child ...

            And for sexuality -- seeing a boob is natural no big deal (as a youngin I was exited to come across a Playboy!). Seeing a girl bound and gagged while being gang-banged is not really appropriate for a young child and is easily accessible on the internet.

            There's extremes for everything -- don't lump all sexuality into the same group. Some exposure is good, and natural to avoid being a freak later on in time, but no need to scar them at this point.

          • by nedlohs (1335013)

            I didn't say any of that.

            Do you know what an analogy is? You've heard they break down right? And that they aren't supposed to be *exactly* equivalent? The idea is to take something that shows the parts that are important to the point you are trying to make and discards the unimporant parts.

            In this case the pros and cons of internet access and whether it should be restricted or given free reign is not what I was commenting on.

            What I was commenting on was the implication that using access controls and

    • by Lisias (447563)

      It worked for you? :-)

    • Re:Watch them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday June 22, 2012 @01:14AM (#40407977) Homepage

      Also, don't forget to give up your full-time job, dump your friends and drop any sports or hobbies you do.
      Your new life is monitoring every waking second of your child's.

      Also something about "preventing rather than punishing for something they couldn't prevent".

    • Re:Watch them (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lightknight (213164) on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:13AM (#40408319) Homepage

      I know, seriously. Kids have a lot more energy, and creativity, when it comes to acquiring a taboo item. Thinking of my own childhood, you're better off trying to explain, using proper (adult) reasoning, why your social values need to be respected by them rather than trying to put up magic walls to block the offending material. Remember, the first time a kid catches you lying to them, all bets are off; they'll question everything from that day forward, and test things when you aren't around.

      I'd be more worried if they didn't find a way around that filter.

    • Re:Watch them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Torp (199297) on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:14AM (#40408325)

      Yes. The kids' gaming computer goes in the living room. And not only for monitoring what they do, but because at that age you don't want them up all night playing Minecraft either. Which is guaranteed to happen if they have a computer in their room.
      From personal experience, i didn't have trouble with my kid with naughty sites, but i did have to password protect a laptop because i caught her playing age appropriate games at 2 am in her bed on a school-tomorrow night.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dissy (172727)

      Put the computer in the living room and smack 'em in the head when you catch them going where they shouldn't

      Wow you got the same tripe in first yet again!

      How does your solution prevent porn ads from regular non-porn websites?
      How does your solution prevent popup/under ads?
      How does your solution prevent drive-by downloads of malware?

      A parent watching (or hell, a parent at the fucking keyboard) can't stop these things.

      A good web filter is wise even for your own usage, let alone children. It has NOTHING to do with blocking them from seeking out porn. The Internet has a way of forcing these things on you if you want

      • So the appropriate response is to be there with your kid when it happens and go "These things can happen; It's not your fault. It wasn't pleasant, but there's no need to freak out. All you need to do is click the red cross and it will go away. You can always come and talk to me if you get uncomfortable about something, and you won't get told off."
  • Protip: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Squiddie (1942230) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:27AM (#40407593)
    If you're looking for software to take care of your children for you, you've already failed as a parent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you're looking for software to take care of your children for you, you've already failed as a parent.

      ... because all of our kids are just like yours.

      Until you've spent a month living with someone else's kids, don't assume they can be parented the same way yours can.

    • Re:Protip: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DurendalMac (736637) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:44AM (#40407753)
      Spoken like someone who does not have any kids. Newsflash: Even the best kids don't always listen to what mommy and/or daddy tell them. Furthermore, I'd say this is also to prevent unintentional access to nasty stuff. You can't sit there watching over their shoulder ever second they're online. Put the computer in the living room, sure, but it's not just deliberate access to the more visceral parts of the internet that you'd need to be worried about. At that age, it's probably more about the kids not realizing where they're clicking until they're watching 2 girls, 1 cup.
      • > Newsflash: Even the best kids don't always listen to what mommy and/or daddy tell them.

        That's the point. You cannot deal with that issue by trying to stop the kids from having the CAPACITY to disobey. Not unless you want to raise a few agoraphobics anyway...

    • Re:Protip: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lisias (447563) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:50AM (#40407821) Homepage Journal

      If you are trying to do everything by yourself to you children, you will fail even more as a parent.

      You know, you have to WORK in order to be able to FEED your kids. Will you lock the little bastards (man, my childhood memories... X-P) in a safe room in the working hours?

      You really think that peeping over their shoulders all the time is a good way to raise them?

      Kids *needs* some controlled "freedom" in order to acquire the needed abilities to raise the self control mechanism every adult must have. You need to leave them "alone" (please note the quotes) for some time everyday. You need to give them some room to give them the chance test what can and what cannot be done.

