Most people probably don’t think of themselves as an “administrator” but if you have computers all using the same access point, then that’s what you are. It’s important to understand how to ensure the safety of children using computers on your network.

Home network safety starts with the equipment you already have. How do you know what’s going on when someone else uses your computer? What kind of activities are occurring and what sort of websites are your clients accessing?

If you wanted, you could check browser history but that can easily be cleared. You could also monitor system event logs, but that’s more than most parents want to deal with.

Today, we want to discuss how you can monitor what’s happening on your network, with regard to the traffic that is flowing through your router. After, we will discuss the importance of user accounts on Windows and how you need to make sure everyone is using either standard or even child accounts, but definitely not administrator!

Your Router is Your First Line of Defense, so Change its Password!

Normally when you log into your wireless router, you just use your web browser, which you’ll probably point to an IP address such as 192.168.1.1. You router will be “secured” by a simple default password such as “password” (it may even be blank).

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We’ve talked before about creating strong passwords and remembering them, and about whether you should change them regularly.

But, regardless of what passwords you use on your social network and e-mail accounts (they’re all important obviously), we want to talk about this particular password, which protects your router: you need to change it immediately and you really need to be careful about what password you assign to it. It can’t be easily guessable and parents (administrators) should be the only ones in the household who know it.

It’s hard to tell you exactly where the ability to change your router’s password will be, but most routers have a very basic interface, so it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

On our router, it’s found in the advanced settings under the Administration heading, so it’s not immediately apparent.

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Take some time, hunt around and find it, then change your password. Just trust us, this is important. Your router password gives anyone unfettered access to your connection, and they can bypass restrictions you put in place and hide inappropriate activity on your network.

Blocking Sites by Keywords and Domain

Assuming you’ve changed the router’s password, when you log in, the initial screen will give you some basic information. Usually this is the status of your network, such as if you are connected to the Internet, whether your wireless network is working, and other pertinent information.

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We want to find security and administration options. We’re looking for the ability to block certain sites, check logs, and other features. On this particular router, that stuff is located in the advanced settings section.

On this particular router model, parental controls aren’t baked in and instead defer to OpenDNS, which we’ve talked about in the past. Below this are controls to block websites and services.

In the following screenshot, you see an example of what a typical type of keyword or website blocking section on your router might look like.

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In this way, you can obviously hold back some basic attempts to view adult and adult-themed content.

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Will it stop every single instance of porn or violence? The simple answer is no, not unless you can think of each and every keyword and website that you don’t want your younger family members to access.

Shutting Down Services

When we talk about services, we’re referring to stuff like games, chat, telnet, and other things that require specific ports that might constitute a security risk. For example, telnet is a well-known communication network protocol, but is rarely used today because it is inherently unsafe because it communicates information in clear text (it isn’t encrypted).

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It’s unlikely your kids are going to be using telnet or anything else found in these options. More than likely they’ll play games using Steam or EA Origins or some other gaming service. To that end, if you had concerns about things like that, you’d be best to block the applications at their source, on the client.

Setting Basic Curfews and Time Limits

A passable set of parental controls lets you set up time limits and curfews. Similarly, your router will also likely have similar options.

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Here on this particular router, this method of blocking access only applies to any sites or services you block, and not general Internet access. Wholesale Internet blocking is inconvenient for everyone else, so if your router does allow you to do this, hopefully it will allow you to circumvent it with a password or by whitelisting certain internal IP addresses.

Keeping Track of Activity with Logs

Another basic requirement of parental controls is the ability to monitor user activity, such as with logs. Again, your router probably has that feature integrated. Here in our example, we see this feature is found in the administration section of our router’s user interface.

This readout is pretty confusing when you start sorting through it and we’ve only included a blocked site, which includes our keyword “porn” as an example of how to read the log’s output.

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You can probably weed out unnecessary information in these logs.

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That way, you can narrow down the results to the things you only find relevant, such as showing only blocked sites and services, wireless access, etc.

Knowing What’s Going on With Notications

Decent parental controls should also send you activity notifications. This may also be possible directly from your router, such as we see in the following screenshot.

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There’s a few useful options here, such as the ability to receive an e-mail notification when someone attempts to access a blocked site, or to have your router’s logs e-mailed to you per a schedule. This way you do not have to actually log into the router from your computer at home to see what’s going on.

Okay, but Probably not Good Enough

In the end, using your router’s built-in security and administration features is completely up to you. If you want to ring your clients in a veil of protection, you’ll need something more suited to that purpose.

Luckily, Microsoft has built a comprehensive suite of parental controls into Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 has some solid capabilities to start, which can be further augmented by downloading and installing the free Family Safety package.

If you use OS X, then Apple has baked parental controls into that and if you don’t use any of these, or you have a hybrid household, such as a blend of all systems and mobile devices as well, then you can try using something like OpenDNS to try to corral your kids.

Regardless, we’ll talk more about other options in coming days, and we’d also like to hear from you. This is obviously an important subject and many of you have children of your own. Please let us know what you use and what you would like to learn more about. Our discussion forum is ready for your comments!