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Thursday, March 25, 2010

K9 Web Content Filtering Software


I got a call a couple of months ago from some friends who were panicked.  Their kindergarten son was over at the babysitter's house and he and the babysitter's daughter (same age) had accidentally stumbled onto some pornography.  Here's the disturbing part...they were on the My Little Pony website dressing ponies in different outfits when a window popped up showing a very graphic scene.  No, My Little Pony isn't promoting porn.  The machine had a hijacker on it that would open new windows and show whatever website it wanted whenever someone was on the internet.  Hijackers are one of many programs referred to as malware that reside on your computer and take control of your browser, redirecting you to different websites.  Some sites use hijackers as a marketing ploy - when you try to leave their site, they wont let you - they keep redirecting you back to their site.  Other hijackers are posted by people who just want to cause trouble.  Either way, they are bad things to have on your computer and they are all over cyberspace.

How frustrating is this for parents?  You spend the time researching sites before you let your kids on them and try to set limits but it doesn't matter.  Webkinz, My Little Pony, Pop Cap...all the harmless kid sites are now a threat if your machine has a hijacker.  The only way to keep your kids from seeing porn is to turn the machine off.  Aren't you glad you spent $1,500 for that new machine?

My friends wanted to know what they could do to keep the same thing from happening on their computer at home.  The first thing I told them is to get their computer clean.  Not being extremely tech savvy, they didn't know what to do other than fire up Norton's scanner so I took their machine and went through it with a fine tooth comb (437 malware infections to their surprise).  Once the machine was clean, I recommended they put some web content filtering/parental control software on it.  The problem was that the machine was older and my friends didn't want to spend a lot of money on  software like NetNanny or CyberSitter (both excellent programs but costly).  So I did some research and came across K9 Web Protection Software from Blue Coat.

So far, I really like this product.  First and foremost, it's free.  Setup is easy and their website does a good job of helping parents through the process.  Once installed it filters the websites that your children access by a variety of methods.  Parents can log into a control panel that allows them to tweak the settings to customize access specifically to their own standards.  The program receives updates automatically from K9's website and is always on whenever your children are on the internet.  The best part for me (other than the content filtering of course) is that it doesn't slow your computer down.  Many filtering applications cause lags in connection speed and slow browsing down considerably.  I didn't even notice that K9 was running while I was testing it.

There were only three drawbacks to the software that I noticed: 1. It doesn't filter chats or messaging.  2. It doesn't filter files that you download (which would be very difficult to do so I don't really hold this as a strike against K9) and 3. K9 sends the administrator access info to the parents e-mail address so if you are a parent who (like many) leave their e-mail open all the time, it wouldn't take much for your child to find the password and disable K9 (but again, how else could K9 handle this? - I don't hold this as a strike against them either).

Overall, I am pretty impressed by K9.  It does as good a job filtering as some of the expensive programs and it's free.  You really have nothing to lose in trying it out.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Here is a link to the K9 website for more information:
http://www1.k9webprotection.com/aboutk9/index.php.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mobicip Safe Browser Review

It's taken me a month or so to get to this but I finally got to spend some time with Mobicip.  Last month one of my readers turned me on to Mobicip and asked me to review it.  So here goes.

I try to start my reviews with a statement of my overall opinion.  I like Mobicip, more than SafeEyes Mobile.  Though I'm not going to rush out and get it for my kids because I've already purchased SafeEyes and Mobicip didn't outperform it enough for me to want to make the change.  For those of you who don't know what Mobicip is, it's a web browser for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch.  If you follow this blog, I have reviewed SafeEyes Mobile in the past.  Mobicip does the same thing though it behaves a little differently. 

The big difference between Mobicip and SafeEyes Mobile is that SafeEyes is a program and Mobicip is both a program and a portal.  What does that mean?  When you install SafeEyes onto your device, all of it's settings are contained within the program itself.  It does not connect to any third party for updates or to get it's "instructions" for how and what to filter.  Mobicip does connect to a third party service and this has definite advantages and a few drawbacks.

The advantage of Mobicip and it's third party connection is that is receives it's "orders" from a central location sponsored by the company that makes Mobicip.  The settings it uses to filter objectionable content are a clone of the settings most schools use to protect students from bad stuff.  Instead of you deciding which sites should be blocked, you can rely on the same expertise that makes those decisions for schools (though you still have to put some time in).  It also gets updated whenever that master list gets updated so your filter list will always be current.  This functionality alone is a huge plus.

The downside of connecting to a third party is that it affects browsing speed, though speed drops were seldom and the amount only slight.  Before you get to any internet site you have to first travel through Mobicip's site for the filtering to work.  The busier their site is, the longer it takes you to get through. But I have to be honest with you,  I used it at various times of day and I never noticed much of a performance hit.

Another cool thing about Mobicip is that it looks exactly like Safari, the browser that comes on iPhones/iPods.  SafeEyes has it's own browser that looks different.  If your child is embarrassed by not having the same browser his/her friends have, then this should do the trick.  Except for a splash screen that appears for about 2 seconds when the program is opened, there is no way to tell you aren't using Safari.

Mobicip's main features include:
  • Real-time Internet content filtering
  • Data encryption for added security over public WiFi
  • Simple setup using predefined web filter configurations used in schools
  • Easy, intuitive filtering administration
  • Support for 3G, EDGE, Home WiFi, Public WiFi (including hotspots that require purchase or agreement)
  • Safari-like User Interface, including pinch and zoom, bookmarks, tabs, landscape view, etc
  • Operates with no load on the device and no noticeable delay.
The control panel for parents is pretty easy to use.  After downloading Mobicip, the app immediately walks you through creating a Mobicip account and setting filtering settings at different levels. Ideally, the setup should be done by whoever will administrate the account so that the account will not be editable by your child. The account settings and control decisions are made by the administrator (you) at mobicip.com, which also has a very simple and easy to use website. You don't need not be an expert to set up and edit the account.

The best part about Mobicip is the price.  $4.99 as opposed to $19.99 for SafeEyes.

All in all, Mobicip worked well, and is something I would definitely recommend to any concerned parent.  But make sure that once Mobicip has been installed on your child’s iPhone, the Safari browser has been taken off via the restriction settings. Otherwise there really is no point to downloading it.  If you need help disabling Safari, turn to Google and search on "disable Safari iPhone".  That's how I figured it out.