Reconciling Parental Control Software with Internet Security Principles

Parental control software remains a useful tool to monitor your
child’s online activity and at the same time block inappropriate
content. The fact that you are an adult does not necessarily mean you
like to view offensive content, so the software can also be utilised to
block offensive content on sites you often visit. Unfortunately, with
the monitoring part of the software comes an inherent security risk of
sensitive information that may fall into the wrong hands.

If you
want to use parental control software, you need to use it responsibly,
especially if you install it on a computer that is shared by several
members of your household. The trustworthy members of the family need to
be aware of the software and the need to have administrator privileges
to disable the software before working on the computer. Parents often
forget to disable the software before doing online shopping or banking,
effectively allowing the key-logger component of the software to log
important information such as social security numbers, credit card
numbers and passwords.

Many Internet monitoring software packages
take screen shots at certain intervals to capture the contents of the
screen at a specific point in time. This is also dangerous if you forget
to disable the monitoring part of the software, before logging into a
secure area of a website. Screen shots can be taken of sensitive
information that’s normally only accessible behind a secure login area.
All this information (keystrokes and screen shots) is stored on your
hard drive, exposing it to possible exploits from crackers or spyware.

Well-written
parental control software will obviously encrypt the information it
logs, but crackers often decipher the encryption code in next to no
time. The last thing you need is a spyware infection or an intruder on
your system that can bypass the encryption of the parental control
software. You don’t want a stranger going through your logs if you
accidentally forgot to disable the software before entering sensitive
information on the Internet. So the most important thing to remember is
to disable the monitoring software before you use the computer and
remember to enable it again when you’re done, otherwise there is no
point in having the software on your computer in the first place.

Some
parental control software allows you to create different profiles for
different members of the family. You can for instance have a “Child”
profile that blocks inappropriate content and monitors your child’s
activity on the web, a “Teen” profile that does not block any content,
but only monitors your child’s activity and a “Parent” profile that does
not monitor your activity or block any content. The “Teen” profile can
be activated when your teenager wants to use the computer, or you can
activate the “Parent” profile if you are present while your children
surfs the Internet. The “Child” profile should be used to limit Internet
access while you are not at home to keep an eye on your children’s
Internet activity.

Kaspersky Lab recently integrated a parental
control module into their Internet Security suite. It does not log
keystrokes or take screen shots, it only monitors HTTP traffic. To know
what your child is doing on his or her computer, you only need to
monitor their Internet use. It is easy to see which games they are
playing and which software they are using by examining certain areas of
your system, like the Program Files folder and the Add and Remove
Programs section of the control panel. Clever kids will know how to wipe
this information, but most programs make connections to the Internet
these days, so just by examining the HTTP traffic generated by these
programs, you can easily tell which programs your child is using and
which websites they are visiting.

The parental control module of
Kaspersky Internet Security logs all the websites visited by your
children, all the remote images loaded from e-mails that they read and
all the servers they connect to for online gaming and software updates.
If the logs contain entries from winamp.com, then your child is probably
using Winamp to play music or movies. Entries from ea.com, might
indicate that your child is playing some games developed by Electronic
Arts. Your children will also download software from certain sites,
which will give you another indication of what kind of software they are
using. The fact that the software monitors HTTP traffic, means that you
are not only limited to the traffic generated by a web browser or
e-mail client, it monitors all Internet activity from any application.

The way that Kaspersky Lab approaches parental control
and monitoring software, does not compromise your online safety like
your conventional child monitoring software, because there is no
security holes created by keystroke logging and capturing of screen
data. The logs of your HTTP traffic may still contain tracking
information that you may not want to reveal to advertising companies
(and their spyware programs), but the beauty of this module is that it
is integrated into an Internet security suite, so you are automatically
protected against unauthorised access and malicious software infections,
thanks to the firewall the anti-malware shields of the software.
Traffic through secure servers (HTTPS) is normally encrypted, so the
monitoring software only sees the encrypted data during a secure online
session like Internet banking or online shopping. I still recommend that
you turn of the parental control module before transmitting sensitive
information over the Internet.

Up to know I basically discussed
the monitoring part of parental control software. The control part
allows you to block indecent content as well. Blocking inappropriate
content minimises the risk of malware infections. Porn sites are often
loaded with spyware, so keeping your children away from these sites,
does not only protect them from exposure to harmful content, but it also
protects your computer from dangerous infections. Your child’s porn
surfing may be the cause of a dangerous spyware infection, something you
may not be aware of (especially if you don’t have any spyware
protection installed). You could easily log into your online banking
account or enter sensitive information on the web, without realising
that there are spyware lurking on your computer, watching your every
move. Parental control software is not designed to protect your computer
against malware infections, but preventing your children from accessing
inappropriate websites, helps them to stay away from potentially
dangerous websites, which is the number one rule in malware prevention.

Proper
parental control software should allow you to set up filters to block
specific inappropriate content, giving you complete control over what
you allow your child to access on the Internet. Kaspersky Internet
Security allows you to do exactly this. Lets say you want to block
access to sites containing the word “murder” in the URL. You simply add
the filter “*murder*” to the Parental Control Blacklist and it will
block all websites containing the word “murder” in the URL. You can also
blacklist specific URL’s to prevent access to certain online chat
rooms, web mail services or social community websites. Websites that
carries your approval can be added to a white list to prevent the
software from accidentally blocking it, or you may want to allow only
specific pages from a site that’s currently on the blacklist. The
flexibility of the software allows you to fine tune the parental control
software to your own specific needs, enhancing the online safety of
your children.

So what is the message I’m trying to get across
here? As I said at the beginning of this article, parental control and
monitoring software remains a useful tool to keep an eye on your
children’s Internet activity when you are not present. As a parent you
need to understand that parental control software poses certain security
risks of you do not manage the software in a responsible way. I feel
that developers of parental control software should move away from
keystroke logging and screen capturing and focus on HTTP monitoring
instead. Parental control software developed by a company who
specialises in Internet security, gives you peace of mind that the
software was designed with security as a top priority. The next step for
Kaspersky Lab may be to make the module optional. Not everyone wants
parental control software, but if I want to add this functionality to my
computer, I’d rather buy it from a developer who has been in the
Internet security industry for years, than buying the software from a
developer who does not have a clue about Internet security.

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