Net filtering can be effective in blocking unwanted content — some of it (such as pornography) more than others. But the question is more complicated than just which package to install.
As a parent, you also need to consider that filtering is only a partial solution. Simply blocking out content of various kinds may prevent it being viewed on a particular computer, but in itself does little to help educate children about what they may come across on the internet elsewhere and how to deal with it.
If you have young children using the internet you may want to take a stronger approach. But for older children you should consider their age and computer experience and your own moral stance, before deciding whether to install a net filter package and how tightly you should configure it.
As children grow older and more sophisticated about the use of computers and the internet, a heavy-handed 'big brother' approach of spying on and controlling online activities may be counter-productive to building effective communication and trust between parents and children.
With respect to the net filters we tested, even though the commercial program NetNanny scored top in our product list, there’s not much to pick between any of the top six programs overall. The freeware program ParentalControl Bar came in at third spot along with the commercial program CyberPatrol, but Australian residents might as well go for one of the government provided packages — Integard or Optenet Web Filter for Windows PCs or Safe Eyes for Mac. They come with the features and support you’d expect of a commercial program.
Remember, however, that the bottom line is that no net filtering system is foolproof. There is still no substitute for parental supervision when children are online. When parental supervision is not possible, software can help reduce the chances of undesirable content being seen, but it needs to be part of an overall online safety strategy. We strongly advise also running a quality security suite to minimise the risk of exposure to other unwanted net nasties as well.
Getting around the system
No software screening or security system will be effective for your children if they can use Administrator level access privileges to bypass or disable it. Make sure you use a 'strong' password and keep it safe so it can’t be found by children.
A strong password should be at least seven characters long and contain letters, numbers and symbols. It should be quite different from your other passwords, not contain your name or user name and not be a common word or name.
To check if a password you’ve chosen is 'strong' enough, you can use Microsoft's online password checker.
If you can’t think of a good password you can have one created for you at strongpasswordgenerator.com.
And, of course, once you have a strong password don’t write it down and leave it where it can be found.