      (And so, you need to step back and see what happens)

      On the other hand, you should not expose them to things they are not ready (or are incapable) to deal.

      When you drive the kids to the local park, you stays in their side every second, of you give the kids space in order to allow them to play with other kids - but stays reasonably near in order to interfere if somethings appears to go wrong?

      If you are not a Luddite, you must give the kids some time on a computer. And since you probably have some other things to do in your life (as keep the house clean, cook the dinner, help the other kid on the homework, drive the dog to the vet, etc), and stating again that no kid raises mentally healthy being watched all the time (you are aware that the kids must live on their own after your death, aren't you?), so the FA have a valid question: some kind of parental software is needed.

      Relying only on this software would be a failure, granted.

  • Communication (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gehrehmee (16338) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:28AM (#40407597) Homepage

    The internet is all about communication, be it with other individuals, corporations, etc.

    Would you let a 7 or 8 year old talk to random people from around the world without supervision? No?

    Then you may want to consider just making sure that there's a human with your children while they're using the thing, until they're at an age where you choose to trust them on their own for a bit. You'll be there to explain the odd random thing that happens.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Would you let a 7 or 8 year old talk to random people from around the world without supervision?

      Why not? Unless you think most people are rapists or terrorists who will magically molest them over the internet, what is the problem? Just make sure they know what they're doing.

      • by tftp (111690)

        a 7 or 8 year old [...] Just make sure they know what they're doing.

        I don't know about others, but when I was 7 or 8 years old I certainly didn't know what I was doing - even when I thought I do. From my today's position I think I got some reasonable awareness of adult world when I was about 16 years old, and continued learning further.

        Unless you think most people are rapists or terrorists who will magically molest them over the internet

        The worst thing that can happen to a kid on Internet is another

    • Re:Communication (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bug1 (96678) on Friday June 22, 2012 @01:56AM (#40408203)

      More on that point, its good to have supervision so that kids can be *taught* to recognise things that are bad for them, and/or how to respond to those things.

      Education is the best solution to many situations, the reason to have supervision is facilitate that education.

  • Free or free (Score:5, Informative)

    by afidel (530433) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:28AM (#40407601)
    I'm not aware of any Free software in this space, for free software you've got MS Live Family Safety (works with most browsers on Windows and some applications) and OpenDNS content filtering. I use the Live family safety on their laptops and OpenDNS on their tablets.
    • Re:Free or free (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 22, 2012 @01:05AM (#40407915)

      Squid with Dansguardian (http://dansguardian.org/) has worked well for me. It has a free "subscription based" white/blacklist and also a heuristic "score" mode.

      Could be a good balance between watching them all the time and letting them have some freedom. You tell them not to visit certain sights, and unless you're running it
      on your router as a transparent proxy, can be bypassed with a modicum of effort, so some of the onus is on them.

    • Was just going to suggest this, works really well limiting apps, quotaing time and limiting content. It is actually a really well thought out tool: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=29231 [microsoft.com]

      Needs a modern OS though so Vista or 7.

  • OpenDNS (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    OpenDNS has it's limitations, but overall it's really good.

  • OpenDNS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgoohan (593793) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:33AM (#40407639)

    Try OpenDNS. It's got good granularity for filtering criteria and you can either filter at your router, or on a per-computer basis.

    Plus, their founder has a /. UID of 17.

    • Re:OpenDNS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by scsirob (246572) on Friday June 22, 2012 @03:34AM (#40408719)

      I tried to use OpenDNS and it works well as long as the kids know nothing about computers. If your kids become ever so much computer-savvy, they will find out how to set the DNS to something else real soon.

      In my case (I have two boys, 12 and 14) I had my DHCP server set so the MAC hardware for their PC would get a fixed IP address with OpenDNS and also set my firewall to restrict certain traffic (games, chat) during night hours. Not for long they found out how to change their MAC address. Next step will be to use VLAN switches and block any non-registered MAC address on the ports to their computer. Wonder how long it will be before they start using tethering phone connections, NAT, whatever..

      Technology will help for a while. Next to that, make sure you guide and educate your kids. They'll see stuff soon enough. If it isn't at home, it will be at some friend's place, an internet cafe, you name it. Prepare them and they will be fine.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      This is a great idea, completely ineffective if the kid has even the slightest motivation or curiosity. Reward tinkering with sexual material, that's the way it should be.

  • You'd better do something! If they see that, they'll turn into evil rapists!

  • Bsecure Online (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spiffydudex (1458363) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:34AM (#40407651)

    My father uses this software, BSecure Whole Home Filtering. Its great, you can customize the filters to your hearts content. Plus you can cover all the computers in your network by changing DNS servers on your router.

