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How to Create a Family Friendly Ubuntu Setup

photo by epsos.de

The computer is a powerful educational tool for children. Despite the many benefits that computer offers to children, it also has the potential to introduce harmful content for the children. Here’s how to make Ubuntu safer for the children.

It is not very effective to watch over our children shoulder to keep an eye on what they are doing in the computer. Luckily Ubuntu is built with various functionality to control our children uses the computer.

Limiting Administration Rights

We advice parents to setup a separate user account for the children. Having a separate user account allow us to configure specific privileges that the our children can do. In the following example we will setup a user account called ‘Young Geek’ for our children.

Open the user administration window from System > Administration > User and Groups.

The user group admin module will ask for a password. You can specify no password if you are concern that your kids may forget the password. Just tick the ‘Don’t ask for password on login’ checkbox.

We need to make sure that the children can’t do things that will mess up important settings in Ubuntu. Ubuntu allow us to restrict the things that our children can do with the operating system. We advice that parents should to turn off the administrative right to the computer, so that they don’t install malicious program or change any important configuration in the operating system.

Click on the ‘Advanced Setting’ button to bring up the advance setting window.

Click on the ‘User Privileges’ tab to set up the children user account privileges. Untick the ‘Administer System’ check box to make sure that the children will not be able to change important setting in Ubuntu. You can also restrict access to external devices such as external hard drives or CD-ROM if you feel it’s necessary.

Monitoring Internet Activity

The next step that we need to do is to make sure that our children will not be able to open untrusted web sites. We will achieve this by installing web content control. The first thing that we need to add the web content control PPA to Ubuntu ‘Software Sources’:


deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/webcontentcontrol/webcontentcontrol/ubuntu lucid main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/webcontentcontrol/webcontentcontrol/ubuntu lucid main

Open your Ubuntu software sources and install web content control.

We need to make sure that it locks the Ubuntu browser proxy server. This way we can be sure that web control blocks any harmful web sites from the children. Open the ‘Advanced Settings’ tab of your web content control and lock the ‘Firefox proxy setings’ and the ‘WPA Interfaces’.

Select our children user account so that web content control only monitor our children internet traffic and not ours.

Web content control will intercept any request that user initiate in firefox and display a warning page if the children is trying to open harmful content.

We also need to configure that web content control will be started automatically when the system start. Go to ‘System’ > ‘Preferences’ > ‘Start Up Applications’. Add web content control to the list of start up applications.

We also need to make sure the our children will not be able to stop the web content control. We can do this by removing access rights from our children. Open your terminal and type the following command followed by enter.


gksu nautilus

Go to the /usr/bin folder and right click on the webcontentcontrol shell script file.

Open the permission tab. Modify the ‘Others’ group permission to ‘None’ and set the Group to your user account to make sure that you are still able to run web content control. In this example, the user account is ‘Zainul’.

Controlling Games

We may also want to prevent the kids from playing too much games while using they are using the computer. We can do this in Ubuntu by making modifying the children access rights for the games.

Open your terminal and launch nautilus in root mode. Type the following command in the console:


gksu nautilus

Open the games directory under /usr.

Right click on the ‘games’ folder and click on the ‘Properties’ menu so that we can modify the permissions.

Open the ‘Permissions’ tab and change the ‘Folder Access’ for ‘Others’ to None. This will prevent the children to play any games in Ubuntu. Change the ‘Group’ to your user group so that you can still play the game. In my case the Group is Zainul.

Managing Computer Usage Time

Sometime we may want to limit the amount of time that your children using the computer. In order to do that we need to install a software called ‘timekpr’ that will lock the computer when the time is up. Add the following PPA to your software sources so that we can install timekpr from our Ubuntu Software Sources.


deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/timekpr-maintainers/ppa/ubuntu lucid main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/timekpr-maintainers/ppa/ubuntu lucid main

Go to your Ubuntu Software Sources and install timekpr.

Timekpr allow us limit the computer usage time by time frame or time frame. In the example below we are limiting the computer time usage for 300 minutes on Sunday and 60 minute on Monday.

Timekpr will appear on the Young Geek’s task bar and it will display when it will lock the desktop.

Conclusion

We can definitely configure Ubuntu to make the computer a safer tool for our children to use. There are a lot of interesting development in Ubuntu to make all the administration things easier. If you happen to use Windows, we have written a good guide on how to configure parental control in Windows 7

Zainul spends his time trying to make technology more productive, whether it’s Microsoft Office applications, or learning to use web applications to save time.

  • Published 08/18/10

Comments (28)

  1. JimRod

    Excellent article. Thanks

  2. Zainul Franciscus

    Hi Jim,

    Glad to hear that you like the article. Just let us know if you’re having problem with setting up parental control in your Ubuntu.

    Cheers

  3. Ali

    Great article. Will bookmark for future reference. Love getting articles on using Ubuntu. :)

  4. Deb

    I have bookmarked this too – great article.
    Is there a way that i can stop running the parental control for my user id and run it for the kid’s ?

    By the way, there a gnome-nanny project which is an integrated interface for controlling time & access. Link is http://projects.gnome.org/nanny/

  5. Zainul Franciscus

    Hi Deb,

    Thank you for the tips on Gnome Nanny. Gnome Nanny has some cool feature that allows us to control the kind of websites that the children are surfing and the amount of time that they spend on the computer.

