Putting Linux on Parental Control

Thursday Oct 1st 2009 by Matt Hartley
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A number of Linux-based solutions enable users to set the "naughtyness" limit.

Over the years I’ve witnessed desktop Linux distros evolve dramatically – change the very core of the way we look at how an operating system interacts with its users. However, I still find plenty of forum posts on the Web stating that Linux as a platform still lacks suitable parental controls.

It is true that this is still a bit of a new, gray area in which development has been slower than most of us might have liked. That said, it’s not entirely true that there is a complete vacuum in place of where working Linux parental content control solutions.

As a matter of fact, there are a number of ways you can make sure that your kids are able to use the family Linux box safely and without concern over stumbling onto something that might be deemed adult content. In this piece, I’ll share solutions that I’ve recommended to parents that also happen to be Linux enthusiasts. With any luck, each of you out there will be able to gain something from this roundup so it can be shared with others.

Content control starts at home

There is certainly something to be said for parents taking control over the content their kids interact with. Clearly, it is important. But let's face it, this is not always practical 100% of the time.

Realizing this, it is critical to realize that one of the best places to protect your kids from objectionable content is right from your family router.

Many routers today come with built-in services that allow for various levels of content filtering. Netgear, for example, has routers available that provide parents with much of the control they have been looking for.

In Netgear's case however, the parental controls being used are not actually based on something that they came up with. Rather we find Netgear using something that is freely available to all who choose to utilize it.

The tool for parental control provided by Netgear is called Live Parental Controls and it is powered by an innovative web service known simply as OpenDNS.

Blocking adult content from outside of the home

OpenDNS is perhaps best known for its ability to provide a speedy way to get to your favorite websites when your ISP's DNS servers are just not cutting it.

And let it be known that, overall, OpenDNS has done marvelous things in this department. But OpenDNS did not stop there with their innovations.

The other service provided by OpenDNS happens to also include the option to engage web-based parental controls. So any computer configured to utilize OpenDNS for its DNS settings also has the ability to filter out the junk content you might not want made available in your household.

Unfortunately as good as OpenDNS can be in helping you to keep the web content viewed in you home under control, there are still some fairly easy ways a Linux user can get around this.

To counter this, it might be a better plan to actually setup the computer itself to use OpenDNS instead of the router.

It can be done with Linux easily enough. Assuming Ubuntu is in play, simply use the following:

$ sudo cp /etc/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf.auto $ sudo gedit /etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf # append the following line to the document prepend domain-name-servers 208.67.222.222,208.67.220.220; # save and exit Restarted networking or the PC.

This way even if the kids take the computer out of the home, OpenDNS can still be in place to protect their young eyes from content that might be objectionable.

WebContentControl

Despite recommending using OpenDNS for content filtering in the average home, this may not be seen as a practical solution for everyone out there.

This brings us to a GUI for the following programs designed to work on Linux: DansGuardian, TinyProxy and FireHol.

Next Page: Limiting the "Naughtyness"

The GUI bundle is known simply as WebContentControl. As you can see from the following screenshots, WebContentControl provides a concerned parent with a multitude of tools to take control of an individual computer's web content usage.

Now here is where WebContentControl separates itself from router/web-based filtering solutions: WebContentControl uses its own settings and configuration locally.

This means it’s sticking with the computer and the temptation to merely connect to another network is not going to allow a child to view questionable content.

Then there are the available features.

  • Filter out individual specific IP addresses
  • Control url whitelists or blacklists
  • Work with presets rather than trying to configure everything by hand
  • WebContentControl can be set for children or young adults, depending on what is referred to as the "naughtyness" limit.

For someone not interested in using something to filter web content hosted remotely, this is a fantastic option. Sort of like a NetNanny for Linux users.

And considering it was created to tide Ubuntu users over until a permanent solution known mysteriously as gChildCare is built and distributed, it is sure a lot better than nothing at all.

Lack of clear commercial options in this space

Even when taking everything that I have highlighted above into consideration, there are still going to be those concerned about the obvious lack of commercial options. To these individuals, I would point out the following.

  1. No single solution is going to replace strong parental interaction.
  2. No single software title is completely fool proof. All one needs is a LiveCd an access to the Internet to bypass most parental control software.
  3. The software listed above, while not as attractive visually as proprietary software, works pretty well overall.

So one might as well ask the question: does desktop Linux distros such as Ubuntu provide worthwhile parental controls that are easy enough for most people to use? Considering my experience in evaluating the options available, I would have to say yes. There is no question that the options above address the needs of most people out there looking to gain better parental control over the Linux PCs being used by their kids.

Put simply, these solutions work. All that is left for those wanting to take more control over their Linux boxes for the benefit of their kids is to utilize the tools I have presented here today.

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