Of the various perils that face the intrepid contemporary web explorer, one of the greatest is the one faced by parents: what are their children looking at and who are they communicating with online?
There are several standalone parental-control products available, as well as the settings built into internet security suites such as Norton and McAfee. Over the following pages, however, we'll be looking at a new initiative that provides free monitoring and blocking software.
K9 Web Protection is aimed at "the first generation of internet parenting". Some of its site-blocking and time-controlled features are available in Vista, but K9 is particularly impressive because of the way it integrates with your browser.
At its most basic, K9 will prevent particular types of sites, such as those containing adult content, from loading. The administrator can overrule these permanently or for a set time period if necessary.
More importantly, K9 is able to restrict the times of day at which the web can be accessed, all through an easy-to-use web interface.
A great deal of control is available for customising options such as restricted keywords. Filtering takes place by matching entries against one of 60 categories. The database is stored on the Blue Coat servers and operates very quickly, without you having to download any data to your own PC.
But K9 has potential beyond the protection of children online. Perhaps better referred to as web-filtering software, this package can also regulate how the web is used (or rather, misused) in the workplace. In this instance, K9 is a valuable tool for enhancing productivity.
A family-friendly web
1. K9 Web Protection is free to use, but you'll need to get a licence key from the website. Click the ‘Get K9 Now' link, then enter your name and a valid email address. Your key will be sent to this email address, enabling you to continue setup.
2. Different versions are available for Windows 2000, XP and Vista, so be sure to choose the correct download link. During installation you'll be asked for an administrator password: this is essential for you to monitor and make changes to settings. Once it's installed, restart your PC to begin automatic protection.
3. Depending on the options you selected during installation, shortcuts for K9 will be placed on your desktop, in your Favorites menu and in the Start menu. Selecting any of these will bring up the main administration panel for changing settings. We'll look at this in more detail overleaf.
4. K9 uses default settings to filter your PC's web use from the get-go. Should someone attempt to access mature or malicious sites, for example, a warning appears in the browser. The administrator can override these restrictions for 15 minutes (or even permanently) if necessary.
5. Sometimes when surfing the web, you'll come across a link that seems to have been wrongly blocked. You can report this at the K9 website by clicking the ‘Incorrect Rating Form' link. This loads a page in the browser that will take details from you and notify you in the event that the error has been submitted before.
6. The administrator is also able to alter blocked content category settings. Click Favorites, enter your password and select ‘View Internet Activity'. A list of categories will appear on the left of the page. Select or deselect the tick box next to each category to change its blocking status.
>> NEXT PAGE: Monitor activity and customise K9 Web Protection
Monitor activity and customise K9 Web Protection
1. The ‘View Internet Activity' option lists the categories that K9 patrols, as well as sites that have been blocked or granted access. The summary view should be enough to give you a snapshot of events; click ‘View Activity Detail' if you feel any of the sites logged warrant particular attention.
2. Links found below each content category allow you to drill down into particular areas, such as spyware, nudity or adult/mature content. Selecting the detail link alongside each category lists the individual events that have taken place for that type of activity, including information such as dates and times.
3. Choosing the Setup option in the main menu loads a series of features for you to configure. The first of these, Web Categories to Block, offers a series of choices for protecting users, from blocking all potentially dangerous sites as well as chat and newsgroups, to simply monitoring traffic.
4. K9 also allows you to set time restrictions on web access. Select Time Restrictions, then click and drag your mouse across your chosen days and times before selecting Deny. Save your changes. To allow access, click Clear All or select certain blocked times (marked in red) and click the Allow button.
5. Click the Web Site Exceptions menu option to specify certain websites that should always be blocked or always allowed, regardless of the status of the content categories that they fall into. Enter a URL in either category and click Add, then Save Changes.
6. The Blocking Effects option allows you to determine whether the program makes a noise when a site is blocked, as well as whether the admin override option is displayed. From here you can also specify a time-out of web activity when certain actions take place, such as attempting to visit 10 blocked sites in 10 mins.
7. If you want to refine settings even further, you can enter specific keywords that K9 will block even if they do not fall into the general content categories monitored by the program. Select URL Keywords, then type in address tokens (words) that you wish to prevent from loading in the browser.
8. Further administrator modifications can be found under Other Settings. Options here ensure that Google Safe Search is turned on and allow you to participate in the K9 beta, for example. You'll find options to change your administrator password and the email address that notifications are sent to.