Are Your Children Circumventing Internet Filters?

childfence   Are Your Children Circumventing Internet Filters?I don’t have children, nor do I expect (or want) to have them anytime soon. However, as a kid who grew up in the Internet age, I know how easy it is to get around web filters. As a matter of fact, my main vice was getting around the school “protection” system, and with a variety of methods to choose from, it was a little too easy.

You may say to yourself that you’ve installed the finest web filter available, and I’m sure that it’s a solid piece of work. However, no filter is impenetrable, and the truth is that the only 100% complete protection against the Internet is no Internet. Alas, we can’t just get rid of the web, can we? (You’d probably have the same success hiding nude models in library books on photography.)

Instead, maybe we can at least explore how filters are bypassed. Below are a few common ways that your children can get around them.

Methodology

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Web Proxies

The first method of getting past the school filter that I ever discovered was a web proxy. In-browser proxies like these essentially act as middle men who let you access the outside web. If you go ahead and search Google for them, you’ll probably find dozens. With that said, there isn’t really an effective way to block them. All your child has to do is type in the URL of the website they want to go to in the web proxy’s search box, and they will be sent to it without a hitch. In layman’s terms, proxies allow for the viewing of a desired website through another website’s server.

But let’s say you have somehow managed to sit down and block all the URLs for every single web proxy in the world. (I’ll be the first to say that you can’t, but I’m aware that there are some obsessively dedicated parents out there…) Well, it is possible to create a proxy on your own. It takes a little technical know-how, but there’s a great article on how to do it right here on MakeUseOf: How To Create Your Own Proxy Server In Minutes

IP Addresses

Using the IP address of a website in the navigation bar can get you where you want to go, too. Unless you’ve blocked the specific IPs (or are using a bit of software that handles it for you), this is a possible way of getting around filters. Personally, I’ve tested it, but I learned that most filters can block it. However, there’s a method other than simply typing it in the browser.

For instance, you can create a text file, type in the IP address, save the file with a .html extension, and voilá – the site is perfectly accessible simply by clicking the file.

Disabling Internet Filters

One of the easiest methods of getting past Internet filters is by disabling them! Yep, sometimes it’s that simple. Whether it be going to your browser’s plug-ins or checking out the control panel of your PC, it can be done. Granted, you may have a third-party application which has a password protection, and this is more secure, but not perfect.

Utilizing Another Browser

Personally, I keep a filter for myself to block distracting websites (Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) solely when I’m working or doing research. However, the problem is that the filter is in my browser, and it’s easily turned off. As I mentioned before, it’s not hard to go into my Chrome extension settings and to just click disable.

But let’s say I was a more desperate 12-year-old kid who doesn’t know how to do that. Well, I could easily switch over to Firefox, Opera, or even Internet Explorer. Your ethics may not agree with this, but chances are the history is available in these browsers. If you have no issues with spying, you may want to check it.

Guessing Passwords

People don’t really care about their passwords. We use our family dog’s name, our street and house number, and even our grandmother’s birthday. Every single one of these items is totally guessable, and even if you think your password is like a steel door that blocks the evils of the Internet, it probably isn’t. I’d suggest is using a combination of numbers, letters, and a lot of them. If you want a completely unique password, check out this article from the directory: Passwordgenerator.net: Create Strong, Random Passwords That Are Harder To Hack

Breaking Out The Mobile

Sure, you may have placed a filter on the family computer, but have you taken a look at your child’s smartphone, tablet, or iPod? This is where personal Internet access is going these days, and while you may be confident in your PC’s protection, you can’t always be sure about your child’s mobile device. There are mobile Internet filters, but I cannot personally attest to any of them. See what’s out there, and hopefully, you find one that’s solid.

Using A Media Console

The Internet is really available on anything and everything, isn’t it? Take your Xbox 360, Wii, or even your Smart TV. All of these are capable of accessing the Internet via on-screen browser. Yes, it’s a bit more of a hassle, but it’s possible to look at all kinds of sites through these means. I highly doubt that your child would resort to this since these devices are usually placed in areas where people commonly are passing through, but you never know.