    The main reason why we choose to run the parental control in the super user account (in your case your account) is so that the children wont be able to disable the parental control. But perhaps I am guessing you have other concern about running the parental control in your account. We are interested to hear your concern, and perhaps we can work some thing out.

    Cheers

  6. Deb

    Zainul,

    Thanks for the response.
    I want to run the parental control for my kids account but not on mine. I guess i can address it by not adding webcontentcontrol to start up. But with that i am sure things like dansguardian, tinyhol, (may be some more – not sure) will start automatically.

    Just a suggestion – should you include that as a tip on your ‘excellent’ how-to above , so that parental control (and the software with it) does not run on some other accounts (like the admin accounts) ?

  7. Deb

    Another point on Gnome Nanny – it just uses the default .nbl (blacklist files). So the filter criteria are pretty crude and for me the only reason to stay away from. But the developers are working on it & going by the interface – i am sure the final product is going to be ‘one of it’s kind on linux’.

    And by the way Zainul – i have searched 7-8 pages of google results for linux parental control & yours is the most practical & comprehensive. You have addressed the gap !!

  8. Zainul Franciscus

    Hi Deb,

    We can configure web content control to only monitor our children user account. We can do this by selecting their account and click at the bottom of the web content control window. I added a screen capture in the article. Thank your pointing this one out.

    I hope this will address your concern about running web content control from your user account. Let me know if you have further questions.

    Thank you

    Cheers

  9. Dr Smit Shrivastava

    Gr8 article, bookmarked for future and mailed to all my close groups..
    Keep up the good work

  10. Christoph

    Definitely love this article, I dont have kids. Some day though when i can convince the wife, and I want them to experience LINUX, but Maybe I will get them their own pc and install some kind of child OS :) but still this will become usefull in the future, but im sure by the time I have kids on my pc. ubuntu 14.10 will be out lol. This page is saved to my evernote account

  11. Alex

    Great article. Thanks a lot. The problem is that after installing webcontentcontrol it blocks almost everything on my own account.

  12. Zainul Franciscus

    Hi Alex,

    That is quite interesting. WebContentControl has the mechanism to selectively block internet access according to the user that we ask it to monitor. There is a drop down list showing the available user to monitor at the bottom of the WebContentControl screen. It should only monitor the user that we select in that drop down list.

    Let us know if you have further problem. Cheers.

  13. Isaiah

    Definitely going to try and set this up later, I had set my son up with an Ubuntu account but have since not allowed him to use it in fear of him running across inappropriate websites.

    Thanks for this article.

  14. Eric

    There is also an Ubuntu Church edition that has some tools to help keep this kids on clean content

    http://www.ubuntuce.com/

  15. Zainul Franciscus

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for the link.

  16. Relieved

    Thank God you were not my parent, what a control freak!

  17. Jeff

    @Relieved: While it’s nice to think that “all will be well” and it’s safe to let children unfiltered access to the Web, it’s a fantasy to think so, and a dangerous one at that.

    While Linux is virtually virus-proof, Windows is not. And when a 13y/o decides to go and download the latest mod for his Sims game from some warez site, he’ll get blasted with some virus, some porn and possibly nuke his computer.

    My daughter was downloading Manga and somehow her laptop was nuked. While I don’t filter access, I did take the time to implement a safety mechanism to restore her system as it was configured when I gave it to her. 15 minutes later she was back on line, with my help coming from 3000 miles away.

    So, your choices are either to educate, or block. As a parent versed in the Geekly Arts, I prefer to educate. But for those of our brethren that are less technically minded, this would do.

    …except I bet a skilled kid could go into the firefox profile and edit it…

  18. zfranciscus

    @Jeff thank you for the helpful comment. I would really love to know how you implemented the safety mechanism in your daughter desktop to restore her system.

  19. atknut

    Great article. One question I have is email. Is there any option for protecting evolution mail without getting too invasive? I realize that the kids have some right to privacy, but email seems like a big risk to me. My kids have had email since grade 1.

  20. shapewear

    We can configure web content control to only monitor our children user account. We can do this by selecting their account and click at the bottom of the web content control window. I added a screen capture in the article. Thank your pointing this one out.

    I hope this will address your concern about running web content control from your user account. Let me know if you have further questions.

  21. Vuarra

    I am still having problems limiting only one user… this has been the issue I have had with Dan’s Guardian for the past five years.

    Thanks for the try… Not working for me, going to be uninstalled.

  22. Nice try…but the instructions do not work as written. Did you actually follow and implement the instructions?

  23. Kim Callis

    That is the problem I am running through… The configuration is be applied to all user, not just the few selected kids. Am I missing something on that issue?

  24. elias

    Great job! Congratulations, many thanks! Was hard to find an article that solved my problems.

  25. elias

    Ops I got a problem, after add the ppas for timekpr still not find it on Ubuntu Software Center !!!

  26. elias

    I got timekpr from Even Nedberg: ppa:nedberg/ppa.

  27. Tom

    Excellent work! i just have one question, how do i stop them from using the terminal to gain root access to webcontentcontrol? (as they still have the ability to install apps) as i can hide it from them, but they can still gain access.
    tried to search how to restrict Sudo rights however i only came accross ‘Sudoers’ which i tried and subsequently had to reinstall Ubuntu. lol

  28. Tom

    Never Mind, i just figured it out, under Users and Groups, just click on manage groupsand scroll down to ‘root’ then click properties and remove the target profile’s tickbox. viola the target can install apps but not use sudo or root via the terminal :)

    many many thanks for this artical!

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