The United Methodist Communications shares the following advice. . . .
By Gavin Richardson
The Internet is a vast ocean of information and people. It is easy to find oneself in a trouble spot on the web. What are the best options for a church to protect its congregation and visitors from exposing themselves or others to damaging images and information on the web? Within your home, what are some options to protect your children from stumbling into the wrong corner of the web?
Here are a few software programs specifically developed to protect people from finding their way to the wrong places and connecting with the wrong people on the web.
NOTE: These reviews are not an endorsement of one product over another. We are highlighting some of the unique features of each product and why a product could be considered for your church or family’s Internet protection. Products like these change frequently, and new products appear often. Figure out what your needs are, and then use this as a guide to evaluate software options to determine the best fit for your circumstances.
K9 Web Protection has some neat features for a free software download. K9 performs many of the standard site blocks, scheduled time restrictions, category blocks, a safe search function (only shows approved search results), spy ware/malware protections and more. In addition, it has features that would be great for a parent or church lab network administrator. It has override password options as well as reports to monitor activities. K9 is available on iPhone/iPad and Android operating systems as well as Mac- and Windows-based computers. The price is great — free — as they will give you a license code for a single machine download. If you like the product and want to install it on more machines, you can purchase a multi-license option.
Webroot and its Secure Anywhere product for the home is a great option for the person with multiple devices who wants protection from inappropriate web finds and from incoming attacks and identity theft. If you have a lot of work or personal information online, consider this option. For $60, you get a complete Internet security package that will work across five devices together. The unique perks for Webroot include a data-storage option, network monitor and online activity trace eliminator. Webroot works on both Mac and Windows platforms as well as on most mobile operating systems.
NetNanny is another popular, family-directed Internet software option. It provides many of the same basic features as K9 Web Protection. The language blocker will switch out a foul-language word (in a comment on Facebook or YouTube) with a string of gibberish characters. NetNanny will also record all activity on the device and have it available for review for the following 24 hours. If something happened to a family member and you were curious about his or her last day of correspondence, you can look through the recordings. NetNanny’s pricing structure can get complicated with different products for each operating system. It has a Family Protection Pass that gives 10 licenses for $80, but those licenses do not work on Windows XP or iOS (iPhone/iPad) systems. This, however, could be a plus to customize your needs versus the larger license package that other companies provide. The NetNanny blog offers good content on security issues with children and teenagers.
SafeEyes is one of many security options from McAfee. The neatest aspect about SafeEyes is its design for the family. McAfee also has business options that can work for a church computer lab. You will probably want features similar to those of SafeEyes, which allows you to block/monitor social activity on platforms that can give access to people or images you do not want to see. From online videos and games to instant messaging, music and more, they have options to protect your family. Similar to other software options, these can send reports of activity over the network. McAfee’s pricing structure puts it on the higher end pricewise. You can get set up for $50 to $70 (or more depending on your products), but the costs are subscription-based, so you will pay the same amount each year. If you do not maintain your subscription, your software will stop updating and become more of a drag on your computer than a help. SafeEyes and most other McAfee software has a free download option letting you try it before purchasing. You can have more confidence moving forward from there.
Qustodio is a solid option to use for protecting your children and monitoring their activity across computers and platforms. A unique feature is the option for reports on with whom and how much your child is text messaging. Because of their focus on mobile protection, they can also track your child’s activity in real time. The interface for setting up individual users and their safety settings is friendly to navigate. Qustodio also gives detailed social media reports. If you want to know how long you, or a child, was on a social media website, that can be reported as well. Pricing is on a yearly subscription basis and in the same range as McAfee. Qustodio is different from McAfee as it offers a slightly larger package (five devices versus three devices) for similarly-priced options. Their school packages could be used for church computer labs.
BrowseControl is designed for business. If you operate a computer lab at the church, this could be a solid option. It has options for banning specific websites as well as keyword/category bans for sites you might not know need to be banned. You can also block any file downloads (or at least download and then run), which can help protect a network from virus or malware infections. If you know you want to allow your older kids access to certain websites while blocking younger ones, BrowseControl has a scheduling option for blocking sites. You can also set up different permissions for each user on the network. If you are unsure how to get this installed on all your computers, there is a remote install option. The pricing starts at $79 for a single user. The pricing structure for multiple computers and license needs is clear. BrowseControl also offers a free 21-day trial period.
InternetLock is a cost-effective solution for the home computer owner who wants many customized parameters for Internet security. For $29.95, you can password protect, schedule block, define user restrictions and more for your home computer. They also offer a fully functioning free trial to use without a time limit. Only after InternetLock has proven worthwhile for your needs are you asked to pay for it. You will see a reminder-to-pay button until you get a registration code/license. One limitation with InternetLock is that it is currently only for the Windows operating system.
Barracuda Network’s price puts it beyond many church budgets. However, when it comes to security, you will not find much better. The question is whether you need that much security. If you have a problem with Internet security, a large network of computers or want to monitor a wireless network for a big congregation, Barracuda might be the option to consider. Detailed reporting, tons of security features and options, and a dedicated support team are just a few options that set them apart from stand-alone installed software.
The particular software platform you choose to protect your congregation and/or family does not matter a great deal. What does matter is that you are doing something to protect the people that God has entrusted to your care. Take some time to invest in protection for those whom you love and care.