    Link: http://www.bsecure.com/ [bsecure.com]

  • 127.0.0.1 block.this.com (there are tons of blacklists, pick one or several and add an entry for each,... You should only need wget, sed and other basics) Puppy linux has an example, but could use a better selection of lists.
    • by Dracos (107777)

      This. Almost no software a parent can install is immune to kids. Plus, contrary to current browser vendor "wisdom", the most important security tools are (or should be) already on the screen: the location bar and the status bar. Teach your kids to pay attention to where they are and where they're going.

      Although I find mapping hosts to 0.0.0.0 is faster, because it's not a valid IP address, so the DNS subsystem of your OS will ignore it without trying to connect.

      There are several hostfile collections out

      • Homer: Hey, what gives? I thought you had a Internet access.

        Ned: Sure doodily-do. Over 131,572 sites locked out!

  • K9 Web Protection (Score:4, Informative)

    by Slacker3000 (1267656) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:42AM (#40407727)
    I've used K9 Web Protection for years. http://www1.k9webprotection.com/ [k9webprotection.com] It's free and does a pretty good job. I also setup my wireless router to use OpenDNS as an added layer of protection for any of my kids friends who may bring something over and connect to our wireless network. It's not foolproof, but you can setup a filter level and it does a decent job of stopping "accidental" clicks.
  • But I think you meant censor them, didn't you?.

    Just because they are kids doesn't mean they aren't human, and it doesn't mean they don't have the same rights as everyone else. I never understood this censor the kids bullshit. Putting a veil on "the things that are out there" won't make them go away, and your kids will still have to deal with all of that real soon. Think hiding it from them for a few years will help them when they find "what is out there" in a dark alley? Or are you going to keep them foreve

  • subject (Score:5, Informative)

    by Legion303 (97901) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:45AM (#40407769) Homepage

    Firefox, AdBlockPro, Noscript, and the computer in the living room.

    • I used Firefox, Noscript, and education. I have a 19 (almost 20) year old daughter and a 15 year old son. Both have done fine without any close monitoring of what they are doing. Yes, I have checked from time to time in the past but for the most part, my kids were turned off by porn and knew enough to speak to strangers safely. Yes, my kids had unfiltered net access from the time they knew how to use a computer. Yes, they have turned out, or are turning out, just fine.

      Seriously, give up the control freakery

  • ... free as in "free lunch"?

    You know, there's a difference...

  • Dan's Guardian (Score:5, Informative)

    by capedgirardeau (531367) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:54AM (#40407845)

    One possibility is http://dansguardian.org/ [dansguardian.org]

    It is filtering based and there are community maintained blacklists and whitelists for it for different audiences.

    Good luck and as much involvement as you can have in their internet use to teach sensible web use will be beneficial as well.

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Friday June 22, 2012 @12:57AM (#40407865)

    That is, do the things you would normally do to secure your own machine from malware, intrusive advertising, and vulnerabilities.

    Use the hosts file to block certain domains from being accessible.
    Install ad-blocking extensions for your web browser.
    Install NoScript or some other JavaScript blocking extension.
    Don't give the kids account administrative privileges.
    If possible, run an operating system that doesn't permit them to install their own software.
    Turn on whatever parental controls are available in the OS.
    Keep it patched and up-to-date.

    Beyond that, the question is really a matter of sitting down and having an honest discussion with your kids. You can supervise them if you want to come across as overbearing, but really, the single best thing you can do is to be someone they feel they can trust and share whatever questions they may have. The reality is that the world is full of weird and disturbing and dangerous shit. It's not possible, or even desirable, to try to protect them from being exposed to such things forever. Rather, teach them how to judge for themselves, and encourage them to come to you for advice. If you cannot build trust and respect, you have already lost. They will simply learn to hide things from you.

    Finally, there's something to be said for simply not giving them unsupervised network access. When I was that age, I didn't play online video games. I didn't have the luxury of playing Minecraft or whatnot. And I was happy to have what I did. The more quality time you spend with your kids, the less they will feel a need for things like television, mobile phones, iPads, and the internet. It means bringing them up to read paper books. Going outside and getting exercise. Getting them interested in crafts or other creative pursuits that build fine motor control and dexterity. Teaching them how to use their imaginations and developing their critical thinking skills. Could you do these things with computers and modern technology? Sure. Is it easier? Not necessarily.

  • It's free (mostly) and it's really good. Easy to administer and they will find it very, very hard to work around.

    Blocks protocols, porn, bittorrent, msn, etc and you can chose what to block by protocol, by type, filter email, view logs of what people are doing, the works.
  • by slippyblade (962288) on Friday June 22, 2012 @01:33AM (#40408083) Homepage

    I've two kids of my own and, amazingly enough, I was a kid once as well.

