• Does your parental control software work?

    Many wireless routers ship with some parental control feature. Most of the time, you’ll be asked to enter a list of URLs you want to block, and maybe some time slots during which Internet access is prohibited. While it might be able to block all Internet access for the specified time slots, the URL blocking feature is pretty much useless.

    Most likely, what you really want to do is to block a category of web sites instead of individual ones. Say, you want to block pornography. How many such sites are out there in the Internet? Among those, how many do you know the URLs or domain names for? Does your router have enough slots for you to enter them all? Who’s going to track the new sites that might be popping up on a daily basis? As you can see, that’s an impossible task for you to handle on your own. But that’s what your router’s parental control feature expect you to do. Would you rather say that the “feature” is useless?

    On the Android phone, Google does not provide parental control. So I tried the wireless provider’s content filter. To my surprise, it was so lousy that it blocked legitimate contents while allowed “objectionable” contents to pass through (in my five minute test). That didn’t work, I decided to give a try to the multitude of parental control apps available in the Play store. I picked one of the most popular ones with a good average rating. It had a neat user interface, and offered all kinds bells and whistles. I tried to access an “objectionable” web site in my Android browser, and sure enough, I was blocked and an alert was sent to the “parent” account. Everything looked neat and sweet. But the warm and fuzzy feeling stopped right there. The cold fact is, when I switched the URL from “http” to “https”, I went right through. No alerts. No report. When I switched to a different browser (firefox), same thing happened. Then I went back to the Android browser again but turned on incognito mode. I passed right through. No alerts. No report. In a word, despite all the bells and whistles, and a false sense of security, it was pretty much useless.

    What’s the moral of the story you say? Don’t listen to the manufacturer’s words, don’t trust other people’s reviews and ratings. Try it out for yourself. Pretend for a moment that you are the kid, can you break the “parental control” with reasonable effort?

    Here are some simple techniques to bypass parental control:

    • Try https:// instead of http:// in the URL
    • Try incognito mode
    • Try a different browser (especially on a smart phone or tablet)
    • Try accessing the website by IP address instead of domain name. For example: instead of http://www.cnn.com (of course, substitute cnn with the website you want to block). Google “dns lookup” to look up the IP address of a website.
    • Try using a public proxy. Google “proxy server list” to get some IP addresses and ports.

    Does one of the above techniques break your parental control software?

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