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Filtering software can ease parents' mind while kids surf the Web


If you're a parent of school-age children, you probably signed a stack of permission slips and information forms preparing for the return to school this year.

One slip of paper that deserves your close attention is the permission slip allowing your child to use the Internet at school.

The Internet is a wonderful learning tool; but there are also parts of the Internet that are inappropriate. As parents we all need to be aware of what our children may be exposed to via the Internet at school.

Likewise, parents need to be aware of the need to monitor their children's Internet usage from inside the home.

Fortunately there's software available that can help clean up the Internet -- or at least the view from your home's PC.

Software is no replacement for parental supervision, but these programs are tools that parents may want to consider if they have children using the Internet or an online service like America Online at home.

NET NANNY. Net Nanny is one of the more visible "filtering" software packages on the market. You'll see it widely promoted on the Web.

And if you're using Windows 98 as I am, you'll find that it is one of the few you can actually install.

Two of Net Nanny's competitors -- CyberSitter and SurfWatch -- haven't approved their products for use on Windows 98 operating systems, so take time to read the fine print if you're out there shopping.

Net Nanny is easy to install and set up. To make the software operational, you'll need to set up an administrator or master password. It is this password that will prevent unauthorized users from disabling the software.

Net Nanny has the ability to do more than monitor Web activity. It can also monitor e-mail and newsgroups, as well as what's going on in offline programs, like word processors.

What happens when a Web site or other inappropriate content is viewed?

The software can simply log the "hit," give a warning, mask any offending text, or even shut the application down.

Net Nanny comes with a list of Web sites and terms it will block. The registered version of the software can be customized to include whatever content or Web site the administrator wants to block.

Free updates for its blocking "list" are available on a regular basis from the company.

Different "levels" of permission for content can be set by the person holding the administrator's password. The program works for online services as well as Web browser and e-mail programs.

Net Nanny is available from their Web site for a free 30-day trial. Visit them on the Web at www.netnanny.com.

CYBER PATROL 4.0. Cyber Patrol's installation is very straightforward, and offers the ability to set up individual users with different levels of access.

Besides blocking objectionable content, Cyber Patrol lets you establish control over your computer.

With the software, you can limit Internet usage to a certain number of hours per week or day, and restrict access to certain times of the day.

Cyber Patrol also can be customized to block certain words, numbers or phrases -- which would prevent a user from giving out a telephone number, credit card, or other information.

It comes in a variety of flavors, with versions custom-tailored for schools, networks, and corporate use.

Cyber Patrol is available for Mac and all Windows platforms, and the company offers a free seven-day trial if you download it from the Web site.

Visit them on the Web at www.cyberpatrol.com.

CYBERSITTER. Solid Oak Software's entry in the blocking software category touts nearly 2 million registered users of it software.

The software can block a customizable list of inappropriate newsgroups, e-mail, words and phrases, FTP and chat.

CyberSitter's list of "bad" Web sites changes regularly, and with the latest version, CyberSitter 97, the updates occur automatically when you're online -- and updates are permanently free of charge.

Mac users are out of luck with CyberSitter -- its only available for Windows 95 and NT. The company also offers special sales rates to educational and corporate customers.

For more information, visit www.solidoak.com on the Web.

CYBERSNOOP. While some software blocks inappropriate content, Pearl Software's Cyber Snoop 3.0 is primarily a method to supervise and record Internet usage.

The program creates a complete audit "trail" while the software is running, monitoring and recording Web sites your computer visits on the Internet.

Cyber Snoop even offers the ability to store and retrieve newsgroup, e-mail and chat postings for review. Obviously "snoop" is the key word here, as it does it well -- with no warning to the user.

The software can be set up to block certain keywords, like phone numbers, credit card numbers and other personal information you don't want sent out by e-mail, chat or newsgroup posting.

Cyber Snoop offers an incredibly detailed look at Internet usage without the drawbacks of blocking software, which can often block content that isn't objectionable.

A trial demo version is available for Windows95/98/NT from the company's Web site at www.pearlsw.com.

SOFTWARE SEARCH. Additional filtering software is available online. Try searching for "blocking and filtering software" at the Yahoo! Web directory or the search engine of your choice to continue the search.

TIPS FOR PARENTS. As a parent, I know that I can't watch every mouse click my kids make online. But parents can take some steps that may help keep their children out of harm's way on the Internet.

First, if you're not familiar with the Internet and the World Wide Web, take time out for an introduction. Learn what's out there for yourself.

Take time to learn what your kids do on the Internet. Do they surf for sports scores? Or check into a chat room? Find out what they like to do online.

We all need to continual teach our kids to never give out their personal information -- phone numbers, schools, or any other information that might help someone find where live or go to school.

Tell them never to reply to offensive or threatening e-mail or chat conversations. If they're scared, its time for them to tell a grown-up about it.

Lastly, put your computer in a family room or living room -- someplace out in the open where it can be easily accessed by family members and monitored.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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