    Monitoring and Filtering software is rubbish. All it does is create an artificial wall that your kids will see as a "forbidden" area. You are a /. user which means, most likely, you are a smart guy. That means your kids are probably smart too. Putting up a program like this - your kids will see a challenge and go out of their way to break/circumvent it. It's what I would have done as a kid...

    Communicate with your kids. Educate them. Explain to them about the internet and life in general. There are things and places that are not good for them now and it's best if they don't go there. But do it in a way that doesn't insult their intelligence. Amazingly enough, education and communication work. Will they maybe end up with a nasty pop-up on screen? Maybe. But that might happen even with NetNanny installed.

    Treat your kids like people, tell them of the dangers, explain WHY those things are dangers, and give them alternatives.

    PS: No - I am not some, "Think of the children", bleeding heart freak. My kids have been spanked on occasion, they've been grounded, and done plenty wrong. They are kids. Shit happens. But by treating them like people and not pets, the shit that has happened has been minor and far less than most of my "Time-out" peers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by colin_young (902826)
      I don't disagree with your points, but what filtering software will do is decrease the risk of accidentally seeing something you don't want to have to explain to your children just right now. Not zero-risk, but lower. My 9-year old knows what sites she can visit, knows which ones she has to ask about, but doesn't type very well and sometimes screws up a URL, whether or not I'm sitting right beside her. Even my wife could do with some help with mistyped URLs sometimes...
  • by Bert64 (520050) <bert@sl[ ]dot.fi ... m ['ash' in gap]> on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:20AM (#40408373) Homepage

    The fact is, none of this parental control software is foolproof... It will always let the odd thing through, and if its purely software based rather than running on a separate network device then it's not exactly hard for someone with physical access to the machine to bypass it.
    Kids have a natural desire to do new things, especially things which are forbidden.

    Instead you want to educate the kids.
    If it's not a forbidden subject then younger kids will have no interest in things like porn...
    They will encounter questionable content themselves sooner or later, better that they be prepared for it under an environment controlled by their parents than stumble into it unprepared and on their own.

    That kids will see things like porn and violence isn't the biggest concern, it generally won't interest them and they will just move on unless you make a big deal about it... The biggest concern is grooming pedophiles, and these won't be found on the porn sites targeted by software filters, they will be found on the online forums and chat services which are actually aimed at kids.

  • by BlueStrat (756137) on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:29AM (#40408437)

    There IS NO SOFTWARE SOLUTION that will keep your kids safe on the 'net.

    Period.

    You'll simply have a *very* false sense of security, a hole in your time/budget, and kids that learn first that you're not very smart, and second, that the game to play is "find ways around limitations my parents set for me". That, and they'll also quickly learn all about "two girls, one cup", "lemonparty", and probably "goatse" as well.

    Either be around when they're using the 'net, or turn the damn thing *off*, and tell them to do something else. It's really not that hard.

    Sure, you won't be "cool". You might not be your kid's "friend" any more, at least for a while. They might even tell you "I HATE you!!".

    Suck it up. YOU are the adult here. YOU set rules & limits. You're supposed to be a parent, not their buddy. Your job isn't being "cool". Your job is doing "parent" things, like make unpopular decisions that they may not understand for years yet, if ever.

    Try setting rules that they're not to go online without a parent around. Take a crucial cable with you, or lock it up, when you're not there. Put the computer in the family/living room.

    You have to decide whether the time you spend doing things other than supervise your children's 'net use is more important than they are. Software can't do it. It's just there to salve your conscience with illusion, and make money from your guilt.

    This isn't rocket surgery.

    Strat

  • by zyzko (6739) <kari.asikainen@gmail. c o m> on Friday June 22, 2012 @04:01AM (#40408817)

    Probably said a thousand times but here comes again:

    Using a filtering software has a very limited use - sure, it can block porn ads (but so does adblock) on torrent sites and you can easily block chat sites you don't want your kids hanging in. But - this works for a very limited time. I would say a few years max just in the 7--10 age - if at that. Then they find out that hey, they can access the blocked sites at their friends house or at library, and while it has been previously forbidden it must me exciting and they want to find out what it is.

    So put the computer in the living room. Give them privacy over time (room to write personal messages without observation on Facebook etc. when they demonstrate that they can act responsibly) as they mature. If they screw up educate, and encourage them to report online bullying or inappropriate behavior without the feat that *they* are disciplined. Sure, they will see a few porn images if they are interested - you can't watch them every second. But kids did see those back in the day from porn mags in the garage of someone who's dad had a stash piled up there. It will not destroy their mental health or anything. Just educate them on the real threats - do not meet strangers from chat rooms without adult present, as you would not meet a stranger from the street in private, this stuff is easy and easily taught when you do not over-mystify it.

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