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How do I monitor and protect my kids on the Internet?

I am often asked by friends and co-workers what I do to protect my kids when they are using their computers and the internet.  I decided to document, in Lehman’s terms, how I’ve set up my kids systems so in the future I can direct anyone to this post.  This is an overview of the steps I have taken to make sure the kids in our house, not limited to our own, ages 4-13 can use any computer we allow them access to without worrying about them straying to the Porn Parkway, or the Exploitation Expressway.

1. Only install Linux. This is the primary component of protection.  Not Windows XP, Windows 7 or any other flavor of Microsoft operating system.  Why Linux?  First because Linux is no where near as susceptible to web based viruses and malware as Windows based PC’s.  Second, they do not cost as much as Apples.  It is true the Mac OSx and iOS can provide as much protection as a Linux based PC, but not likely.  Malware is now being targeted at the growing Apple user base, because of the flood of devices, so it won’t be long before Apple devices rival Windows for the volume of malicious content approaching them.  That said, just days ago I was told by a co-worker that my recommending a Mac for his kids was the “best advice” he got last year.  But he had no problem paying $1400 for it.  Linux is free and will run on a $200-300 laptop with ease.  There is more information about Linux distributions at the bottom of this post.

2. Install a keystroke monitor with remote reporting capability. There’s no better way to know what kids are doing on-line than well, knowing exactly what they’re doing and saying on-line, per keystroke.  I prefer logkeys from Google.  Available for download right here on my site.  A good keystroke monitor will allow the service to run in “promiscuous mode”, that’s the term you’re looking for, meaning that it runs in the background secretly without any user awareness.  It should also be able to email report logs secretly so physical access to the PC is not required to monitor the keyboard activity.  Keep in mind one of the big benefits of keystroke logging is that even if the visible contents of a website is not logged, any user ID’s and passwords typed in to gain access to a site are captured.  Isn’t this spying on kids?  Ya.  Is it better than wondering what they’re up to on-line for which you, the parent, may ultimately be liable?  Yep.

3. Use browser based parental controls. Did you know that Firefox has several free parental control browser extensions, such as FoxFilter, that are easy to install and configure?  Do you know how many free browser based parental controls Internet Explorer has built in?  None.  Internet Explorer relies on the Windows operating system parental control settings that are much more difficult to configure and have questionable reliability.  Again, a Windows PC running IE is the most insecure setup you can hand over to a kid.  This is coming from a guy who cleans viruses off of a corporate Vice Presidents laptop routinely.  If adults can’t control their browsing habits and security how much attention do you think kids are paying?  Ya, I know, probably more than the adults.   Forget those subscription based filters like Net Nanny for Windows.  I would only recommend these paid services for those bound to Windows without any alternative.  Save your money, get off Windows, abandon Internet Explorer, protect your kids on-line.  Nothing but winning.

There are many variations of Linux available for free, known as “distributions”.  Not long ago I championed Ubuntu Linux.  When Connor was just 4 years old his first laptop ran Ubuntu so he could play Disney and PBS Kids games on-line.  More recently I prefer Linux Mint due to it’s ease of installation and more friendly graphical interface.  Ubuntu recently incorporated a more unique style of user interface (I’ll spare the technical details) but it is not as familiar as the “windows icon” style of desktop kids would be more comfortable with and accustomed to.  With the exception of the wireless network adapter configuration almost anyone can install a Linux Mint distribution on a Intel or AMD processor based laptop or tower PC.  Another great benefit is free software.  From games to OpenOffice there is a software solution that will keep kids and teachers happy.  As a matter of full disclosure another well known Linux limitation is printer compatibility. It can be a challenge to find driver software that is Linux compatible for many printer models.  It is almost unheard of that a Linux print driver will support all of the features of many multifunction printers.  This is because the printer manufactures target all their internal software development at Microsoft and Apple.  Open source community developers are responsible for most of the free Linux print drivers available today.

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Jessica January 11th, 2012 3:25 pm

    Very interesting! Can u install all this on an iPad?

  2. Todd January 11th, 2012 3:34 pm

    There are certainly keystroke loggers available for Mac OSx. iPads run Apple’s mobile software, iOS, which has limited keystroke logging options available. One is iKeyGuard that sells for $9.99 and requires jailbreaking the iPhone or iPad. Not a practice Apple condones and your warranty will be gone.

    So the answer is technically yes. For most people the jailbreaking requirement translates to a technical no.

  3. Jack November 11th, 2014 6:06 pm

    The thing I would also advise is to install some kind of online monitoring software so you could check what your kid is doing at this particular moment.
    The one I use is Ammyy Admin – http://www.ammyy.com/en/index.html

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