AT Newsletter Volume 7, January 2021


We are all aware that unabated access to the internet can be harmful for children. Until very recently, controlling children's access to the internet has been very challenging. The limited solutions that existed were both buggy and required advanced technical knowledge to operate. Thankfully, technology companies identified this need and have started releasing tools that non-techie parents can understand. There are three categories of tools that we will cover briefly, which can help keep your children (and possibly your parents) safe on the internet.  This is not an exhaustive list, but these tools can be very helpful.

The easiest way to keep children safe online is to limit their access to technology. If they have no need to use a Windows computer, provide a Chromebook or tablet, which can be more easily controlled. Do not provide a phone unless they need one. Unfortunately, all the payphones we used as children have been removed from public locations, so the need for a mobile phone starts at a much younger age today.

Home Firewalls
There are many wireless systems or stand-alone firewall systems that are easy to install and allow multiple layers of security.  Among others, both Eero and Orbi have systems that can be installed without advanced technical knowledge. These systems have add-on services in the $5-10/mo range that can keep anyone in your house from browsing websites with viruses, or adult content. Additionally, these devices can be configured to block devices from the internet whenever needed, or on a schedule. I use this to block internet for my children overnight and when they are doing remote learning. I can also block the internet if they would rather watch videos than fold laundry on the weekend.

Mobile Security Software
Firewalls are helpful inside the house, but the whole point of mobile devices is that they can leave the house. This is where software on mobile devices can be helpful. I will recommend two mobile applications that provide 3 critical functions:

   1. Firewall protection
   2. Security settings
   3. Prevention of accidental or malicious changing of security settings
  • Sophos Intercept-X: Firewall Protection and Security Settings   Intercept-X is designed as a corporate mobile security package. However, many of the features are available in the free version. Aside from guiding you through configuring security best practices, Intercept-X has a Web Filter and Link checker, which work together to prevent browsing to undesired websites. You define undesirable websites by configuring categories within the Web Filter. For children, you will want to block every category available, and we recommend blocking most categories even for adults.  Those categories are: malicious content, adult content, alcohol or tobacco, anonymizers, criminal activity, gambling, hacking, illegal drugs, intolerance and hate, phishing or fraud, spam urls, spyware, tasteless, violence and weapons                                                     
  • App Lock: Prevent Change and Block App   A security application such as Intercept-X loses its value if a child can disable or uninstall it. App Lock programs can prevent changes like this. Some of our staff use Norton App Lock on android phones for their family, and similar applications exist for Apple phones. Norton App Lock works well by requiring a PIN to access to the app store, apps like YouTube or Facebook that children may not be old enough for, and system settings. By withholding the PIN, you effectively block access to these applications. This app is extremely valuable for children, and even for elderly relatives. One of our staff has used this app to prevent an elderly parent from installing questionable application for gambling and clicking on emailed links for free iPads.

Parental Controls
Last but not least; Apple and Google have developed tools specifically for limiting children’s access to technology and the internet. These tools are free, but the features are limited. Explore the features of Apple Parental Controls and Google FamilyLink to see if they meet your needs.  Each of these tools can do at least some of the following: limit screentime, limit access to mature content (both via the web and built-in video/music content), limit app installation, limit in-app purchases, lock devices, and monitor device location.  There are also dedicated parental control apps which offer more features, such as monitoring communication and some mobile security software features.