How To Handle It

I’ve already established that it’s very hard to block the Internet. Although you may use one method of prevention, there’s always going to be another way to circumvent Internet filters. Rest assured, my intentions are not to stir up fear or create hopelessness whatsoever. Personally, I think the problem lies elsewhere.

Maybe, just maybe, today’s generation of parents are relying way too much on technology to babysit their children.

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I’m not bashing parents, guardians, or adult mentors at all. But I do think that simply taking something away doesn’t teach a child not to use it. Sure, you may have prevented certain activities for now, but most children will grow curious over time. If you are really concerned about the future of your children, then why not look toward it?

Perhaps you could work on building relationships with your kids. This way, your children can trust you enough to know that your decision to block certain sites is a good one, and they will voluntarily stay away from it even when other options are presented before them. This helps strengthen integrity, and it also opens the gateway to gradually explain things as they get older.

On a more extreme method of action, you could always just ditch the filters, have an in-depth discussion, and lay out the harms of certain activities on the Internet (like pornography addiction). Once again, this builds integrity, but it also establishes a certain level of cooperative trust. By doing this, you aren’t sending your child out into the wild. Instead, you are merely helping them learn to walk safely while in the forest.

(This isn’t to say there aren’t just some totally bratty children who will access certain sites. Parents, I know you do everything you can – sometimes there are just kids who are tough to deal with.)

Fighting Authority

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Human nature is to fight authority regardless of who it is, and whether you are using an Internet filter to block websites or trying to instill a positive parent-child relationship, it’s not going to come out perfectly. There will always be rocky roads, so don’t be too hard on yourself (or your kids).

How else have kids figured out how to circumvent Internet filters? What other methods of Internet filtering do you use? Have you opted to not use filters and trust your children?

Image Credits: edenpicturesstevendepolo, dwhartwigPaul Keller

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13 Comments -

5 votes

Dany Bouffard

Its a lot simpler to speak with them about the websites they go and tell them the risks that some of those websites can be bad for them. Yes its perfectly possible if you know computers to block websites effectively, but its much more usefull to just speak with them, cause you then might have a better understanding of why they want to access thoses websites. Education is alwasy better the repression.

0 votes

Joshua Lockhart

I agree on a few levels, Dany.

0 votes

Johann

If you’re going to go down the route of trying to block content then the simplest is to block at the router level to take into account all the possible devices on your network. E.g. Define OpenDNS for DNS lookups on your router, then ‘force’ all NS queries through it so this isn’t easily bypassed by setting alternatives a client (easy using iptables on something like DDWRT, say). This at least gives you a little bit of control with very little effort.

If you’re truly paranoid then you need a web proxy in place on your network and force all traffic through that but even that’s easily bypassed by a tech-savvy teenager.

Education is the better path to take, although having a tech solution in place can’t do any harm.

0 votes

Joshua Lockhart

Right, right Johann. Thanks for your input.

0 votes

Slashee the Cow

“For instance, you can create a text file, type in the IP address, save the file with a .html extension, and voilá – the site is perfectly accessible simply by clicking the file.”

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAROFLOLMAOMGWTFBBQ

No. What you’ll have there is a structually invalid HTML file which most browsers (designed to not follow standards because so many websites aren’t valid anyway) will display as the IP address in plain text. Just like if you opened Word and typed in the IP address.

0 votes

Joshua Lockhart

Woops. Looking into it.

I could have sworn I knew that was right. While in the course of researching the article, I had read about the method. I also thought I had double-checked it. Maybe I was wrong… What you said makes sense. I’ve opened a few local files in my day.

I’ll explore the vast range weird reasons as to why I wrote that. If I figure out why, I’ll report back.

0 votes

Scott Macmillan

Young people will always want to circumvent restrictions.Some of them will respond well when its explained why certain sites and type of content should be avoided.Others will definitely need safeguards and blocking installed.

