2011 Parental Control Software Review

If you’re worried about your kids’ Internet safety, you’re not alone. The rapid pace of tech innovation often leaves parents feeling lost, but the latest parental control software gives you the ability to keep up with the trends.

One of my current favorites is a freebie from an old friend. Symantec’s Norton Online Family lets you protect all the computers in your house from one convenient web-based control panel. What’s nice about Norton Online Family is that it works with both PC and Mac. First, set up your initial account on the Online Family web site, then add accounts for each child based on age. You’ll receive emails notifying you of any blocked sites or unwanted activity, and as the parental administrator you can permit or deny sites as you prefer. The default settings work great for blocking popups and ads on the sites your kids visit. And did I mention, it’s free?

There are some other freebies available to you if you have Windows 7 or Mac OS X Snow Leopard or Lion. The latest versions of these systems include improved parental control features.

I’m often asked if kids can get past parental controls. Of course they can, if they try hard enough. Using your computer’s built-in features offers resistance to “accidental” attempts to disarm the safeties, but I think a better deterrent is good old-fashioned communication. Even using the term “parental control software” can put your teen into a combative stance. Instead, call it what it is: part of your Internet safety arsenal. There are good reasons to protect kids’ computers that have nothing to do with parental trust. Stuff you don’t want will appear on even the most innocuous sites, or the sites themselves can be redirected somewhere unsavory. With parental control software you have an added level of protection on top of your antivirus software.

Cybercrime Will Force You To Upgrade Your Computer

In my column in today’s Northwest Herald I talk about the risks of using older systems like Windows XP:

Now, think about poor Windows XP. Itʼs 10 years old, so the criminals have had ample opportunity to discover and exploit its weaknesses. Antivirus programs arenʼt as effective as their counterparts for Windows Vista and 7 because Windows XP canʼt run the newer features.

Vital new versions of programs such as Internet Explorer arenʼt available for Windows XP, and to make matters worse, just having the old version of the program on your computer renders you even more vulnerable to viruses.

Yet weʼre using this ancient, bug-riddled system to share all sorts of personal information. Itʼs like leaving your brand-new iPhone on the seat of a beat-up car with broken locks. The forced upgrade cycle is true for any computer system, including Macs, tablets, smart phones and other devices. Technological advances result in new security risks, which in turn result in eventual obsolescence.

When you don’t plan your computer expenses, you end up buying whatever’s on the shelf and paying more than you might have otherwise. Usually it’s because your existing computer has crashed and you’re in a crisis, which is not the best time to be making decisions about big expenditures. What if you watched the sales, waiting for the right computer at the right price? What if you planned your computer upgrade instead of having it forced on you when you least expect it? We all get into firefighting mode when it comes to our computers and sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that there might be an easier, less stressful way.

I think the best time to do an upgrade is during your least busy season. If it’s a big upgrade you might even want to consider telling your customers your office is closed for a short time. It’s far easier to focus on your computer infrastructure if you’re not fielding calls, and the time saved in reduced computer problems will more than make up for any lost productivity.

If you’re a consumer, the most important message to take home is this: An old computer is a dangerous computer. Don’t let cybercriminals ruin your life by stealing your identity, and make it harder for them to hurt others by keeping your own computer protections in place.