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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Strategy for a Safe House

A friend recently called me and asked me to help him create a strategy to keep the online experiences of his children safe no matter what they were doing in his house.  Not a small task.  Depending on their lifestyle, it could be time consuming and expensive to really lock everything down.  Before I started suggesting anything, I gathered some information.

Here are the specs on his family/house:

  • He has 4 children that range in age from 9 to 17
  • He has 5 computers in the house - his machine in his office, his wife's machine in the kitchen, the "family" computer in the family room, and each of the two high school age children have a laptop for school.  All connect through a wireless network
  • 3 kids have cell phones (2 of them smartphones with the data plan)
  • He and his wife have cell phones (both smartphones with the data plan)
  • All kids have an iPod Touch 
  • They have a PlayStation 3 and an X-Box 360 in the basement which connect to the Internet via their wirelss network
  • They also just bought a new flat-creen TV with wireless Internet capability

Here are the challenges in a situation like this:
  • The school-provided laptops do not permit the installation of any parental control software or reconfiguration by the parents.
  • The older kids take their laptops into their bedrooms to do homework
  • The video game consoles (which can connect to the Internet just like a computer) offer no filtering or monitoring options.
  • The kids friends often visit with their own laptops, cell phones, iPod's etc.
  • The smartphones with data plans allow Internet access but do not have any content filtering capabilities
Given these circumstances, my friend said "what can I do to make the house as safe as possible?"  The hard part is controlling the devices you have no control over - school laptops, friends' iPod's, etc.  Software can help with some of these devices but smartphones and video game consoles do not have parental controls and the school laptops are hands off. 

Here's what we came up with.  The iBoss Router, which I reviewed back on February 14, is a key component in the strategy for my friend's house.  This single device will control the Internet content for everything that connects to the Internet in that house using the traditional internet.  This includes the family computers, the school laptops, the iPods, and the video game consoles.  The great thing about the iBoss is that it is one device to configure instead of many and it is a "locked box" so to speak that is out of the reach of tech savvy kids who might be able to figure out how to get around some settings.  So instead of installing software on each computer and each iPod, you can control the majority of content filtering in one place.  Of course my friend could still take the time to install monitoring/filtering software (like NetNanny or K9 Web Protection) on his computers and similar apps (like Mobicip) on the iPods if he wanted to be extra sure (which I recommended he do as well).  And the best part is that the iBoss offers protection for the video game consoles - protection that isn't available anywhere else.

We went about setting all that up.  We got the iBoss, configured it, and turned it on.  Worked great.  We also installed K9 web protection and turned Windows parental controls on for the home PC's and installed safe browser apps on the iPods.  After all that effort, things seem to be working well.  He and I tried very hard to find objectionable content online and it was a considerable challenge.  And the cool thing was, any bad stuff we did find, we could specifically add to the "blocked" list in both the iBoss router and the software we installed.

The downside?  Yes there was one.  The internet connection offered by the iBoss is slower than a traditional router and it did have an effect on the gaming experience.  Kids who game can tell you that when they are playing online, a slow connection will ruin the experience.  "What do we do about that?" my friend asked.  My answer - tell the kids to live with it or bring the video games up out of the basement and put them in a more public area.  Those are really the only two choices that I know of.

Now on to the smartphones.  There is nothing that can be done to lock down smartphones that have a data plan unless those smartphones are iPhones or Droids (in which case a safe browser app can be installed).  These particular smartphones were not so he was out of luck.  When he asked me what he should do about it I answered with my standard answer..."why does a kid need a data plan?"  He answered "so they can text."  At that moment I knew he fell victim to the same trap many parents fall into.  You don't need a data plan on a cell phone to text.  Those teenagers who work at Verizon will say you do in order to make a sale.  Your kids will say you do so they can get the internet and e-mail.  But you don't.  Most standard cell phones have packages for voice, text, and data and you can choose which of those three you want.  My friend was a little perturbed that his kids pulled a fast one on him and he assured me that he would be canceling the data plan (and saving himself a good deal of money - more than enough to pay for the iBoss router).

All in all, he was very pleased with the results.  It's been 3 weeks and everything seems to be working smoothly.  The teenagers aren't happy about their lack of cell phone internet but I'm sure they will manage.  I made it through high school when there were no such thing as cell phones - I think they will survive.


  1. My iboss was recently coming up for its yearly renewal, and I looked for available alternatives. I bought a new, faster, wireless router from netgear, which now comes with free parental controls. It is not as configurable as the iboss as far and individual computers or logins, but it seems to be working pretty well for our family. I have found the network to be more stable and faster than the iboss which sometimes bogged down when both my college kids were home. We have a Wii, Ipod touch 4 laptops and 2 desktop computers that were just a little too much for the iboss when everyone was home.


  2. Great post. I think I will follow. I have the iboss and really like it. may try both as you did. I had an issue with the online gaming with the iboss but called support. you can bypass the game by adding the connection you see in the reports to the allow list. that seemed to work although you lose control of turning it on or off. I agree with having them bring it in a public area. we did the same

  3. Thanks for the post! And I like to use KeyBag at It's very good keylogger for Mac.
    My boss use it for monitoring employees.