0 votes

Mac Witty

I think the most dangerous with filters is that parents believe that it works and they need not engage / check. Sure, you may want to set the google search filter so the children not get many results as they do not want see. This may be something you point out. Most important of all is probably that you do not leave children unattended and rely on technology

0 votes

Mark

Thankfully, I personally prefer a free software called Qustodio at home. It is difficult if not impossible to manipulate as also light weight and easy to use, The site is http://www.qustodio.com.

0 votes

Horde56

I don’t try to limit which web sites my kids go to, but I do care about *when* they go to them. What finally drove me to install parental controls was the discovery that our teenage son was texting and/or facebooking his friends at 3:00 am on school nights.

Before installing controls, we tried to reason with him about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and getting school work done before socializing, but he was unwilling or unable to control his impulse to stay up into the wee hours chatting. After being upset about it at first, he seems to have accepted the restrictions and I think it is helping him get more rest and get more done during the day, while still giving him a few hours each day when he can access his phone and the net. Sometimes the parent has to be the parent. I do worry about how he will handle his new-found freedom when he is off to college in a few years.

0 votes

Elizabeth

I hate the fact that p r _ n or anything “sexy” is considered (at least under U.S. court judgments) an acceptable form of free speech and that efforts to block it are considered violations of the 1st Amendment. Personally I would like the U.S. to drop that definition, amend the 1st Amendment to specifically exclude sexy stuff, and sanction ISPs and mobile providers who refuse to install filters on their end and block any sexual material at their level. Not political expression or anything else, just sex and anything remotely sexy or referring to it. Including 99% of music videos, ads for the “blue pill,” and the Super Bowl halftime show. (Yuck.)

They tried implementing something like this in the U.K., where it would be blocked *by default* but you could submit a request in writing to your local MP to have X-rated stuff unblocked. People weren’t happy, because 1) at that point your name was in a database of people who access X-rated material (kind of like the sex offender registry in the United States), and 2) people for some reason seem to like sex, aren’t ashamed to admit they do (not anymore, at least) and don’t feel like belonging to the “Junior Anti-Smut League.”

Plus, at the time this was being debated, “Fifty Shades of Grey” was the #1 best-seller, by a U.K. author (I stop short of calling her a “writer”) at that. Which would mean that people’s purchases from Amazon or whatever brick-and-mortar bookstores they used their charge card to buy that crap at would have a red flag, and they’d be Hester Prynned as criminal perverts along the likes of Jimmy Savile and Jerry Sandusky. Which I believe they are, and should be, but that’s a debate for another day (and a bit off-topic for a tech blog).

I just think it would be easier to protect not only our children, but society at large, from harmful materials if ISPs and mobile providers installed filters at their level, TV manufacturers, broadcast networks, and cable companies blocked X-rated channels, certain advertisements and raunchy films/TV shows, and retailers refused to carry “Fifty Shades,” “Playboy” and “Hustler” and the creators and distributors were sent to prison. If adults are going to act like brats, then let them suffer the consequences and get a good “spanking” from the rules of good sense.

0 votes

Mike

On the surface what you propose might sound, to some, like a good idea. Unfortunately it wouldn’t work and would likely make the problem worse. Like Pandora’s box, once opened it can never be closed again.

Prohibition and the current counterproductive “War on Drugs” are but two examples of the government trying to impose this kind of structure on the citizenry. Both of these efforts failed miserably.

Furthermore, the internet is nearly impossible to police in the way you propose. Instead of getting into a technical explanation as to why that is the case I offer WikiLeaks and rampent media piracy as two examples of types of activity that the US government would very much like to suppress. They are not having much success with that; WikiLeaks is still very much in business and you can still freely and easily download virtually any song, movie or TV show from a myriad of sources.

Some things just can’t be put back in the box.

0 votes

illegal3alien

Using https/secure versions of sites works well too. Some filters have problem due to the nature of https. You can also use this in combination with IP addresses (you’re avoiding DNS blocking now too) and get around a decent amount of filters using just these two methods. Of course there will always be proxies (web proxies/socks proxies)